As technicians, we are very skilled at working with computers. However, it’s just as important to have good communications skills with other humans. In this video, you’ll learn about important communication techniques that you can use to build relationships with your customers.
<< Previous Video: Managing Your Computing EnvironmentNext: Professionalism >>
When you think about technology, and we think about learning operating systems and hardware and printers, we sometimes don’t think about how important it is to have good communication skills. In fact, some of the best technicians are the ones that not only know what they need to know about operating systems and printers and components, but they’re also able to communicate that information to everybody else outside of the technical community.
Unfortunately, this is also one of the most difficult skills to master, and probably more so for technical people. We’re so used to dealing with computers that talk to us in ones and zeros. There’s no areas of gray. There’s no nuances. Everything is either on or it’s off. It either works or it doesn’t. And we have to determine how to take that knowledge of our computing system and apply it towards communicating with other human beings.
One thing you’ll find, though, if you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to communicate better with people, you’ll find you have a lot more options for your career or anything else that you’d like to do. Being able to take these highly technical topics and turn them into something that anybody can understand is a very marketable skill, and you’ll find that the more you’re able to communicate with other people, the more options you’ll have in technology.
Another interesting part of this is that the better you are at communicating, the more things you’re going to be able to learn from others. As they become more comfortable with talking to you and communicating with you, they’ll be able to help you understand more about the projects and the needs they have to be able to get accomplished.
As technical people, we have a lot of different abbreviations and TLAs that we happen to use, those three-letter acronyms, or four-letter acronyms, or five-letter acronyms, or acronyms in general. We have this special language that we communicate from one technical person to another technical person in order to get our communication across. But unfortunately, not everyone knows these particular abbreviations. If we’re communicating to people outside of a technical environment, or sometimes even within the technical environment, you may want to decide not to use a lot of jargon, especially if you want to be sure that every person is on the same page.
You, therefore need to be the translator. You need to be the one that takes these acronyms and these abbreviations and puts them into terms that people outside of the technical community can understand. It there’s a big project going on and people are making decisions, they need it laid out absolutely clearly on what needs to be accomplished.
There’s also some value in making sure that everybody understands exactly what’s going on. Sometimes you might be involved in a big project that has these very tight deadlines. There’s a lot of money that’s invested into these projects, and there’s a lot of tension. But if everybody understands exactly what’s going on, you can keep that tension level to a minimum.
Also keep in mind that people running the business may not be technically savvy, and they’re going to make decisions based on exactly what you’re telling them. So being able to avoid a lot of jargon will make sure that they completely understand the different options available to them, and they can make the decision that’s right for the company. Fortunately, these are the easiest problems to avoid. You can decipher and interpret exactly what those acronyms and abbreviations are, avoid communicating in jargon, and make sure that everybody is very clear on exactly what needs to be done.
Here was one of my biggest challenges that I needed to get through with communicating, is not erupting people that are trying to ask questions. As technical people, we want to answer so quickly. We want to prove that we know the answer. We want to show how smart we are about what they’re trying to do. We want to make sure that they understand that we’re going to help them as fast as possible. But interrupting somebody as they’re trying to describe their issue generally just creates problems.
What you really want to concentrate on is listening. You want to hear everything that your customer might be saying to you. You want to understand exactly the problems that are occurring, and perhaps even more importantly, you want to create a relationship with the person that you’re talking with. You want to build a level of trust with them and make sure they understand exactly what they’re telling you.
You also don’t want to interrupt before they tell you a key piece of information that’s going to help you solve this problem very quickly. Don’t jump to conclusions or think you know the answer when they’re only halfway through describing all of the problems they happen to have. This is really useful, especially if you’re on the phone where you don’t have those visual cues that you can pick up. If you’re the telephone, it’s useful to listen to everything somebody might be saying, take plenty of notes, and then repeat back and make sure that they understand exactly what you heard from them.
This is a very, very difficult skill to get absolutely right. You want to somehow turn off that need to be able to answer questions quickly. You want to learn and start getting into the mode of listening to as much as humanly possible before you’re ever commenting or trying to make a recommendation on where to go next. If you happen to get into this habit, you’ll find that it just becomes second nature. It’s not so important to answer quickly. It’s much more important to answer with the appropriate information and answer correctly.
Once you get past the point of interrupting, you can actually have a conversation. You can have somebody tell you about symptoms they might be having. You can ask questions about what you’re hearing them say and drill down into specifics. If somebody comes to you and they say that I’m having a problem. When I start up this computer, it doesn’t boot the operating system.
That gives you an opportunity to now ask questions about that. What do you mean it doesn’t boot the operating system? Are you seeing messages on the screen? How far does it get before it stops booting the operating system? Are you seeing any error messages? Those types of details can help you resolve the problem faster, and it also starts setting up this conversation between you and the customer so that you can really drill down into exactly the specifics you need to know to solve the problem.
Another best practice you should start thinking about is repeating information back to the customer. Not repeating everything they’re saying, but taking the ideas of what they’ve described, parsing out the information that’s most important to solving the problem, and making sure that they understand exactly what you’ve heard. That way, you’re able to repeat back, “As I understand it, you had a blinking cursor at the top of the screen. It beeped three times, and then this error message appeared. Did I get that correct?” That way, they know that you’ve received and understood exactly what they’ve said, and again, you’re building that relationship with your customer.
With personal computers and technology in general, there can be so many different things that can go wrong. It’s not always going to be the same thing every time, so we want to be very careful about not jumping to conclusions. Especially if we need to take someone’s computer for a certain amount of time, we need to order parts, we need to replace pieces inside of that system, we want to be sure that we’re absolutely right when we’re trying to solve these problems.
So don’t make an assumption about what somebody says. If they say my operating system won’t boot, don’t automatically think, well, that’s a power supply problem, or don’t think that, well, we need to reload Windows. There may be a completely different issue that’s causing their system not to boot up properly. And if we take all of the different information into account, we think about exactly what they’re telling us, then we should be able to make an educated decision about what our next step should be.
For someone who’s come to you with computing problems, they have an issue that needs to be resolved, there can be a lot of uncertainty. So one of the things that you can do is set the right type of expectations for resolving the issue. Maybe you’d like to describe to them different options. Maybe you could provide them with a loner device. Maybe you can tell them that you can repair the problem and how long you expect it to take. Maybe you can replace the device with the warranty replacement that also takes a certain amount of time. Which one of those options sounds best to you, Mr. Customer?
You also might want to make sure that you document as much as possible. Whenever you’re with someone who perhaps has brought their machine to you, they aren’t really concentrating on the problem as much as concentrating on all of the problems they have because now they don’t have their computer. So if you document everything, when they leave, they’ll know exactly what’s going to happen with their system. That’s going to help them later on when they’re trying to determine what their next steps might be.
You also want to make sure that you keep everybody in the loop as to what’s going on, especially if it’s an open issue. Sometimes you might go a week, you’ve ordered parts, and really nothing has happened. There’s parts haven’t come in, you’re waiting on the shipment to arrive, but sometimes it’s nice just to check in with the end user and let them know, I checked on your parts, I looked at the tracking information. It should still be here on time tomorrow, but I wanted to let you know that I was keeping track of everything, and I’m right on top of this so that we can solve your problem as quickly as possible.
And then of course, once the problem is resolved, let’s follow up with them and make sure it really solved the issue. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve resolved the problem, the customer’s taken their computer, their back at their home or their facility, and it turns out you didn’t actually resolve the issue. So if you’re more proactive and call the customer directly, and make sure that the problems that they have were resolved, you not only are making sure that the issue was indeed fixed, but you’re also setting up the relationship with that customer so that next time they have a problem, they can trust to bring it to you instead of having all of that anxiety all over again.