Navigating The Irrational…

What exactly is “doesn’t work”??

This post is about learning to communicate with someone and find out what it is that doesn’t work, and in the process deflating the frustration and anxiety many of those people have. These are the folks that you’ll encounter time and again and will, over time, learn to turn around you’re opinion of them. Learning to listen(really listen), build a rapport, and communicate with these folks will make things much easier and will also help you stand out at work.

My first job out of the Navy really helped me fine tune my customer service skills, so much so that after a little over a year I was promoted and helping mentor in new technicians. There were 2 skills that were hard to teach(and in some cases neigh impossible) and those 1. were soft skills for customer service and 2. creating a supportable solution(more on that in a future post).

Learning to listen

Let’s get back to the most important skill, and that’s listening(really listening). Actively listening and using what you’ve learned about the person or a situation can have a big impact on the whole course of events to follow. First it can help you learn more about the person you’re talking to, which helps you develop the rapport you need to resolve that issue as well as learn ways to relate what is happening and what you’re doing in a way that helps that person understand. Let’s say you have a vet who considers himself a handyman, and you’re having power issues(I’ve used this one a few times). You tell them the hot is hot water, the neutral is cold water, and ground is the drain. We know this isn’t entirely accurate but when you explain that the drain is like ground and a bad ground is like the bathroom scene from “Dogma”(I’ll let you find that on Youtube) then it’s easier to see why that can cause havoc on all the computer and electronic equipment. This skill is also one of the hardest to get brand new shiny tech’s to learn, but the ones that do go far.

Building a rapport

This ties in closely with listening and is also a hard skill to teach, and sometimes practice, when you work in tech support. This is for a few reasons; most of us want to hunt down and find the problem so we can fix it, or we’re being driven to fix the problem quickly, or we’re so sure we know what it is that the rest is extra time, and last that this particular person is so hard to deal with that it feels like an exercise in futility. Whatever the reason they’re all wrong. How you deal with a person reflects on you, the company you’re working for, and most importantly will make things harder for you.

One of the clients for a place I worked for was a large animal vet and they had been known to pitch fits and call back over and over on the same issue or berate someone into getting a supervisor. So I was brought in to help, after taking the time to let them vent and then getting down to the real issue(which wasn’t even the issue they thought it was) I was able to get them calmed down and get a plan to move forward in place, after a couple of months of tweaking that plan and proving that we as a team couple resolve the smaller issues one at a time, we had a rapport and more important the calls for everyone(especially myself) got less difficult and took less time to fix.

While working at a company that was relatively new to dealing with PCB’s(Printed Circuit Boards) in production, we had to implement an ESD(Electrostatic Discharge) mitigation plan. This meant wearing grounded wrist bands, handling and storing boards differently, and changing assembly policies for the final unit. On the programming and testing line for these boards this was particularly important. When I first started the head of that portion of the line(we’ll call her Amy) was my biggest opponent. Amy refused to use the bands unless someone upon high ordered it. After walking with Amy, getting to know more about her in general, and more about why she had a beef with the straps, I found out that folks had tried implementing this in the past and bought the cheapest wrist straps possible(they also yelled at her and others repeatedly for not wearing them and then walked off). I let her know I heard her concerns, and that when working on boards I too had to wear one and wasn’t going to give them anything I wouldn’t wear. I started by ordering several types and sizes of bands, and also testing equipment that let us know they were being used properly and were working. After bring them over the Amy and the others to see and try, and making a few tweaks along the way, everyone working that line was wearing an ESD wrist strap every time they were on station, even more surprising was that Amy herself would get on the new folks about wearing it(without my prompting or being around)! This is a skill that’s often overlooked but is necessary, both to keep things moving and to make everyone’s day a little better.

You’re coming in broken and sarcastic… say again…

During the buildup to my second deployment in the Navy I was tasked to a class that was designed to talk to senior offices and enlisted in a non technical position about technical issues, yes it’s actually a class(or at least it was). Much of what I learned in that class was repeated years later when I went through customer service training at my first civilian job doing phone tech support. Some of the basics are the same; where possible don’t use jargon, don’t assume they understand what you’re talking about, and never tell them they’re wrong(even if they are, and there are exceptions to this). Jargon and acronyms are big in any field, and even more so in any branch of the military, but try you’re best to avoid them. Once you build up that rapport with the person you’re working with use that to help explain what’s going on in terms they can understand, analogies are great for this! Try to keep them engaged and avoid those long silences, this often leaves the person you’re working with feeling alienated or minimized, and can damage any trust or rapport you have built up. Lastly try to get them to work with you and ask questions, or get them to repeat back the plan moving forward if it’s an ongoing issue, and be sure to wrap up and summarize.

The TLDR version

Speaking of wrapping up, anyone can learn to read from a script or troubleshoot from a flow chart, but learning to help someone through an issue they don’t understand takes listening, trust, and communication. I’ve worked with plenty of technicians who can fix a problem, but didn’t really help the person who had that problem. Make sure to engage the person you’re working with, get to know them, and be able to talk with them without feeling like the nerdy kid at a school dance, and everything will go much smoother.

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