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Tech Talk Live Blog

Customer Service and IT: Keys to Successful End User Support – Part 10 – Best Practices

Susan Koetzle Hoffman


This is the tenth in a series of posts that will address customer service and IT. To read previous posts in this series, click on Part 1Part 2Part 3Par​t 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8, and Part 9.​

In the last customer service blog, I examined the personnel skills needed to provide excellent support with a positive attitude.  Now it is time to look at what a Technology Department as a whole can do to help its members shine.  Even the most positive and helpful tech can be broken if there is no structure to your operations and no basic guidelines and expectations in place that everyone is instructed to follow.  The best way to improve a contributor’s attitude is to institute some basic best practices.

Customer Service Best Practices

  • Respond quickly (even if just letting client know when you will be available).
  • Ask questions (make sure you understand the problem).
  • Do not be afraid to say, “I do not know.”
  • Have canned responses ready for common issues.
  • Provide a means for clients to help themselves.
  • Keep clients informed of your progress.
  • Communicate within the department so everyone is aware of bigger issues.
  • Follow up after issues are resolved to make sure the problem is truly fixed.
  • Be nice!

Provide a quick response and you have discovered one of the most important ways to create goodwill—even if that reply lets the user know you will get to the problem later.  People appreciate knowing that their email or ticket has been received, noted, and is in the pipeline.  Frustration builds the longer a client waits to hear from you.  If you have the time to take care of the issue immediately, by all means do so.  People do understand that just because you helped them right away one day, you may be swamped on another and they will have to wait a bit.  Just knowing you will be with them eventually is all most people need.  Know your department priorities—agree on what issues should always go to the top of the list.  Communicate among yourselves so you know what is going on and who is occupied by priority projects.  But always, let the client know you will be with them and provide some timeframe, if possible.

When presented with a request, always ask questions to make sure you understand the problem.  I mentioned asking questions when talking about the skill of active listening.  Questioning also comes into play as a department practice.  Know what the problem is before escalating it to another colleague.  Often our users confuse terms or misunderstand what is actually going wrong—it is up to you to get to the root of the matter.  Maintain department harmony and efficiency by ascertaining whether you can resolve the issue at hand before pushing it up the chain to another tech.

When helping others, saying you do not know the answer immediately is no disgrace.  If you need to do more research, say so and do so.  Better a client waits for the correct answer rather than wastes time taking shots in the dark.  In truth, you look smarter making someone wait for an accurate answer than you do when they see you guessing.

Maintaining a list of canned responses saves a lot of time when faced with common problems and requests.  Have that detailed answer ready to copy and paste into your email or ticket response.  Utilize FAQ sections in your online ticketing system—these can be quickly attached to ticket responses as well.  Create tips sheets and include them on your website.  Anything you can do to streamline the day-to-day requests makes life easier for everyone.

In addition to utilizing FAQs, any resources for self-help that you can provide will be appreciated by a certain segment of your users.  There are tech savvy faculty and staff members who will regularly utilize tip sheets, training links, quick start guides, and any other information you provide.  When people are able to find answers to question on their own, it frees the Technology Department to spend time on more pressing or complicated issues.  Creating and keeping self-help resources up-to-date requires commitment, but can save a lot of time in the long run.

Keep in touch with your clients.  As time passes waiting for help, people begin to wonder if you have forgotten about them.  When working on any issue, keep your clients informed of your progress.  If you have asked for more information, acknowledge when it is provided.  If circumstances require you to wait for receipt of outside information or parts, keep the client in the loop.  It only takes a moment each morning to check through your tickets and send out a note or two as needed.

The importance of communication within your department cannot be stressed enough.  There are things everyone needs to know:  you installed a new piece of equipment, a teacher is starting a pilot project using a new application or device, Wi-Fi access points are down in the east wing, the inventory management system will be down for an upgrade, or the update that went out overnight broke something!  Do not get so caught up in your own project or crisis du jour that you forget to let others in the department know what is happening.

After a more involved issue has been resolved, follow up a week later to see how things are going.  While most people will let you know about subsequent developments, there are some who will not wish to trouble you further.  Is the issue really fixed, or have other problems arisen as a result of the actions taken?  Better to find out the fix did not quite do the trick earlier rather than later.  Positive feedback is useful as well.

Finally, be nice!  The moment you answer the phone or type out that email or ticket response, you set the tone.  The person on the other end may be perfectly relaxed or out for bear, but you have the power to direct the subsequent exchange in a positive or negative direction.  Let the force be with you for goodwill, amicable interactions, and positive impressions.

Instituting a set of best practices requires that you, as a department, talk together and agree to support each other in providing the best service possible to your users.   Department life is much happier and productive when all members are part of the team and share the same goals.

Striving to develop and maintain a productive and helpful attitude, both as an individual and a department, will reap many rewards in the end.  People should feel relief when you answer their call for help knowing that you are ready and willing to help.  On the flip side, heading into work each day is made easier knowing there is a plan in place to get the job done, and everyone is working together for the same purpose.  We cannot control what will break or who will need help, we cannot entirely change our personalities, but we can agree to adopt a supportive approach as a department and a positive attitude as individuals.  In the end, everyone will be happier.

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