As a follow up to my post on the Industry Bytes blog a few weeks ago, I interviewed one of our experts here at Penton Media. Brent Mammen is a senior network engineer with Penton and has been in IT for over 20 years. Since Penton is currently interviewing candidates for an IT position, Brent told me that now was an excellent time to share insights about what’s really important to both the customer and to your manager.

Brian: Is there a point where an IT pro has to say ”okay, I’m taking off my IT pro hat and putting on my customer service hat”? How do you transition into that role?
Brent:  Since I’ve been helping interview and hire employees for our new Help desk, I’ve done a lot of evaluation of customer service skills lately.  My own philosophy has revolved around putting myself in the client’s shoes; I guess that’s something my mother always told me to do. It stuck, and I think it’s helped me become as successful as I feel I am.

Brian: How should IT pros balance the need to be friendly and personable while also being efficient and productive?
Brent: Good question. After all, most clients come to us looking for assistance with a problem and not to share how well their day is going or their computer system is running.  In some respects we have to be psychologists as well as good technicians—first we need to listen and understand the problem and how it impacts the people we’re dealing with.  Faking empathy doesn’t usually get the job done. You have to really try and understand how and why a person feels the way he or she does about his or her particular issue.

Brian: How can an IT pro become a star in his or her customer’s eyes?
Brent: What I would recommend to anyone looking to become stellar in a customer service role is to always remember to do what you say you’re going to do.  No one can be expected to know the answer to every problem, so following up with the client is crucial. People want to know that their issues haven’t been forgotten and that something is being done about it!  Even if you don’t have the answer yet, let the client know it’s being worked on. Keep following up until it’s resolved.

Brian: When you interview potential candidates, what personality traits are you looking for?
Brent: We often ask the candidates we’re interviewing a question that really doesn’t have a logical answer. What we’re looking for is a response similar to “I don’t know, but I will look into it and let you know.” The point is that no one can know everything, so we want employees that don’t fabricate answers to issues just to get by.

Brian: Are there any other useful tips you can think of?
Brent: I was taught once in a Customer Service training course to refer to “Users” as “Clients.” It may sound strange, but “User” sometimes has a negative connotation as it rhymes with—you guessed it—“Loser.”

In summary, customer service shouldn’t be taken lightly, because perception really is reality. I’d love to hear what personal experiences you’ve had. Here are a few questions for you to chew on:

· If you’ve ever served in a managerial or hiring role, what qualities did you look for in candidates?
· If you’ve recently applied for a position dealing with customers, how did you try and sell yourself?
· How have you dealt with difficult customers or difficult problems and turned the situation into a positive?