Support for Help Desk Support: Calm Nerves

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Working at a help desk can require saintlike patience. But dealing with clients who can’t find the power button, refuse to follow directions or just like to scream can drive even the most composed technician to the edge of insanity. To remain calm and collected, help desk support workers often need a little support of their own.

To deal with the stress involved with this type of work, Janelle Barlow, TMI US president and author of “A Complaint is a Gift” said help desk technicians should develop a specialized set of skills that will help them distance themselves from angry customers.

With the proper coping mechanisms, support staff members can continue to help their clients, no matter how aggressive or obnoxious they might be, she explained.

Well-developed listening skills can help cool many hot tempers by allowing a help desk worker to identify the source of a caller’s anger and quickly defuse the situation, Barlow said. This is especially important when callers are angry before the technician even gets on the line because of a long wait or a confusing automated answering system.

“Many support people are very surprised when they get somebody on the line who’s already angry when they start talking to them,” Barlow said. “If the first thing somebody hears is an angry voice, they should say something like, ‘I am so sorry if you’ve had to wait for a while. I hope that hasn’t happened,’ and then just let the customer tell them what’s wrong.”

Diplomacy is another important skill for support workers, who often need to move conversations with cranky customers in the right direction. Once callers have expressed their concerns, it’s important for the technician to be able to move them past their anger so they can solve their technical problem.

Barlow said saying something like, “I’m really sorry that happened, but I’m glad to be talking to you now,” will validate customers’ frustration and assure them their problem will be solved as quickly as possible.

Although it can be difficult to maintain a positive tone in conversations with emotional or unreasonable callers, avoiding any patronizing or snide intonations is a crucial component of any successful support strategy, Barlow said — customers can tell when someone is being condescending, and they will not respond well to mixed messages.

“If the message is, ‘I’m really trying to help you so we can move forward,’ but the unspoken message is, ‘But you’re such a jerk that’s never going to happen,’ I think those kinds of things are picked up on,” she explained.

To start every conversation with a fresh and helpful attitude, support technicians need to distance themselves from the insults and accusations frustrated callers might throw their way. Letting go of the anger or irritation a difficult call can cause before they pick up the phone again is necessary to stop the cycle of negativity and keep help desk employees from losing their minds — and their jobs.

“It’s particularly important after you’ve gotten off the phone with an angry customer to give yourself two or three seconds and just take a deep breath and center yourself,” Barlow said. “It helps to say, ‘I am not that person. I am helping people.’ You really have to distance yourself from it, otherwise you get caught up in it, and when you go home at night, it’s still with you.”

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