Soft Skills – The Unsung Heroes of IT Support

help-desk

Disclaimer: No idea who this guy is, but he looks happy to assist. Fake it ’til you make it.

When many people think “IT Guy”, an image of khakis, a button-up, and the occasional pocket protector is going to pop into their minds. In my world, image is usually inconsequential – the only people who typically see me are the ones I work with and none of them really have time to judge my outfit. But moreso than wardrobe, many customers are going to think: Introvert. Awkward. Shy. A complete inability to translate technical terms to the layman on the fly. And this really bothers me.

This is the state of things: these days all I really have to do to impress a client is to speak clearly and sound like I know what I’m doing. But to meet a well-spoken, charismatic, friendly IT professional who is as socially sound as he is technical is almost a unicorn in this field and I don’t see why this should be like it is. Personally, I love talking to people. If I’m going to spend the bulk of my time in front of an inanimate object, I’d love to have some company. There are some people who can’t stand it (i.e. programmers), but then again programmers also have the 8th highest suicide rate on the CDC’s occupational suicide list so there’s something to be said about that (source here).

But I get it – some people just don’t like people. Some people get into IT specifically because they don’t like people and think that they will never have to talk to anyone or anything but a server rack. However, IT in 2016 demands that you have more corporate-friendly skills, and the soft skills that revolve around customer service are not only highly desired and sorely lacking, but also a necessity for so many areas.

This is the part where I speak directly to my fellow technicians. CEOs, COOs, CFOs, and HR Managers can skip this part. Listen people – if you can’t communicate the necessity of your position to someone who employs it, you’re never going to defeat the image that IT is just one big expenditure and all we are are a bunch of overworked hamsters whose sole purposes in life are to make sure nothing breaks. In my daily mountain-high workload of tickets, I always try to not only resolve the original issue my client has, but also try to break down that preconception they have of tech support/help desk/whatever along the way.

You don’t need to talk about your family, but while you’re waiting for a process to complete you can take 10 seconds and ask them about their day. Crack a joke about other, inferior tech support services (looking at you, Verizon). Make a comment on their desktop background, if you’re cool like that. Anything that will leave the person on the other end of the phone saying “well, that wasn’t as painful as I thought” when they hang up the phone will literally help IT professionals the world over. The higher you set the bar, the less tolerant clients will become of substandard service (looking at you, Time Warner).

I took two public speaking courses, and one of them was online. Now before you question my academic credentials, I offer that this online public speaking course was insanely more effective than the one I took in-person. The reason for this is that all of our speeches had to be recorded via webcam and submitted. Believe me, I thought it was stupid at first as well, until the first time I played a speech back and watched myself. I fidgeted a lot. I said “uhm” a lot. I got too wordy and nonsensical. If you really want to get good at talking to people, pull one of the calls you took part in that was “recorded for quality assurance” and listen to it yourself. Sometimes it can be very cringe-worthy, but I guarantee you it will help.

I get it – really, I do. I am in the trenches with the rest of you. I know that end users are insane most of the time, but they’re also the reason our job exists. No matter how infuriated or old or impatient they get, they -need- us. And it’s hard for anyone these days to admit that they need help, but they come to us anyway. One of my instructors always said that IT would be like playing “network doctor”, and I can’t help but to think how far adopting their nurturing, patient, and understanding natures could do for all of us. If you’re going to be in the trenches, you might as well not make it any less pleasant than it already is.

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