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Breaking Down the Walls Between IT and Users
IT folks tend to be introverts. In our younger days, many of us could be found poking code into our Commodores or Tandy home computers, while our classmates were playing stickball in the street. In my experience, folks who decided to take the IT career path are generally shy and keep to themselves. It’s a natural inclination and a great fit to combine our personalities with machines.
However, our shy personalities often need a little customer-support coaching. Unintentionally, we in IT sometimes portray an aloof attitude – as if we are smarter than those we support. To compound the problem, some of our users struggle to ask for help. They may feel silly for asking a simple question, or they may feel like we have more important things to do.
So, when we respond by rolling our eyes, huffing a deep breath, or any other passive-aggressive manner, it’s just placing another brick on that wall between IT and the organization. This doesn’t help to foster the service-oriented department whose sole purpose is to support the business. In fact, there’s sometimes a rift between IT and those we support within an organization.
Another contributing factor to IT and the business irritation is ticketing systems. Nearly every medium-to-large company has some form of a help desk system that tracks technology issues. Peak frustration is when a user spends 20 minutes filling out a form, and then they receive the "blue screen of death," and their computer locks up. Then, the user asks IT for help, and IT won’t lift a finger until a help desk ticket is opened.
A Servant’s Heart
I’m not saying that all IT folks are this way. I’ve worked with some outstanding techies who have dynamic personalities, enjoy helping others, and are passionate about their jobs. They take time to get to know their users. They find common ground with the person they are helping by chatting about sports, kids, or current events.
The truth of the matter is many of us in IT have it backwards. If we don’t operate a technology company, then we are the IT staff who supports the company. In other words, we are a cost center, not a profit center. To make it personal, every single person in my company is my customer. I work for them. I need to have a servant’s heart.
How do you build relationships? Start with intentional kindness. Kindness increases trust and compassion among co-workers, and it increases participants’ levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Even Shark Tank billionaire Mark Cuban calls kindness a hidden secret to success. “One of the most underrated skills in business right now is being nice. Nice sells,” he said.
Here are some simple ways to build bridges between departments and things to do to develop a “nicer” IT practice:
• Be courteous — If you don’t know the answer, admit it, and commit to finding the answer. We are not all experts in everything, and technology constantly changes.
• Follow up — Go back and visit with people after you help them. After spending an hour training someone on a new system, consider following up after a few days to see if there are any lingering issues or questions. Sure, you may be asked a string of questions and be delayed for another 30 minutes, but after all, isn’t that what we were hired to do? Time is our most coveted resource, so you may need to schedule a time to follow up with clients. But you can be certain that they will really appreciate it.
• Communicate — “Hi David, I received your request for a new laptop, and I see that it’s been approved. I just wanted to let you know that our supplier says there’s been a delay, but it will arrive by the end of the month. If anything changes, I’ll let you know right away.”
A note like this takes two minutes to write, reduces David’s stress, and leaves an impression of IT professionalism. Keep in mind, you not only have your reputation, but you also represent your department.
• Be available — Do you work behind an unlabeled door with the door closed? If so, how do you think that makes your customers feel? I know we all have meetings and conference calls, but open it when you can talk to people.
Take time to walk around and talk to your internal customers. If you don’t have the time, schedule it on your calendar. Trust me – this will make an impression. Most IT personnel don’t make this a habit. This will set you apart from others.
• Use your telephone — Conversations are the key to good service. Put a signature in your email and include your phone number! (Can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine? If I wanted to send you an email, I would have done it already.) There’s nothing worse than a 20-layer email thread that could have been hashed out in a 15-minute conversation. Conversations are the building blocks of relationships, and technology is no substitute.
• Enrich your emails — Assemble a handful of email templates for responses to common requests. Go the extra mile to polish this. Be friendly, concise, but anticipate their questions. When you receive a ticket, use this template as a response or as a starting point to answer their question. This helps to ensure that you don’t respond with a brusque, one-sentence response.
For example, when you reset someone’s voicemail password, don’t just reply with the new password. Construct and use an email template that highlights the basic features, or provides bullet points with extra tips and tricks, and include a link to more information. This will save you time in the future.
Here are some other simple ways to foster relationships within your organization:
- Ask your team members about their families, pets, hobbies, or other things that are important to them.
- Offer to help someone who seems overwhelmed.
- Does your company have some sort of employee appreciation tool? Use it. You don’t have to be a manager, director, or VP to appreciate someone.
- Treat everyone as if they were the CEO — from the front desk receptionist to the janitor.
- Be kind to your clients — personally thank them for their input, feedback, and even for their complaints.
- Learn people’s names and remember them. Greet them in the morning and call them by name. It makes people feel important and leaves an impression on them.
- Leave a sticky note on a colleague’s computer, offering encouragement before they tackle an important project or task.
- Bring in treats for your co-workers.
- Train yourself to think and speak positively. Avoid negative thinking, gossiping, or reacting to difficult news unconstructively.
Science backs the idea that soft skills can boost your career: High levels of emotional intelligence, empathy, and gratitude have been associated with people earning more money over their lifetimes. In short, what makes you most valuable is your ability to cooperate with, connect with them, and lead others in effective ways. If you want to advance your career, build bridges.
If you are an introvert, I would encourage you to come out of your shell a bit. I’ll admit that there are days that I want to wall off the world, close my door, and unplug the phone. That’s okay; we all have those days. But I’d like to politely nudge my shy IT colleagues to step out of your comfort zone just a little bit. Like anything else with a little practice, it will become natural, and you will find yourself providing better customer service and shaping your career path.