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Computer Technician's Guide to Dealing with Customers

I've been in the technology industry for many years. I've worked as a bench technician and I've been the manager of an electronics engineering department. I've designed everything from automated testers to advanced motor controllers. And I can tell you this - people are a lot more complicated to deal with than even the most advanced technology.

If you're a working computer technician, or you're planning to enter the career field, or if you're attempting to earn CompTIA A+ certification, you need to know how to deal with people. CompTIA considers the ability to deal with people, be they fellow employees or company clients, to be an important part of being a certified computer technician.

It's important for you to remember that when you interface with the customer, be it by phone or in person, it's not just you dealing with the customer. You're acting as a representative of your company. In effect you ARE the company. If you deal with the customer successfully, you might generate more business for the company. If you can't deal with customers successfully, the company could lose millions of dollars, and you could end up begging for a burger flipping job.

The most important part of being successful in dealing with customers is - showing up. As Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up". I would actually say it's more like ninety-nine percent because I've seen so many times when people, although not the brightest on the planet, got good assignments and good promotions simply because they where the one that showed up.

when a service person says they'll be there between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. what they really mean is they'll call you at 6 p.m. to reschedule.

Now, we know a service person can't always accurately predict when they'll arrive at a customers site. An earlier service call might take much longer than expected or they might run into traffic. Do everything you can to be on time, but if you can't, then contact the customer to inform them that you'll be late, or you need to reschedule. We've all been in the position where a service person calls to say they'll be late or need to reschedule, and nobody likes it.

I personally always like it when the service person tells me WHY they'll be late or need to reschedule. Saying "the service call I'm on now is taking much longer than expected" or "I've got caught in a traffic jam" always makes me more understanding because knowing the reason makes me feel like I'm not just being blown off.

Communicating with the Customer

Being successful in dealing with customers requires knowing how to communicate. Lets say you arrive at a customer's location because of a complaint about a printer malfunction. Your first step is to learn as much as you can about the problem. Below are two examples of a question you might ask.

1. "Did the printer stop working?"

2. "Do you use this printer a lot and is it usually reliable and what did you do just before it stopped working?"

Question 1 is an example of a "closed ended" question. The customer will answer "yes" and that's about all the information you get. Question 2 is an example of an "open ended" question. It can't be answered with just a "yes" or "no" answer. With question 2, you'll get a lot more information about the problem from the customer. Always try to ask open ended questions. That will get the customer talking and once you get them talking you'll be surprised at what information you'll get. In this example, the customer might answer:

"We use this printer heavily and it used to be very reliable until we started using that thinner cheaper printer paper, now it gets jammed all the time".

See how you get a lot more information than just "yes"?

When the customer does start talking, try to listen and not interrupt. I always watch the nightly business report on TV. They frequently have interviews with important people in the business world. They probably paid the individual to give the interview. They ask a question and the person begins to answer. I would like to hear everything this important business person has to say, but for some reason the interviewer frequently interrupts them.

I frequently yell at the TV saying to the reporter "why the hell don't you shut the F up and let the person talk?". Which do you think is more important, the information an important business person is giving, or a stupid question by a reporter that won't shut the F up? If I had a TV show, and an important business person was providing quality content, I wouldn't interrupt them.

It doesn't take a genius to not interrupt someone when they're talking, it's just good manners. After having said all this, I have to admit that sometimes you have to interrupt a customer because some of them will just prattle on and on about their family, their pet, or any other mundane subject that has nothing to do with the problem at hand. The proper procedure is to wait for a reasonable amount of time, and if there is no opening just say "excuse me ...".

Sometimes when you ask a customer a question, they don't give you a useful answer, or no answer at all. It could be because they don't understand the question. Try to avoid using technical jargon and acronyms. And if you do use an acronym, you better well know what it stands for. If you really know what you're doing, you can certainly put your questions and communication in simple terms. If you ask a customer a question and they don't give you a useful answer, try restating the question in simpler terms.

When a customer does make a statement related to the problem at hand, sometimes their statement is technically incorrect. In that case, you should restate what they said correctly. This helps them understand what's going on. But don't restate it in a way that is derogatory. You don't want them to think you're insulting their intelligence.

Any information a customer gives you that is important to the problem at hand, you should write down, and make sure the customer reads it. Is that what they really meant? This will become part of the proper documentation on the service provided.

Maintaining Professional Behavior

When on a service call, your time belongs to the customer. You need to maintain professional behavior. That means no personal calls, no chit-chat with your or the customer's co-workers, no personal interruptions, nothing that will distract you from the task at hand - solving the customer's problem.

The most difficult part of maintaining professional behavior is dealing with a difficult customer. Difficult customers can be very judgmental and if you can't solve their problem in ten seconds they can imply that you are not too smart. Let me give you some of my philosophy here.

I divide people up into the following categories: morons, dummies, idiots, and jackasses. Now dummies are not very smart, but they know they're not very smart and they are usually willing to learn. Idiots on the other hand are stupid, but they think they're smart and they think the whole world is all about them. It's a waste of time trying to teach a moron or an idiot. Morons because they're just too stupid to learn, and idiots because they're untrainable.

The worst extreme idiot is what I call a jackass. If your being treated in a derogatory manner by an idiot or jackass, don't bother arguing with them and don't bother being judgmental about them. Idiots and jackasses are untrainable, so don't waste your time. When dealing with idiots and jackasses, just let them know that they and their technical problem are important to you, and focus on the technical task at hand.

This is what I tell people who want to fight with idiots: There are seven billion idiots on this planet. How much time do you intend on spending dealing with each one? If you spend even one minute dealing with each idiot on the planet, you won't live long enough to get to them all. Do the math. So don't fight with idiots, just try to avoid them or work your way around them.

Now that I've got you depressed about the reality of dealing with difficult people, as a professional service technician you need to maintain a positive attitude. When I say there's seven billion idiots on this planet, that implies that there are no good people. But there are lots of good people, and as a professional and as a human being, you should assume everyone you meet is good people until they show you other wise.

Here's another one of my philosophies that might help you maintain a positive attitude when dealing with difficult people or a difficult problem: Sitting in a boat, out on a lake, with a six pack of beer, fishing - that's reality. Work and business is just a game society plays. Money is what they use to keep score. Don't get all depressed and frustrated about playing the game. Get back to reality.

Dealing with the Customer

When enlisting the services of a professional computer technician, the customer has certain expectations. They expect you to solve their problem in a timely manner. If repair or replacement of equipment is needed, give them options to choose from. Give them a time line of when they can expect to have their problem solved and frequently communicate the status with the customer.

Proper behavior at the customers site is an important part of professionalism. Have respect for their equipment. Don't use their equipment for your own personal purposes. Customers and businesses have confidential information on their hard disks and laying around their office. It's your duty to make sure it stays confidential.

If you need to take a PC back to your shop for service, ask them if there is any confidential information on the hard disk that they want to offload while the PC is in the shop. If you change any configuration settings while working on a PC, like display resolution, set it back when your done.

The day when a man's word or his hand shake was his bond are long gone. Document everything, and make sure you and your customer has a copy of every document. A short while after you have solved the customers problem, contact them to verify their satisfaction.

Knowing how to deal with people is an important part of being a professional computer technician. If you're attempting to earn CompTIA A+ certification, you'll find questions about communication skills and professionlism on the exam.


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