In November of 2011, I uploaded a video to my YouTube channel titled The Four All-Star Traits of the Customer Service Masters, in which I described four characteristics I observed in people who were very good at supporting customers and end-users. Since then, I’ve worked with IT people, including help desk staff, at many different types of organizations, and in many different locations. I’ve learned that there are really five traits that set the masters apart from everyone else. It’s not that I forgot one trait, it’s that I always treated it as a characteristic which was assumed to be there. In fact, it’s much more than an assumed trait, it’s the most critical customer service skill any IT person can have. The skill is customer service product knowledge.

The Most Critical Customer Service Skill

The most important trait is to have the technical skills and problem-solving skills necessary to resolve the customer or end-user issue quickly and permanently. In a 2010 article in the Harvard Business Review, the authors argue that the concept of delighting your customer doesn’t create loyal customers. Instead, they suggest that the ability to accurately, efficiently, and permanently resolve the customer’s issue is what creates customer loyalty. For those of us who work in IT, our ability to resolve issues accurately, efficiently, and permanently results in high job performance ratings, personal satisfaction, and better relationships with our co-workers. This certainly does not mean that people skills are not important, it’s just that all the people skills in the world won’t matter if we can’t solve end-user technical problems. The systems that we design, build, and support must work flawlessly and seamlessly with whatever work our end users and customers do.

Common End User and Customer Complaints

We’ve all been there as customers at one time or another. We’ve had to re-explain a problem, we’ve had to repeatedly contact a company to resolve an issue, or we’ve had to expend too much effort to solve a problem that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. Notice that these common complaints don’t have anything to do with word choices, apologies, or empathetic words and phrases. Instead, they simply reflect a company’s or an individual’s inability to solve the problem. They have to do with a lack of technical skills combined with the absence of compassion and empathy.

A Deep Technical Understanding

Successfully serving an end-user or a customer involves a process of technical mastery; we must have a deep technical understanding of the products we support. A deep understanding allows us to resolve issues quickly and anticipate future problems so we can offer preventative support. We develop a deep technical understanding by working with the products we support, by reading about them, by experimenting with them offline, and, when possible, gaining certifications on them.

The Real Role of Soft Skills

Does this mean that soft skills such as compassion, empathy, good listening skills, and treating people respectfully are not important? In fact, they are very important as states of mind and foundations of behavior. We can’t, however, achieve great results by merely saying the words; we must believe them before we say them. Compassion and empathy must be part of the very fiber of our being and not just words and phrases we utter automatically in response to a customer or end user call. Of course, a gesture of sympathy or concern, or an empathetic word or phrase is important, but it must come from the heart and not merely be read from a script. Of course, basic good manners are always appropriate such as saying please and thank you.

The Successful IT Pro

Today’s successful IT professionals must have a deep technical understanding of the products they support. It has to be deep enough to allow them to solve problems quickly and permanently. It also has to be a deep enough understanding to allow them to anticipate and prevent future problems. That’s customer service product knowledge in a nutshell. In addition, successful IT pros must have an intrinsic sense of compassion and empathy. They must be good listeners and know how to treat all people with dignity and respect. So, soft skills are important and can make the difference between a successful career and one that’s mediocre, but success in IT has to start with deep technical ability.

For More Ideas on How to Improve Communication and Customer Service Skills

Bring my IT customer service training seminar onsite to your location for your group, small or large. Click here for the course description and outline.

Customer service book for IT staffPick up a copy of my IT customer service book The Compassionate Geek: How Engineers, IT Pros, and Other Tech Specialists Can Master Human Relations Skills to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service, available through Amazon and other resellers.

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