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I need to know how to tell these people what I think in a way as not to harm future business!

Author Tech
#1 | Posted: 14 Jan 2007 02:31 
This might be an interesting one!
I'm often subjected to abuse or harassment by major clients and I need to know how to tell these people what I think in a way as not to harm future business!

I believe my problem is a communication issue I'm yet to learn

I'm a Field Technician working in the IT industry I'm employed by what most would considered a small business (by number of employees) Yet the business does hold some extremely large service and maintenance contracts which covers all areas of IT (Hardware, Software, Networking infrastructure, supply and install) We are contracted to national and international companies to provide onsite support, as well as a general retail outlet and major supplier.

My General duties involved, Being given a faxed job sheet with a 1 line description of a service job or fault (usually is incorrect) driving to site (as far as 6hrs 1 way) walking in to a foreign network/hardware with completely no information and fix a problem which could be 5min or sometimes days/weeks.

My major role is cabling infrastructure/network systems and support

I'm a skilled Electrical fitter / electrical mechanic (data/comms), cabling licensed, engineering — science, digital, analogue electronics, plus a few other bits and pieces in IT Systems ETC.14 years experience in the service industry, I believe I have the skills to justify what I do and why I do it. (Yet always willing to learn and admit to mistake and quick to find a solution, that's why I'm in the position I'm in)

There are a couple of facts I understand in my current job that I completely accept as they are out of my control

First is - If called to site to fix a problem it is because I'm last in line, Generally If I can not fix it, It cant be fixed or I can not obtain the information I require to fix the problem. (Rarely happens as there is always a solution)

Second is — By the Time I receive the job the problem may be two weeks old, in this time usually the site manager and the service contractor have been up in arms because the site just wants somebody out to fix it and the service contractor doesn't want to spend the money to send somebody so they will do everything in their power to ensure the site tech is the last resort. So when I enter site I'm representing the service contractor (usually not a happy encounter) so I have to deal with a "Disgruntle customer" just by walking inside.
The other problem is the service contractor will always lay blame on the site tech no matter what goes wrong (even if a part arrives 2 days late and is broken) they will usually try to find a way to blame the site tech.

I often spend 0.5 — 1 hr talking to a disgruntled customer to get a complete history of the job — this usually promotes more anger. They generally don't understand that a one line job description for and IT fault finding job is not enough information for me to assess the situation. Ever asked an angry customer the question "So, how long have you had this problem?" after they have just spent 2 weeks trying to get somebody out to fix it....

The good news is this is why I love my job.... Every minute is a challenge
Up to now the abuse I receive during and after a job, I actually did not respond to and it did not bother me at all
But now it does, I've tied a few things starting with sarcastic comments — Just lead to official complaints
Turning it around — I put in official complaints about the clients/customers — just lead to me not working with these customers
Stunning them — Handed out our competitor's business cards and offering to ring the competitor and logging a service call for the customer and saying things like "I don't need your business as I have plenty of other work" — didn't lead to anything, Its just funny to see the reaction.
Leaving them in the open — I have left site telling them I have a more urgent job to go to
- they just usually believe me and wait till I come back! And it's a pain the justify the paperwork
Tried being honest to the customer — more official complaints, turns into a he said, she said competition
And a bunch of other tricks that didn't work.

I suppose the keys words here are "Didn't" and "Work" mmmmm... let me see! Well I am going need to know what it is I'm trying to get working. As I know what ever it is, it's not! All I know, this abuse now bothers me, when for so long it didn't. I can't think of what to do to prevent this bothering, so what has changed.... It must be me because when I look at my work situation nothing else has change Maybe I'm turning into one of those grumpy old men (or just having a midlife).

Someone once told me the only way to know who you are, is to know who you're not....
Well I know I don't want to be a sarcastic "idiot"
I don't want to be known as a winger
I don't want to hand out competitors cards and be known as someone that doesn't give a rat about this job I'm working on!
I don't want to so honest that it jeopardizes the future of the contract because I have contradicted what the principle company has told the customer

So who do I want to be?

I want to be able to take complete ownership of a contract, be able to talk to the customer in a honest and firm way, and confident, be able to know what to say to the customer and when to say it, including informing them the fact that what they are saying is offensive to me,
I want to be able to talk to principle contractors/companies on the phone in the same manner. To be able to defuse a heated conversation at any point I deicide or at least not to enter heated conversations
I want to know that when I leave a jobsite my employer will not hear that there were issues/complaints and that there will be no payment disputes
I don't want to walk off site and it takes me 3hrs to calm down because I received a bucket full and didn't know what say except "The customers always right" (said with one of those ear the ear fake grins)
And I want the customer to request for me (by name) to go back onsite in future work

So I believe I need to learn a new communication skill or at lease be pointed in the right direction.
So the big question - How do I tell a customer what I think without loosing future business?
Any help would be great, books, communication classes or similar success stories!!

In the last few months I have trained anothor tech to fill my shoes, and he is stressed daily and pulling his hair out (he has commented several times, that nobody would understand actually how much we put up with unless they do what we do) my only way the calm him down is to explain to just accept this in the job and ignore these people. I also have a apprentice assigned to me, starting in a few weeks and would hate him to see him leave because I wasn't able to support him in this new role

As my long term plans are heading for Project Management roles I feel I need to learn how to communicate and deal correctly with these types of customers/clients not just ignore their comments/abuse and harassments and be an active support for my staff in these situations

Author KarenSB
#2 | Posted: 14 Jan 2007 07:36 
Kudos to you for wanting to find a solution. Additional kudos for mostly realizing the problem lies within.

Take a look at the issues from the customer's point of view. They have been reaching out for help for several weeks and there is seemingly no solution. What have they experienced in terms of "customer service" and "attitude" from the people involved prior to your involvement? Additionally, you are working in the IT industry, which has a language all its own, a language that the "average bear" does not understand. Throw a bunch of acronyms and technical jargon around and watch the average customer's eyes glaze over. And now where I might fall into the deepest, hottest water...a rash generalization, yet...really good IT experts got that way from not having to interact with people, thus not having the opportunity to build good people skills.

I was the first woman in my home state to repair copiers for a living, back in the dark ages. It took me years to convince my employers that I could do the job, then I had to convince my co-workers and the customers. I could not perform the "usual" job...my performance was held under a magnifying glass every minute of every day. And when I had to scratch my head and say "I don't know" and ask for help, often the ridicule would follow.

I remember one service call where the male members of the customer's office gathered around and teased and taunted me while I worked on their machine. The machine weighed about 300 pounds and was on a countertop, i.e., no cabinet on wheels, with 95% of the mechanical components inaccessible to any technician.

I remember another service call where the copier "spontaneously combusted without reason" and I found a spent match inside the machine. Later that week, the same machine "no longer works and we don't know why" and upon my arrival I found the front door (which activated the on/off switch) ripped from its hinges.

My employer offered a monetary incentive plan to technicians, based upon the number of completed service calls in a day. My male counterparts were given downtown territories, while I would have to drive up to 50 miles between client locations. Additionally, their compensation was 1.5 times that of mine because "they had families to raise."

What I have shared thus far only scratches the surface. Additionally they are some of the few G-Rated experiences.

Physical and/or verbal abuse is the behavior that should not be tolerated, and it also should never become participatory.

Outlashes that are of a personal nature are also taboo, i.e., "that &S$%^% machine" differs greatly from "that &S$%^% person."

It takes two people to make an argument. I can choose to not engage.

The best defense to screaming, ranting and raving is to remain quiet and calm. With every escalation of voice, an equal and opposite reduction in decibel level often produces a desired outcome.

Do not throw your previous counterparts under the bus. If the person before you really bungled the job, it's not at all professional to say that to the client. They are not stupid, and they can figure that out for themselves. Nothing turns me off more than someone bashing another person, even if I don't like that other person.

Recognize that oftentimes, the frustrations vented on you have nothing to do with you, nor with the job you are performing. Consider what other factors might be involved: Did the complainer just find out that his spouse wants a divorce? Is the customer's business nose-diving? Does the person have an excrutiating migraine? External-to-the-situation factors often cause us to behave in ways that are outside our norm. Compassion and empathy should prevail.

There are many good service skills classes available. Many goods books on the subject matter. Personally, I don't think that there is a "clever" way to tell another human being what you think of them, when what you think of them is demeaning. That they are unable to put into YOUR terms what their issues are more a reflection on the industry that you love rather than on their ability to understand it. They understand THEIR business and expect you to understand yours.

I chose to be a copier repair technician because I could no longer tolerate the thought of being someone's "secretary," typing and filing for a living. I did not appreciate being demeaned by my employer, co-workers nor customers. But I also recognized that this was part and parcel of the job I undertook, and that it was up to me to turn the tide. By the time I left that job, I was training other women, I had a steadfast and loyal client base, and I had respect from my peers.

Good luck to you,

Author Tech
#3 | Posted: 15 Jan 2007 07:03 
I hate it when people say things to me that relate and make sense it make me think.....

KarenSB, you have some valid points that has just prompted me to change some of my old thinking (I must have been right, grumpy/midlife) my attitude has changed in the last couple of years and or I wasn't sure how to handle the continued increase of workload.

I remember only a couple of weeks ago spending Christmas with my family and telling mother, after she had mentioned how upset she was when my sister said something nasty to her. I told her it never bothers me when friends and family say things bad to me because they very rarely setout to purposely put you down its just because they have other outside problems causing them stress....or words to that effect.!

Now apply the same to my customers, they very rarely setout the put you down. It's just because outside matters are stressing them. Whether it be the service contractor I'm representing or just a headache.

Hmmm.... Does kinda make sense!

Rather walking into a job thinking....here we go again and having the attitude of not wanting to be there in the first place. I will now walk into the job with a smile say g'day be friendly and have the attitude of when I leave the problem will be fixed (even if it takes me a month).

My job would be so much easier if I didn't have to relate to poeple.

Now apply what you mentioned regarding out lashes towards myself or even the principle service provider, What if I change my attitude from retaliating, to backing up and in support of the service provider, there must be words or terms I can use without actually lying to the customer. I'll have to think about it, But I'm sure there is something....

Here's a thought, as far as the customer is concerned only he has a problem, The customer doesn't need know that I represent a company that has the same continued problems with all their customers, I have been known in the past to say "don't worry this problem is with every one. The company doesn't know what they are doing!" although this takes the pressure off me at the time, I'm guessing it just makes matters worse.

In this situation if the customer is smart enough they will take things up in their own hands with the principle service provider. And if I haven't fueled the problem it won't end up in a he said, she said competition.

I have to also mention I was prompted to ask the original question after being on the receiving end of extremely "Disgruntled customers" on two jobs in as many days and this really started to bother me and one of those customer personally come to the office to rant and rave to my employer, The thing that bothered me not the fact this person did not have anything to nice to say about me, it was the fact that when someone is wasting your time you are not productive and at that point I could see my employer getting upset because he has been interrupted by a customer who is not a A+ customer but in fact was a first timer who purchased a complete network solution from another supplier and asked us to install and configure (which I spent 4 hrs diagnosing as faulty straight from the box and the rest of the gear would not actually provide the solution the customer wants) they spent thousands and didn't want to hear for $40.00 in hardware and about 3hrs labor I could have provided the same solution and willing to provide ongoing support.

Now back on topic.... I have to thank you KarenSB, for the blinding light I now see, or the sound of that penny dropping.

Some very strange things has happened since your reply today.. I was able to get time to check this forum in my lunch break today, read your reply and then........the sound of angles singing..... or was it just to much pepsi max.... I'm tring to cut down, yes really!!!! Only on 3ltrs a day now!

The first thing that happened was the second job with the above mentioned "disgruntled customer" I was so ummm... bothered I wrote a report how I was treated, incl. times of phone calls my action plans and lost time due to heated conversations which I calculated at about 30min

Handed the report to my employer with my job sheet and informed them if there is a pay dispute just send the report to the principle service provider and charge them another hour for administration fees and lost time. My employer agreed! I also requested that not to make a big scene about it as I don't want to be a winger. But the report is there if you need it.

I then proceeded to head out the door to one of my A+ customers I have been working with quite some time, rather than the attitude of these guys may be an A+ customer but they are lazy and it takes a lot of effort to achieve their goals, (note I actually handed this customer over to another tech as one of their staff was given me a hard time and I just got back from 2 and half weeks of holidays and there was some problems that nearly got out of hand) I entered site with a big smile found out the staff member that giving me a hard time no longer works there and they told me word got around town why I hadn't been onsite in the last few months....The manager pulled out a folder containing all the information I need to proceed with a network design/upgrade for the new building I have been asking them for this info for months continually and I was sick of asking, It was amazing every bit of info I needed was there, flooring plans, electrical designs, workstation positions it was like magic..... I was able to complete a comms hardware upgrade by the end of the day (prep work for the new network) while the manager fed me my daily intake of pepsi max and we shared some stories about that staff member that no longer works there.

When I got back to the office, I was asked to head for the biggest scariest office of them all, you know the one where the boss sits in a big leather chair turned so only you can see the top of his head over the back of the chair and the mood lighting set so the only light on is a spot light directly above him aimed down and when you think about it you never actually have seen his face (and you think that only happens in cartoons) the only thing missing is "mini Me" pulling faces at you from in the corner.......

Well he preceded to hand me a printed out email from the managing director of the company I had my above mention report fax to, with my job sheet. And asked me to read it

I can't remember exactly what it said but it mentioned things like, Thank you for your Technicians report I will be looking into this matter myself and hope future work will not be so unpleasant.... You get the picture
And it was mentioned there won't be any payment disputes and the lost time will be paid....

As I bowed and continued to walk out backwards I thank him for not making a big scene about it..

About an hour later I was just tidying up a bit when the boss asked If I had a couple minutes, as usual I always have a couple of minutes for the boss, but yet with still hundreds of scary thoughts running through my head I didn't know what he had in for me this time, he took me down to the lunch room and proceeded to turn the lights off ( I think he might be allergic to light or something) but anyhow then started with "I been looking over your productiveness over the last 6 months"...... oh! Here we go, my wife is just about to start up her own business, maybe she can employ me........ "I want to put you on salary with pay increase as a trial for next 6 months......we spoke about figures and responsibility and all that stuff I had the opportunity to ask about where the company is going regarding my roles, the new tech I've trained and the apprentice starting under me in the next few weeks, as well as a few concerns he has. It was almost like a bonding session (I said bonding NOT bondage!).....

Its true, It didn't happen to a friend of a friend mine. This all happened after lunch today,
With just an attitude change, smile and some words that actually make sense, I am looking forward to tomorrow!

And just one thing I learnt today is If I'm not a mind reader (I can't read my bosses mind) Why do I think I know what my customer think or going to say!!!

Unless I ask them the chances are I'm wrong!!!

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 I need to know how to tell these people what I think in a way as not to harm future business!

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