The importance of listening

Over the years I have seen a great many IT engineers come and go, after all 16 years is a  long time in the trade. During that time I have also taught a number of engineers the best ways to do the job, many of which had no formal qualifications such as MCP, MCSE etc. The first lesson that I have always made a point of teaching is to listen; listen to the client. Whenever you go out on a service call you will be given a description of the issue that you are there to resolve. In my opinion, the golden rule is to sit down with the client and ask them to explain the problem and listen.  There are two reasons why I always do this; firstly the information that you have been given on your job sheet will be what the help desk interpreted from the client but may not be accurate so best to check. Secondly, you will allow the client to vent themselves to you and during the discussion you can usually connect with them on some level which will invariably given you a better insight to both the issue faced and the client personally. I have always felt that this was standard, common sense in all businesses.  However, those of you that follow me on twitter (@robfranklin) will have seen the experience that I had with Dell’s tech support on Friday which left me feeling somewhat frustrated.  Here is how the conversation went:

Me: “Hi there, I have a problem with BackupExec for Small Business Server that was supplied with these new servers for my client”.

Dell: “What is the problem?”

Me: “When I enter the license key it says that it is invalid. It accepts the “Premium” license key but it will not accept the SBS key”

Extended period of silence…now 15 minutes in to the call and not progressed

Dell: “What license number do you have?”

Me: “The license key is…”

Dell: “That’s a serial number”

Me: “It says license key?”

Dell: “No that’s the serial number”

Me: “But it says on the front cover that it is the “Software License Key” and inside, just above the key, it says “Software License Key”. Surely it would say serial number if that is what it is?”

Dell: “No that’s the serial number, you need to go to the Symantec licensing portal and register the serial number”

Me: “But I have done dozens of these and I have always just entered the key into the software”

Dell: “They have tightened up the licensing recently”

Me: “Hmm, ok where do I go to register the ‘serial number’?”

So now we go to the Symantec licensing portal, I complete the registration in order to log on to the site. After entering the ‘serial number’ it says that the ‘serial number’ is invalid.

Me: “It says the number is invalid”

Dell: “Are you sure it is entered correctly?”

Me: “Yes I’m sure but it does not say it is a serial number it clearly says it’s a license key”

Dell: “Ok I need to speak with Symantec, can you hold"?”

Me: “Err yeah ok”

So I was put on hold, 35 minutes in to the call and I had made no progress. Needless to say I did not stay on hold as by this point I was completely frustrated by the fact that the support technician was simply not listening. The conversation above it not verbatim but I must have explained to this guy about 10 times that it clearly states it is a License Key and not a Serial Number but he was not listening.

The most important skill that any person who is in a customer facing role can do is just listen. By not exercising this most fundamental skill during this call my whole experience with Dell’s “Pro-support” was completely destroyed and had this been my first experience then I would be one very unhappy client and would think twice about buying Dell again.  That said only a week before I had spoken to them and the support tech I spoke to I cannot say enough about. He listened and acted on what I was telling while verifying what I was saying was correct.

I can only assume that my bad experience was a one-off but none the less it was a bad experience.  So if nothing else, don’t talk just listen and everything else will take shape.

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