Delighting Your User, Part Four: Showing and Maintaining Competence

Competence means providing correct, knowledgeable service, performed with accuracy and confidence.

Competence is a two-part process. You must demonstrate competence in the way you do your job, but you must also find ways to maintain your technical competence.

Demonstrating Competence

Here are a couple of good techniques to use to demonstrate your competence.

Tell the user what you are going to do before you do it. This technique is called headlining, in the sense that a newspaper article’s headline tells you what you are going to read before you read it. As a user, it is very frustrating to be dealing with a technical support provider who does not tell you what he or she is doing. When there is silence on the phone, the user may be confused, and this does not assure the user of your competence. You know you have not done a good job of headlining if, after a period of silence, your user says, “Are you still there?” The user does not feel cared for if she has to guess if you are still on the line.

Headlining is the mark of a professional Help Desk provider. It is easy and quick to do, and creates a high degree of end-user satisfaction. Use headlining when you need to take a moment to look up some information in the database. You can say, “It will take me just a minute to look that up in the database.” This gives the user the assurance that you are working on their behalf.

Another way of providing assurance to users is to build their confidence in your ability to help them. This can be done with a solution statement delivered once you understand and have confirmed the user’s problem. A solution statement simply tells the user that you can help them solve the problem. You can say, “From what you have told me, I know how to solve the problem.”

Maintaining Technical Competence

Our world in Information Systems and Technology evolves so quickly that maintaining technical competence can seem overwhelming at times. Here are four keys to maintaining your technical competence:

Be curious. Curious people are always exploring. When you’re curious, life is more interesting and you find new ways of doing things, you find things you didn’t even know existed, and you maintain a childlike sense of wonder and awe.

Read…a lot. The fact that you’re reading this article speaks highly of you. It’s not that you’re reading this particular article (as much as your author wants to believe that!), but that you’re reading any article about how to do your job better that speaks so highly of you. There are thousands, perhaps millions, of blogs and forums on the Web dealing with the same technologies you support. Microsoft and most other vendors provide extensive support documentation at their sites. Microsoft even has free hands-on labs and how-to guides. Get one of the O’Reilly Cookbooks for the technology you support and work through recipes that are most interesting to you.

Build a sandbox. I first heard of an IT “sandbox” when I was working with some individuals from Kimberly-Clark Corporation in a PKI training session. The IT “sandbox” is another name for a testing lab where you can experiment without worrying about system failure. Today, it’s often not necessary to set up a physical lab with multiple physical computers. Instead, you can use tools like VMWare, Virtual PC, or Xen to create a virtualized lab environment in which you can test and experiment to your heart’s content without worrying about affecting end-users. Some virtualization products are available for free; others at very low cost. (I use VMWare Workstation.) Use Google to learn more about virtualization and the vendors who create virtualization products.

Get trained! As a training provider to the IT world, you’d certainly expect me to make this recommendation, but it’s important. Training, whether in a college classroom, a seminar environment, in a workshop, or at a conference exposes you to new ways of doing things and thinking about things. Electronic delivery of training can be an excellent solution, but participating in in-person classes allows you to interact with the instructor and the other students. It’s through such interaction that you discover new concepts and new solutions to old problems. I discovered when I returned to college that just being in an educational environment got me thinking in new and positive ways. Additionally, great teachers and trainers challenge you and help you step outside your comfort zone which is how you affect positive change in your career and in your life.

Being great at your job isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s immensely rewarding in terms of personal satisfaction, career options, and financial rewards.

Next week, we’ll talk about empathy and its importance as part of the tech support process.

Copyright (c) 2007 Don R. Crawley