Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Time Capsule

I've been doing things online for a long time (since 1981, the very early days of modems) and I have a lot of old stuff squirreled away on various media. Anybody need some 8-inch floppy disks? Anyway, here's an article I submitted to back in 1999, about ways to improve the Tech Support experience.

(article as sent to Jeff Davis 9/21/99)

I've learned a few things in my (many) years of phone support. For instance, you should never overlook the subconscious mind of the client. Some word or phrase will trigger resentment in an already unhappy listener.

People hate to be "transferred". They equate it with being shuffled, passed off, or punted. When they hear, "I'll transfer you..." that phrase raises their antagonism. But they love to be "connected". Powerful people are connected, and your clients are feeling a need to regain some of the power they lost by having to call for support in the first place. "One moment please, and I'll connect you" works wonders. Same act, different word, big difference. Oh, and they don't like to hear "hold" either, so say "One moment please".

Now that they're connected, be sure to thank them for holding as you make a warm transfer. Never just dump a client into someone's line and run; instead, always thank the client for holding (it's OK to mention holding after the fact), and then introduce the client to the new party. After that little courteous act, you can back out gracefully, knowing you may have erased half the problem simply by connecting the client painlessly to the correct agent.

Never tell a client they "have to" do something. No matter how true it is or how right you are, and they know it, some subconscious part of the client rebels against being commanded to perform. "How dare you tell ME I "have to"?!? Tell them they'll "want to" or even "need to". You could begin with "Would you please....?' or "Are you able to.....?". Sometimes, "Our next step will be to..." makes the caller a partner rather than a subordinate being given an order.

Don't say "I want you to...(click, do, whatever)". Say "Please..." instead. They don't care what you want, and they're not in the best mood even if they did. Use "Please", "Thank you", and "I'm sorry" whenever you get a chance.

If you can remember you are talking to a person with a real problem who has called you, the expert, for help, some of the magic words might be easier to use. The phrase "How can I help you?" as a conversation opener may be trite today, but it does serve to put the situation in the proper perspective: I am here to help you. Your attitude about your role will communicate subtle signals from your subconscious to your client's. Some experts recommend keeping a mirror next to the monitor, claiming it has a strong effect on how you present yourself on the phone.

Use these tips and you'll find the conversation and the instructions go more smoothly. Your client will think so too, and probably won't even be able to figure out just why.

(George Price is a support professional with nearly 20 years experience in the computer field, working with clients such as DEC, IBM, and currently GE Capital. He has A+, Network+ and MCP certifications, is nearly through with his MCSE, and will soon be a Microsoft Certified Trainer.)

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