Most of the following advice really flows out of respect for the other person. Respect is a decision, and something that you don’t need to receive first to give it. Regardless of your I.T. discipline- even if you don’t work in I.T.- respect is a key ingredient of success.
Forget their name (and don’t use it)
Napoleon Hill only said what we’ve known all along- a person’s name is the sweetest sound they can hear. It’s so true. It lets the hearer know that you care enough to know who they are, and that they’re a person, and not a number. So use a person’s name (or nickname, if you know them well enough).
A word of caution: many people, especially salespeople, fall into the trap of saying the other person’s name too often. Like this:
Salesperson: “Well, David, I think you’ll see that our widget, David, gives the best performance. David, how many can I put you down for? And don’t forget- there’s a money-back guarantee, David!”
You probably won’t do this in I.T., but if you do, you’re trying to hard. You shouldn’t have to think about it. Just use it naturally as you would when talking to a friend that you’ve know for years.
Treat them like ignoramuses
Regardless of your I.T. discipline- even if you don’t work in I.T.- respect is a key ingredient of success.
This one is a huge I.T. meme. You’ve probably seen the skits on “SNL” or “The IT Crowd”, and while they’re obviously being hyperbolic, there is some truth to the message. One of the things users hate most is when they are treated like dummies.
Please bear the following in mind: Although your user may not be tech savvy like you are, they are probably a subject matter expert in their field. Respect them for that. If you go into each interaction with that in mind, you will treat them better. Honest.
Use very technical language
Acronyms and jargon make communication of esoteric terms faster among experts, but only serve to confuse the uninitiated. Please don’t fall into the trap of doing this to your users. They want to follow along, but remember, they are experts in their fields, not yours. Instead, when you need to communicate the technical, use high-level explanations or even analogies. Here’s a simple example:
Jargon-y way: Well, the spammers spoofed the headers so the SMTP server appears legit.
Human way: The email spammers changed the “From” part of the email so it looked like it came from a legitimate source. It’s kind of like if a package came from bad guys, but instead of putting their address, they changed the shipping label to look like the address of a friend of yours.
They want to follow along, but remember, they are experts in their fields, not yours.
Obviously, this can take a bit more time, but your users will love you for it. A little investment of time goes a long way.
Most great I.T. organization are super-busy and many are short on resources- which can lead to delays in service delivery. Worse than using overly-technical language is not communicating at all. Communicating with your “customers” on a regular basis, however takes the sting out of waiting.
Probably the worst thing you can do to your users is to go silent. I.T. departments can sometimes get the stigma of being unresponsive, and users can feel like their request has fallen into a black hole. If you have a ticketing system, make sure you update your tickets as often as you can or send emails if you don’t use such a system, even if no progress has been made.
Talk about/mock them behind their backs
Remember that how you feel in your heart toward someone will come out in your words.
This particular practice is easy to fall into, but has devastating effects on your relationships with your users. Talking badly or making fun of your users behind their backs will quickly translate into how you interact with them. Remember that how you feel in your heart toward someone will come out in your words.
I want you to know that this can happen to anyone, and in the words of ever-benevolent Tupac Shakur, “I ain’t mad at cha.” Nobody’s perfect, but you can start today and change that. If you start in on an end-user, catch yourself and apologize to those who heard you. If you hear others doing it, it’s OK to let them know it’s not appropriate. The best thing you can do is to set a good example.
Remember: basic respect for others is at the core of this advice. If you avoid these relationship-killing practices, you’ll be on your way to having an awesome I.T. shop and being much happier yourself. Comment below if you like what I said or you think I’m dumb.
Read my other stuff if you’re looking to create an awesome workplace for your user support team. If I helped inspire you to not make your users hate you, please let me know how it goes, ask questions, and keep me posted! You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.