Gathering the right information is the key to adopting the appropriate perspective as well as assembling all of the clues needed to define and solve the problem at hand. Here’s where your personal customer service interaction gets tactical. Three specific techniques will prove most useful for this exchange:
Determine goals. The mechanics of the issue are only part of the picture. Asking specific questions about higher-level objectives helps to gain insight about the business context of the problem at hand, which will help tremendously in focusing efforts to understand and resolve the matter. Knowing what the technicalities are can be of limited value, unless you know why the work is being performed in the first place. Don’t be surprised if people come to you attempting to translate their problem into IT terms. Many will reframe their own issue in an effort to speed things along, facilitate communications with IT (often perceived as only caring about the technical), or leverage their own IT skills and experience. If this is the case, it’s up to you to back the conversation out to the higher-level discussion of goals and objectives.
Ask open-ended questions. These work better than yes/no type questions, because they encourage the person to include context and other information in their answers, much of which could prove instrumental to finding the right solution. Many of the clues will be revealed here: little nuances and details that are often omitted when someone is attempting to narrow the scope of a discussion. At the end of the day, we’ll likely be resolving a black-and-white technical issue; but right now, it’s crucial to examine all the shades of grey. Clarify and verify.
Follow-up questions are key to clarifying details and ensuring that all of the facts are captured accurately. Repeating the information back and asking for verification helps the other person review it one more time, to make sure they’ve conveyed everything completely and accurately. As much as IT is stereotyped as being not-so-great at communication, communication is a challenge for everyone. Often, the discussion you’re having represents their first attempt to verbalize the issue. Help them along by listening carefully, so that you can restate the issue well enough to ensure a shared understanding of the matter. Repeat the process as much as necessary until you achieve this shared understanding.
Of course, good customer service is not just about the facts. It’s an emotional exchange. The person you’re helping is feeling tense, nervous, frustrated, or some similar emotion. Your job is not just to solve the problem, but also to provide some comfort. A good bedside manner will make all the difference.