(The following is a transcript of a portion of a keynote speech I gave at Automation Nation in 2015. The five principles, covered in this post, are the foundation for all of my work in IT customer service.)
I’ve had the privilege of working with IT people all over the world and I’ve observed IT people who get it. IT people who are leading rich fulfilling lives filled with happiness and success, and I’ve also observed IT people who are struggling, and I began to wonder if maybe there were some quantifiable differences between the two different groups of people and so I just began observing, and it turns out that I think that there are five principles, five key components of great customer service. Let’s go over them right now.
Deep Technical Competence
The first one is the ability to deliver outstanding customer service by technical knowledge. You have deep technical skills. Now, let’s define deep technical skills. Deep technical skills means that you have an understanding of the technology that you work with that is so deep that you can solve problems quickly and permanently. It is so deep that you can design systems that work flawlessly sometimes in spite of our end-users best efforts to keep that from happening. Deep technical skills means that you’re are constantly working on improving your technical skills to be the very best in the world at what you do, and it’s interesting because deep technical skills are where it starts. You see, all the customer service skills in the world, all the compassion, all the empathy, all of the good people skills don’t matter if you can’t do the technical stuff, so you’ve got to have deep technical skills in order to do our jobs.
The next is compassion, and let’s define compassion. Compassion is having a profound awareness of another’s suffering combined with a desire to alleviate it. You notice people who are hurting and you want to find ways to help. You notice an end-user who’s frustrated and you want to find ways to help. A customer who’s struggling with something and you want to find ways to help.
Number three is empathy, and that’s the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, to feel what they’re feeling, to see the world through their eyes. In his book, The Science of Evil, Simon Baron-Cohen says, “That in the presence of empathy there can be no evil.” Empathy is to connect with another person on a human-to-human, a person-to-person basis, and to feel their experience.
Number four is listening. Stop talking long enough to listen. The great author Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, another life-changing book which I highly recommend, by the way, says that “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to respond,” and if I’m honest with you I’m guilty of that, and probably many of us in the room are as well. When you’re talking, I’m listening. I’m paying close attention, but I’m processing what I’m going to say when you’re done. I can’t wait for you to finish because I got something you need to hear. In other words, what I have to say is more important than what you have to say. So, one of the greatest gifts that we can give our brothers and sisters in the human race is to listen. To truly listen for the meaning of what they’re saying. To go for understanding not just responding.
And number five is to respect. There’s a difference between respecting someone and treating someone with respect, and I want to suggest to you that this is about treating someone with respect. You see, if I respect you or you respect me it’s because of things that we did, behaviors that we showed, things that we said that earned that respect, right? It’s internal. It’s how I feel about you or how you feel about me. But the act of treating someone with respect is external. It’s about my behavior toward you or your behavior toward me because when we treat everyone and everything around us with dignity and respect most people are going to feed that back to us but every now and then there’s going to be someone who doesn’t, and it’s about us making a decision to rise above the fray, to stay out of the mud, and maintain ourselves with dignity and respect that makes the difference.
Because I’ve observed that the people who have the highest levels of self-respect also tend to treat everyone and everything around them with dignity and respect, and when we have low levels of self-respect it’s almost like we try to push other people down to raise ourselves up. Victor Frankl, in his landmark book Man’s Search for Meaning, another life-changing book, says that “The real measure of a person is not in the things that he or she does but in his or her ability to maintain a sense of dignity and respect in spite of undignified and disrespectful circumstances,” and Dr. Frankl knows what he speaks of. He wrote about his experiences in Nazi death camps. Arguably some of the least respectful, least dignified situations that have ever been created, and he talked about the people who survived, not physically but who survived mentally and how they always seemed to have a sense of dignity and self-respect, and so when we do that we affect everyone around us as well.
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