Read Part 1 of Improving Workplace Social Skills for Help Desk Techs

The effectiveness of a help desk technician’s social skills depends largely on his or her degree of emotional intelligence and ability to communicate. But workplace social skills go farther than relating to customers and communicating clearly with them -- they also involve knowing what specific actions are required to deliver appropriate customer service.

Knowing what your customers expect, and meeting their expectations, is essential for success as a help desk rep. This article looks at the most fundamental of all customer expectations -- respect -- and how support agents can deliver it while keeping their own sanity.

What Customers Expect

Success at support jobs requires different social skills (like the ones mentioned in Part I of this series) depending on the kinds of services provided, customers, industry, etc. All customer service jobs, however, require the big one -- showing respect for the customer. This can be more complicated than it sounds, because expectations for respectful behavior can differ by age, upbringing, geographical area, culture, workplace, etc.

According to a 2013 LivePerson Connecting with Customers report, approximately 80% of more than 5,000 surveyed consumers felt that respect for their time was the most important aspect of good customer service. The report reveals a change in how we use the Internet -- from “self-service” to expectations for live human connections from multiple channels. If we don’t get it, we get mean.

Therefore, respect must be genuine in attitude and demonstrated through behavior that meets the highest standards. It is essential to acknowledge and appreciate the time, intelligence, circumstances, fellow humanity, and willingness to ask for help of each and every customer.

Respecting the Disrespectful

We Can Only Give What We Receive

Sustaining a high level of respect for every customer can be deeply challenging when customers don’t respect you in return.

Help desk jobs are notoriously difficult because of the baggage that comes with technology. Customers often:

  • Struggle to understand what support agents struggle to explain

  • Get frustrated at technology that doesn’t work the way they need it to when they need it

  • Don’t know whether to trust the guidance they’re being given because they are unfamiliar with the technology, and have been misdirected before (or so they thought)

  • Are frustrated at their lack of technical expertise and embarrassed and defensive at having to ask for help

  • Get impatient because they know (or think they know) a lot more than the average help desk tech, let alone customer, and therefore believe they shouldn’t have to wait in line and deal with first-line support like the others

  • Panic when technology lets them down at crucial moments

  • Don’t understand the industry, and get angry when hardware manufacturers won’t provide support for software made by other companies, etc.

  • Get belligerent or downright destructive when they don’t get the answers they need, have to repeat things, think their time has been wasted, or won’t be able to get a quick fix fast and free

Adding fuel to the fire is the technology that customers have to deal with to fix their problems with technology. They have to wade through automated menu systems that aren’t equipped to handle unusual situations, wait for service that may or may not be what they need, put up with disconnections and being transferred between agents, validate information that has already been provided, and then explain their issue repeatedly.

If customers survive technology long enough to finally connect with humans who can help them, they may encounter worn-down, burned-out, help desk techs who stopped caring 85 tickets ago -- people who may be sarcastic, impatient, mocking, condescending, provoking or even malicious. They may purposefully make it difficult to resolve simple issues, put callers back in the queue, or deny services for which customers have paid or been promised.

Toxic Workplace Dynamics

In addition to being disrespected by customers, help desk techs may have to work with supervisors, upper management, and fellow team members that expect respect while behaving in disrespectful ways. If:

  • You don’t feel respected by your supervisors and colleagues

  • The culture at work doesn’t uphold high regard for every customer

  • Your employer defines success in your job as something counter to providing respectful service

  • Morale is low, with lots of bored, frustrated people with little privacy stirring up drama just to make work more interesting’s much harder to maintain a sense of respect, ticket after ticket, metric after metric, question after demand after insult.

How to Get More Respect

Finding, and taking, the high road - Everyone -- customer, agent, developer, supervisor -- feels stuck between a rock and a hard place if the company doesn’t provide the necessary policies, procedures and positivity to keep customers happy.

It’s up to you to choose to be different... to take the high road. You have to be able to live with yourself at the end of the day, no matter what others think. Do your best, so that you don’t let yourself down. If doing your best is impossible because of the way your employer tracks metrics, consider another employer.

Assume the best -- Respecting the fact that you don’t know what an individual customer’s experience has been prior to contacting you, what their background is, or who they are, can make it easier to treat each person equally. Assume each customer is an intelligent, influential, caring, attractive individual who has the power to fire you or promote you, and they’re having the worst day of their lives. They can’t prevent themselves from being rude -- everything rides on your help. If you don’t come to the rescue, all hell will break loose! Only you can save the day by resolving or escalating an issue. This heroic attitude will help you lay out the red carpet for one “celebrity” customer after another.

Going the extra mile -- Engage yourself in your work. Take that extra call or chat session. Find that one unique element in each caller that connects you as fellow humans.

Know your role -- Don’t waste time problem-solving with strategies that probably won’t work -- become an expert at identifying what you can fix or can’t fix quickly, and escalate the issues you can’t fix. Not only will it make your job easier, it will serve to build skills for decision-making jobs in the future.

Keep your value in mind -- Your interactions with customers have direct impact on your employer’s brand and revenues. They also lay the foundation for your future with the company. The more you know about the behavior and needs of customers, and can measure and communicate that in business terms, the more valuable you will be to your employer.

Find the right employer -- Not all help desk centers are the same. Recognizing and reinforcing desired behavior are productivity drivers that make some companies high-performing service organizations.

Respect yourself -- Don’t allow customers, colleagues, supervisors or employers to treat you abusively or in a derogatory manner. If they do, treat them with respect and take the high road, while finding the appropriate, positive way to resolve the situation. Most important of all, respect your life outside of the job, and leave work at work.

What needs to change for you to get more respect at work? Share your comments below...

Ellen Berry is Content Director for Myndbend. Her background is in website development, graphic design, career development, project management, entrepreneurship, technical writing, and journalism. She has worked for small start-ups, Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits, in fields including biomedical research and development, IT, finance, telecommunications, publishing and digital media. Her articles are frequently published on high profile websites such as USAToday, ScientificAmerican, TechRepublic and MonsterWorking.