Pleasing the customers is our mantra

Do yourself a favour and forget about that course, book or whatever it is your company wants you to get going on so that you, the knuckle-dragging computer lover, can learn to be as nice to customers as the folks in the corner offices.

There are only two things you need to know when it comes to customer service. One, look around your office – as a political philosopher once said, it’s the people no one wants to offend that truly have power, and thus should be treated nicely (and that should tell you a lot about why we can slag politicians). And two, no one knows customer service as well as IT workers, nor performs it half as well.

Okay, slight exaggeration there. But this is a profession routinely portrayed in Saturday Night Live skits as full of borderline psychotics. And I say when it comes to pleasing the client, at least by today’s standards, it’s the sys admins who should be giving the seminars, not the management gurus.

Don’t believe me? Then tell me: who’s doing a better job? Could it be the people who build technology in the first place, the geniuses who build companies from the ground up, run them once they’re built and who presumably know more about their customers than anyone? You’d think so. But it ain’t true. Lately, it seems the best-paid corporate talent on the planet thinks the best way to treat customers is to lie to them about the company’s financial health until the government finds out about it, then duck and dodge until the golden parachute arrives. And as for their employees, well, too bad for those suckers.

Could it be those tech companies that are run like fine-oiled machines with lots of products that nearly everyone uses? Again, no.

Lots of examples there. Take Microsoft, which is asking its customers who buy licenses in bulk to pay an annual fee that will cover the price of all upgrades for the software they use during their contract period. Microsoft says the plan will simplify the licensing process for its customers and help them save money as it rolls out its .NET software family.

Critics say the plan will put customers under pressure to upgrade their software in step with the release of new upgrades from Microsoft, even if they don’t want to.

Regardless, companies that don’t go along face the prospect of higher upgrade costs when they do decide to refresh their software. That’s because Microsoft’s popular discount-when-you-choose-to-upgrade licensing plan will be retired when the new system is in place.

“If there’s one word that I use to sum up what I’m hearing from customers, it’s resentment,” said Gartner analyst Michael Silver.

Whether Microsoft has the best of intentions or not is moot. Because if you look up the word “resentment” in the index of a customer service manual, it will point you to the chapter where it explains that it’s a bad thing.

Do you and the rest of your staff ever sit down and decide how to sow resentment among your end-users? No, like your peers, you took the time and effort involved in learning how to run technology, and now you use that knowledge to keep your company’s productivity tools running. Or you build software, in which case you sit down and listen to exhaustive end-user wish lists.

So why the bad rap? Remember that department store shoppers aren’t expected to learn how to operate the store before they shop in it, but your users are. So if they keep on screwing up stuff they should know, it’s your job to tell ’em. Or if you’re a consultant and your client wants the sun and the moon by tomorrow at noon, you walk, of course. And that’s where the IT-customer service myth comes into play – that, and the bad apples that can be found in any profession.

Keeping the customer happy might seem like a revolutionary concept for people who are paid to talk about it, but for those in IT, it’s mostly built into the job.