Friday, December 27, 2013

SOP Friday: Basic Customer Service Training

Note: This post is not really about customer service training. We'll cover that in a few weeks. It IS about "Don't be a scumbag" training. This is really a little taste of customer relationship management for the whole team.

Your team puts on a face for your clients. It should be a unified front that shows you in the best light. There are two kinds of things technicians do to cause problems with customer relationships. One kind is unintentional. The other kind is intentional.

First, let's look at the unintentional customer relationship issues.

As you are aware, technical employees have a reputation for being a bit shy on interpersonal skills. For many of them, this is justified. As with all human behavior and personality traits, there's a spectrum and "nerds" tend to fall in a certain range on the interpersonal relations spectrum.

I like to give the example of the technician and the receptionist. The tech has a tendency to appear abrupt and maybe even rude to the receptionist. Especially in large organizations, technical people are often characterized as really smart and arrogant. That perception of arrogance is usually inaccurate, in my experience. But this perception is so wide spread that it has to come from somewhere.

I believe that "somewhere" is the personality differences between technicians and end users. The tech comes in head down, focused on the job at hand. "I'll be at the server. I need to install the new SSL Cert you bought and verify that the VPN works."

The receptionist hears "Blah blah blah blah, Ginger. Blah blah blah."

The receptionist - and most end users - need technicians to talk about people things, not computer things. Technicians tend to be more left brained. One piece of that is a desire to be clear and accurate. The client would be very happy if you just say, "I have to install something so that you computers are secure." Okay.

But technicians want to be a lot more accurate than that. The tech might be thinking that the person will ask "Install what?" or "Do you mean we haven't been secure?" So he preempts those questions with information. But even if the client did ask those questions, they wouldn't understand the answer given above.

In order to not appear arrogant and dismissive, technicians need to learn to talk in kinder, gentler terms that clients understand. You cannot say this is the boss's job of the Customer Service Manager's job. Putting forward a positive, pleasant face to your clients is very important.

It can be very helpful for you (your management team) to come up with preferred phrases and analogies that work. Once you figure out how to talk about security or VOIP or cloud services, train your techs to talk about it the same way.

Next, intentional customer relationship issues.

So team messaging is very important. You need to be consistent. You need to be polite. But you also need to make sure that the client understands that your company respects their company, your people respect their people, and your people respect each other.

"Intentional" customer relationship issues occur when your employees bad-mouth clients or each other within earshot of your clients. If Client A hears a story about how stupid Client B is, they will wonder what you say about them to the other clients. And even if your technicians are talking to each other, a client who hears such talk will have the same negative reaction.

The same thing goes for your team as a whole. It is very bad for one technician to blame another tech for problems, or to make other team members look stupid. Even if people on your team have these opinions, they must never let the clients hear them.

Even more damaging is the employee who makes snide comments about your company, your employees, or your policies in front of the client. Some people are just opinionated and need to keep it to themselves. But most of the time, this behavior is a result of a disgruntled employee.

If you have an employee with a bad attitude, you need to make it very clear to everyone on your staff that internal discussions and issues are just that - internal. It is hard to estimate how much damage an unhappy employee can create when they start spreading their bad attitude to other technicians and to clients.

In my opinion, this kind of behavior must be dealt with as soon as possible. And if it does not stop immediately, it is a cause for termination.

If you have internal issues or personality clashes on your team, you need to address them. But all employees must understand that these are internal matters and not to be discussed with client or in front of clients.

I've had discussions in which my employees told me that my ideas were wrong or even stupid. I need that. Sometimes my ideas really are stupid, so I can't squash that discussion internally. But once the company policy is established, everyone needs to get on board.

Your employees should not even make statements such as "It's not the way I would do it, but it's what we do." No matter how benign they intend such a statement to be, it confuses the client. One of the great benefits of Standard Operating Procedures is that you create your company's "way" of doing things. Solidarity in your way is very important. Don't let anyone on your team undermine that.

The easiest way to prevent problems is through regular trainings.

Comments welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next week's topic: Time Entry and Note Entry in Service Tickets


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