The Importance of Communication
We all feel frustrated when we can't quite get our point across, something I reflected upon in the customer service section. So, let's reflect on the importance of communication skills and why they are critical for help desk teams and how they can make or break the customer experience.
I've written some sections in this chapter that follow a few key areas where I wish I had more support in the early days of my career.
Now, before we get into the nitty-gritty, let's acknowledge that help desk teams are the superheroes of the technology world. They're the friendly voices that save the day when our technology drives us over the edge. But without exceptional communication skills, even the most brilliant minds cannot provide the best assistance.
Some thoughts follow below, more for your reflection than anything. How will you foster these skills within yourself and the team?
Clarity is key
First and foremost, the ability to convey complex technical concepts in a simple, easy-to-understand manner is a must for any help desk professional. Remember, your customers may not be tech-savvy. So, speak their language, avoid jargon, and ensure your instructions are crystal clear. It's all about helping them help themselves.
Listening might be the most essential part of communication. Active listening ensures that you understand the issue and lets your customers know they're being heard (literally!). So, tune in, pay attention to the details, and repeat the problem to the customer to ensure you've got it right. This simple step can make a world of difference in providing practical assistance.
I've added a specific section on active listening and an approach called L-E-A-R-N.
It's not always easy, but it's a game-changer in the help desk.
Your customers are likely frustrated or even downright panicky when they call for help. Keeping your cool and staying patient can help defuse the situation and guide them to a solution with minimal stress.
Empathy wins the day.
Put yourself in your customer's shoes.
Remember the last time you had to call for help? By being empathetic and understanding their emotions, you can build trust, demonstrate that you genuinely care, and create a positive customer experience.
You can boost empathy (both for and from your customers) on internal or managed service desks by getting the team out into the business. I've explored this a little more in a later section.
Say it with style
Finally, a friendly, upbeat style is crucial when interacting with customers. Keep it positive and professional while also being approachable and relatable. This balance will make your customers feel comfortable and appreciated, which is always a win!
LEARN to Actively Listen
It is crucial to demonstrate to a customer that you recognise their problem and will own it, not just 'log and flog' the matter. Over the years, I've often employed the LEARN technique.
The LEARN principle is a helpful framework for practising active listening, which involves listening attentively, understanding the speaker's perspective, and responding empathetically.
The LEARN principle is an acronym that stands for:
Here's a closer look at each step and how you can apply it in your interactions with others.
Listen with an open mind.
This means being fully present in the moment and giving the speaker your undivided attention. Avoid distractions like checking your phone or thinking about what you will say next. Instead, focus on what the speaker is saying and pay attention to their nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice and body language. By listening with an open mind, you create a safe space for the speaker to express themselves and begin to gain their trust.
Explore the speaker's thoughts and feelings.
The next step of the LEARN principle is to explore the speaker's thoughts and feelings. This means asking open-ended questions and encouraging the speaker to share more about their perspective.
For example, you might ask, "Can you tell me more about why you feel that way?" or "What led you to that conclusion?" By exploring the speaker's thoughts and feelings, you demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in understanding their perspective.
Acknowledge what is being said.
The third step of the LEARN principle is to acknowledge what is being said. This means using verbal and nonverbal cues to show that you actively listen and understand what the speaker is saying.
For example, you might nod or say "I see" or "I understand" to show that you follow along. By acknowledging what is being said, you validate the speaker's perspective and help them feel heard.
The fourth step is to respond empathetically. This means expressing empathy and understanding of the speaker's perspective.
For example, you might say, "That sounds challenging", or "I can imagine how frustrating that must be." By responding empathetically, you show that you care about the speaker's experience and are invested in their well-being.
Note key takeaways
The final step of the LEARN principle is to note key takeaways. This means summarising the main points of the conversation and highlighting any key insights or action items.
For example, you might say, "So it sounds like you're feeling overwhelmed by your workload and would like some support in prioritising your tasks. Is that right?" By noting key takeaways, you ensure that you are both on the same page and can take any necessary next steps.
Whenever I walk into a situation where a customer is unhappy, I always remind myself of this, even sometimes jotting down the letters on my notepad to ensure I follow it.
One key aspect that is often overlooked but carries immense significance to the IT team and even the reputation of the organisation as a whole is the management of written communications and the need to control who can say what and how.
The Need for a Clear Communication Policy
Help desk managers should establish a well-defined policy on who is responsible for crafting and disseminating written communications across the organisation.
For example, these messages could include policy updates, major incident status reports, or relevant information. By designating the help desk manager as the approving authority, if not the author, for all written communications, businesses can ensure consistency, accuracy, and timeliness in the flow of information.
It needs to be explicitly laid out, even if the message is "nobody but me sends customer or company-wide communications", because otherwise, you may experience analysts or other technology teams putting out statements to customers that maybe aren't as tailored as you would like.
The Power of Templates
Templating is valuable for help desk managers regarding repetitive communications, such as service status messages, upcoming changes/releases, and more.
Here are some key advantages of using templates for written communications:
Streamlined Process: Templates take the guesswork out of drafting messages, providing a clear and concise structure that makes it easier to convey essential information.
Enhanced Readability: By presenting information in a consistent and familiar format, recipients can quickly interpret the message and locate the specific details they need (e.g. impacted services, timeframes, or the nature of the incident).
Reduced Room for Error: Guided by a template, people are less likely to miss crucial information, thus ensuring that all necessary details are included in the communication. This can be especially important in time-pressured situations.
Examples of Common Templates
To further illustrate the benefits of templates, let's explore some common types that help desk managers can use in their daily operations:
Upcoming Releases: Announce new features, enhancements, or bug fixes in a structured format that allows customers and staff to anticipate and prepare for changes.
Known Bugs/Issues & Workarounds: Provide clear and actionable information on existing issues and potential solutions, making it easier for customers and staff to navigate any challenges.
Planned Maintenance Windows: Inform users about scheduled maintenance or service downtimes, including the anticipated duration and impact, to minimise disruptions and foster understanding.
Major Incident Status Reports: Offer timely updates on ongoing incidents, keeping stakeholders informed and managing expectations during critical situations.
IT Security Alerts: Communicate vital security-related information, such as potential threats, vulnerabilities, or required actions, in a consistent and easily digestible manner.
Here are a few templates that might help facilitate communications. Use the search tool on my website for 'communications' to find more.