Security Staff Acquisition & Development, Channel markets, MSP

MSP Service Desks: Why Non-Technical Skills Matter

Early in my career as an IT manager, it was clear I had people skills. I wasn't a typical nerdy tech who couldn't talk to end users, and I was able to explain things in ways that people who weren't technical could understand.

That was one thing that I believe set inhouseIT -- my employer at the time -- apart from other tech firms in the area. They would hire people who not only had the technical skills, but were also extremely personable. Because of these skills, inhouseIT even created a new position for me. I was called the "Rapid Response" person. I would work on the service desk until an urgent situation would arise. Then, since I was always in the office, I was able to roll onsite to fix the business down situation. When I would fix the issue, the customer would always be so grateful and tell me they loved having me there, and hope to see me again. I would always tell them that no, they would not like to see me more often because that would mean they had a serious issue!

When I had to move out of state, and leave my position at inhouseIT, some friends of mine started up briteCITY and specifically called me up to run their help desk from my house in Utah. They were aware of the people skills that I had and wanted me to help them build their service desk. Even if these kinds of skills don't come naturally to you, there are things you can do to help cultivate them, and help the service desk at your company create awesome experiences for your clients.

Find the root of the problem

Often when a user calls, they aren't exactly sure what is the problem they are facing. I once had a user explain that Internet Explorer kept crashing on his computer. After quite a lot of time, we came to figure out that it only crashed in the morning, after he had left several (read A LOT) of tabs up over night.

During the night most MSPs will run updates, virus scans, backups and several other maintenance tasks that can cause something to crash if it was left open during the tasks. If I had kept trying to figure out what was wrong specifically with Internet Explorer, I would never find the actual issue and we would both leave the conversation frustrated. Asking a lot of questions about when the problem occurs, what the user is doing when the problem occurs, how often it occurs, etc., can go a really long way to fixing something quickly. Try not to take an issue at face value and really dig in before you go in the completely wrong direction to solve a problem.

Don't make the user feel dumb

One comment end users would almost always say to me as I worked on their issue from the service desk was "You must think I'm such an idiot!" My answer was always the same: "If you knew how to do what I know how to do, I wouldn't have a job!" For some reason, since just about every job needs some sort of computer skills, people get the impression that they need to be computer experts. Which, in turn, makes them feel dumb when they are not. I always try to make them understand that as much as they cannot do my job, I could not do their job either.

I like to try and explain exactly what is happening with their computer or with their current issue in ways that anybody could understand. It's especially helpful if you can put it in terms that relate to their business. If they are an accounting firm, use a lot of numbers and accounting type problems to explain the situation. If they are an architecture firm discuss the framework of the computer and talk about security patches like a hole in the wall of a structure. Helping them understand what is going on can give them a sense of empowerment, and make them a happy customer for life.

Exude Confidence

As a female in the IT industry, I've met my fair share of misogyny. Granted, most of my clients were really great, but there were always a couple here and there that would ruin it. My favorite story is the time I rolled onsite to help a company when their server was down. I am short, I am female, and at the time I was about 7 months pregnant. The look on the business owner's face when I walked in was priceless. He even had the nerve to ask if there was anyone else my company could send. I happily told him that I was the only one available at the time and that he shouldn't worry because I'd have them back up and running in no time. When I left that building, that business owner was singing my praises.

When someone is having a technical issue it can feel like the end of the world. Especially when their business has come to a grinding halt. Reassuring them that their business is in good hands can really help to relieve some tension for the end users. Knowing that everything is under control can help them see that this is only temporary, and it will be resolved soon. When they feel better about the situation, they will usually leave you to it and you can fix the problem even more quickly than if they were fearful that you couldn't get the job done.

Approach each call like a new day

We all have bad days. We all have bad clients from time to time. A highly frustrating call can set your day in the wrong direction, and the rest of the calls can suffer the consequences. The truth is, people can tell when you are angry, frustrated, or just altogether in a bad mood, even over the phone. If you have a bad call, go take a quick walk, get a treat or even just take a few breaths to relax before you move on to the next call. Never let your anger or frustration show to your clients!

In my days on a service desk, users were constantly telling me how I always seemed so happy. Trust me, I wasn't happy 24/7, I just played a happy person on the phone. Before you answer the phone put a smile on your face, even if it's a forced one. This one simple action can change the entire course of the conversation.

Get to know your users

There can be quite a bit of downtime when you are working on someone's computer and talking to them on the phone. While you are waiting for an update, or a scan to finish, it can be very awkward. Dead air is a silent killer. Perfect the art of the small talk. Often there will be clues right on a person's desktop with what could interest them. It could be a picture of a car, their family, the mountains, or anything really that can help you start up the conversation. I would get to know my users so well, that when I would come to Southern California and swing by some of our clients, they would be so excited to see me! I felt like a conquering hero when I would arrive. "Sarah's HERE!!!" would ring through the office and everyone would want to come and say hi.

A successful service desk can be the backbone of a company. It is usually the first line of defense that your customers interact with. If every time a customer calls they are met with contempt and frustration, they will start looking for another company.