Customer Service Team

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“Have you tried turning it off and turning it on again?”

This is the standard, annoyed greeting that help desk denizen Roy Trenneman —played by actor Chris O’Dowd on the British sitcom “The IT Crowd” — barks at each unfortunate colleague who phones his office seeking computer help.

O’Dowd’s portrayal of Roy as a hapless, underappreciated cog may be unfair. But the problems his character encounters — frustration at clueless colleagues and a lack of respect from the rest of his company — are experienced by IT workers everywhere.

The best way to help your employees perform betterand gain the respect they deserve is to start thinking of IT as offering as much customer service as it does technical advice, experts say.

Here are four ways your IT department can create a more “customer” friendly environment.

Clear communication

The key to gaining respect, said Ryan Meyer of the IT consulting firm Internet Solver, is good communication.

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“Ultimately, the users don’t judge IT on how fast their computer runs,” Meyer said, “They judge them on the communication, the help desk, by the level of support, the politeness, and the follow-up phone calls.”

Meyer advises IT professionals to communicate with users via phone rather than e-mail.

“Speaking to someone over the phone,” Meyer said, “it’s a lot more difficult to avoid a question.” Corresponding via e-mail, Meyer said, makes it easier for IT department employees to, as he puts it, hide behind the help desk.

“I Can” attitude

Communication with IT professionals unwilling to take ownership of their customers’ problems will be fruitless regardless of the medium. The ability to satisfy customers, said Carol Quinn, the CEO of Hire Authority, is a key quality to seek when hiring employees for an IT department.

Determining whether a job candidate will be a good communicator is tricky, Quinn told IT TechNewsDaily. “Anyone can satisfy a customer when it’s easy and there are no problems,” she said. But when the computer breaks down, an IT employee’s attitude becomes clear.

“Some people,” Quinn said, “are quick to make up their mind that a problem cannot be conquered or that they are powerless to do anything about it.” This type of person will flounder, she added. To assess a candidate’s ability to take ownership, hiring managers should ask him or her questions like, “Tell me about a time when you dealt with an irate customer,” or “Tell me a about a specific time you had to debug some code you didn’t write.”

Build a community

For IT professionals, a personal touch may be as important as technical expertise, said Steven Savage, a technology project manager and self-described professional geek. “Do not over-automate or over formalize,” Savage said. “People want human contact.”

He recommends help desk employees follow-up with the colleagues they recently helped, and to try and preempt pesky problems.

It also helps for IT professionals to act as though they are part of the same community as the colleagues they help, a concept that has become popular with the advent of social media, Savage said.

“Make the people you support part of a communityand treat them as such,” he said. “It pays off.”

The ‘Golden Rule’

Marcin Kedzierski is the IT director of Genghis Grill, a 67-store chain of Mongolian restaurants in the South and Midwest. Kedzierski’s can-do attitude and company pride go a long way toward helping him fit into the organization’s culture.

His inspiration for helping his colleagues comes from his own experience with poor service at companies of which he is a customer.

“When I contact them, they blame someone else or give solutions that don’t work,” he said.

Kedzierski avoids this trap at Ghengis Grill by keeping the lines of communications open between his department and others. “I’ve noticed that once you have good communication, it’s easy to find a quick, acceptable solution.”