In his 1980 book, The Winding Passage, Daniel Bell notes that "Technology, like art, is a soaring exercise of the human imagination". An IT professional is called to find electronic solutions to real world problems that exist in the workplace. This requires a unique blend of creativity and logical thinking. However we as information technologists must not lose sight that information systems and technology are actually just business tools. They are the means to an end, rather than being an independent "end" in themselves.
Our jobs are about using technology to help people accomplish their business goals. People are our customers and so as IT professionals we are required to develop strong people skills. These skills can help us to understand client needs and effectively manage their expectations. The bad old days of wishing that end-users will go away so we can get our job done are gone.
An effective technical support program will acknowledge that people skills are essential. The consumers of technology, our clients, like to deal with people and not robots. Although the importance of people skills doesn't outweigh the importance of technical skills they are an essential part of a holistic approach to providing excellent customer service. This applies even to technicians and managers who don't have direct contact with end-users. How we interact within our workplace can make all the difference between flourishing and floundering in your job.
Technical support skills
If we were to try and identify skills that are relevant in today's workplace we might find the following:
- Dependable and Reliable Service
Offering dependable and reliable service means consistently remaining accountable to your promises. Users should feel comfortable knowing that every time they request technical support they will receive courteous service from a knowledgeable IT professional. They should also know that if the technician promises to do something then it will be done. Offering this level of service is a skill that can be learned like any other.
A responsive help desk is one which quickly responds to email or phone requests. Customers feel valued when their calls are promptly answered by a real human and given immediate attention. How often have you phoned a large company and been put on hold for several minutes, or routed to a computer generated answering service? This is generally a very negative experience for a customer. Part of the skillset required to offer responsive technical support is the ability to effectively prioritize calls within the framework of an enterprise resource management system.
Competant technical support desks are ones which employ technicians who are knowledgeable in their field. Learning to be competant involves training - both formal and informal. This helps the support technician to be confident, accurate, and prrecise in helping customers.
Empathy is a skill that helps the technician to understand the clients needs. Often a customer is feeling frustrated or even angry when they call a help desk. An empathetic technical support desk will be able to provide service that not only deals with the technical problem but also takes into consideration the clients emotional state. Sometimes by simply acknowledging that the client is feeling angry will help them to calm down and realize that they are valued and respected.
Professionalism is an over-arching skill that pervades into all aspects of dealing with a client. Professional communication styles should be employed when communicating with clients through email or telephone. Maintaining a professional image helps to build customer confidence and hence loyalty.
Offering top quality technical support is simply a matter of applying a blend of strong people and technical skills. Delighting an end user is a goal that can be accomplished in most situations. By helping your users to increase their productivity you are fulfilling the role of the IT department and making a positive difference to the users enjoyment of their job.