The Technical People Barrier?

PocketprOne of the most unique challenges that was my mentioned at my workshop was this one: technical people don’t like interacting with customers. I think I laughed out loud when I read the suggestion (the person who suggested it was someone I knew from before the conference), but I then remembered just how true it is (in some situations).

We’ve all seen the funny videos on YouTube and similar sites making fun of socially awkward customer service (especially technical support) representatives. They don’t know what to say or how to say it, but they do know their stuff technically. The question is: how do you get them to work with customers effectively?

My usual suggestion for companies dealing socially unadjusted technical support representatives is to work with them in the same way that they would work with foreign customer service representatives. Because the foreign reps don’t usually speak English as a first language, it is often difficult for them to communicate and interact with American customers naturally. The basic premise is the same; neither group is good at interacting with customers for one reason or another.

To reiterate the basic ideas and procedures:

Work with employees before placing them on the phone.
The key to getting employees adjusted is practice. Do lots of mock calls, mock emails, and the like. Provide constructive criticism and work with the employees to improve their skills. Some companies work with voice coaches, others work with specialized trainers; there are plenty of options. Effective training will usually help employees feel more comfortable working with customers.

Consider having them work behind the scenes.
If training and other types of practice aren’t proving to be effective, then it might be appropriate to look into placing that employee in another department. Having these types of employees work behind the scenes and work with other employees (instead of customers directly) is most likely a better use of their skills and talent. It depends almost entirely on the individual employee, but in general, those that don’t work well with customers may be better suited to work behind the scenes.

Hire with personality in mind.
If you aren’t doing it already, it might be useful to include personality tests or at the very least, personality focused questions, in the interviewing process. In the perfect world, you don’t need to and won’t hire people that don’t like working with customers. Ideally, everyone should enjoy working with, talking to, and serving customers.

Warning: consider how they work with others.
It is important to consider how the employees work with others. If they are totally social awkward or have trouble tolerating others, they probably won’t work well within your company. Everyone has to be able to work with others to some degree and if they can’t, it will be tough for them to fit into any sort of company. Even people who work behind the scenes need to be able to work with others on their team and within the company. Teamwork is a huge part of every successful company.

For more reading on this topic, check out my interview with Robert Stephens from the Geek Squad. He has some unique solutions for the problem.

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2 Responses to “The Technical People Barrier?”

  1. Joe said:

    Mar 07, 08 at 11:42 pm

    Fun thing is when we run personality test, we tend to find people who can do the technical part of the job never have the personality traits for the customer interaction. We really have to train one part or the other.

  2. Service Untitled » The Technical Person’s Guide to Customer Service - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Sep 17, 08 at 10:47 pm

    […] that need to provide customer service themselves. For more reading on this subject, check out this post (general) and this post (specific). « Feedback Survey from Skype   Related […]