It probably goes without saying that we are now, more than ever, reliant on technology, given the immense challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. It is vital that employees are able to continue working and staying in contact with the technical support provided by the hard working folk in IT.

Equally, it’s never been more important to provide the utmost in customer care, to apply those people skills. Great customer care is all about how people feel. Let’s be blunt, we are living through scary and wholly unpredictable times. As a result, IT users are likely to be on edge, nervous, uncertain and often under unprecedented pressure to deliver.

Customers who are suddenly having to work from home, are forced to adapt to new routines or are needing to set up their own technology. This can be exacerbated in many cases by myriad changes to the working day, such as children being at home, other domestic stresses or the psychological impact of isolation from colleagues and disrupted routines – let alone fears around ourselves or our loved ones succumbing to the virus.

All of this can result in any number of challenging behaviours when interacting with the IT team.

When running customer care programmes, by far the most common request I get from delegates is “How do I deal with difficult customers?”

The key to resolving this comes in recognising that, so called “difficult” customers are actually individuals who are experiencing difficulties. At the present time this will apply to the bulk of the population and, within that, a significant proportion who are forced, more than ever, to be dependent on their IT working effectively.

And, of course, their port in the storm will be the service desk team, who themselves are also likely be having to adapt to new ways of working – a potentially toxic situation!

When we are feeling uncertain, nervous or fearful, we are unlikely to express that directly. Instead it will come across in less integrated behaviours, usually aggressive in nature. There is a kind of over-compensation that comes into play: the more insecure one feels, the more likely one is to shout or swear at that person in IT. The challenge, and the first step towards dealing with that, is to recognise it as behaviour.

That may sound obvious, but we all too often forget this, and fall into the trap I call “Bad Person Illusion”.

This can be best explained by use of an analogy. You decide to purchase a digital radio. You take delivery, plug it into the wall and fire it up. Coming from the speaker is the sound of a singer you can’t abide. You therefore unplug the radio, wrap it back up, put it back in the box and return it to the supplier, telling them the radio is rubbish and demanding a refund. Clearly ludicrous. In other words “Bad Radio Illusion”. Yet, we all too often do this with people! We make the person the problem, rather than the behaviour. In IT terms, the behaviour is the equivalent of the software that is running at the time and not to be misidentified as the hardware.

So, how do we change that “radio station” that’s playing at the time or, to put it another way, initiate the human software fix?

We need to turn to the LAW. You guessed it, an acronym. Apply the three elements of the acronym every time you engage with a troubled customer and you are going to make progress…

LISTEN – really listen, without judgment or interruption, in order to ascertain the technical issue, but also to create and maintain empathy at a time of great stress for the customer.

ASK – apply your enquiry skills, not only to diagnose but also to demonstrate a genuine interest in, and concern for, what the customer is experiencing.

WORK WITH – approach the interaction in a spirit of collaboration. An attitude of “you and me against the problem” rather than “me vs you”. Key points here will include elements such as managing expectations, keeping the customer informed and using language that is definitive, constructive and accessible – adapted to the customer’s level of IT expertise and knowledge.

Given the unusual times we are having to live through, that technical fix may not always be possible or achievable immediately. However great customer care is also about leaving each individual you are dealing with feeling as comfortable as they possibly can in the circumstances. A tall order at the moment, but applying the LAW every time can make a significant and positive difference.

Chris Markiewicz is an independent consultant, coach and trainer with three decades’ experience, specialising in programmes, both online and classroom, covering the soft skills required in the fields of customer service and people management.

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