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Happy techAs anyone who manages a service desk will tell you, you can train for technical, but you hire for service desk agent soft skills. The days of the surly, condescending tech genius are over. Considering the wealth of searchable knowledge at the IT support professional’s fingertips, how they convey that knowledge is a crucial differentiator. Below is the list of recruiting must haves, the people skills can take a service desk from good to great.

1. Empathize.

Chances are, if an end user is calling the service desk, they’re experiencing some level of frustration. Any malfunction or interruption in the technical tools they need to get their job done, demands tactful communication. So a good service desk agent leads with empathy. That means acknowledging the end user’s technical issue and the adverse consequences on their day. The “just the facts” response to deadlines and all of the human feelings they invoke is not a good approach. When it’s a distressed caller, agents must first identify with their predicament. Being heard matters. And there is context in emotion much of it pertaining to the impacts and urgency. An empathetic service desk agent knows to fix the user first, then move on to the underlying problem.

2. Listen.

Although listening is a huge part of empathy, it’s in the service desk agent’s best interest to hang on the end users every word. When they describe the symptoms of their issue, they are giving out clues to the root cause. A diligent agent does not interrupt them. They learn which resolution procedure will work and only then discuss the next steps. For example, an end user may have difficulty accessing wi-fi. If the service desk agent detects an offhand comment about traveling, this should set off a root cause light bulb. Their issue could be related to a device set to airplane mode.

The agent should also pick up on the caller’s urgency. If, for example, the end user is abrupt or conveying a strong sense of urgency in their tone, the agent should know to pare down the small talk. Any short quick answers mean they should focus the conversation solely on triage and resolution procedures.

3. Speak in simple terms.

Tech speech is laden with acronyms and synonyms. Though such verbiage may dazzle the layman and convey technical acumen, it doesn’t help the end user receiving instruction. A verbal disconnect is one of the reasons the service desk turns to remote access tools. Logging in to the end user’s desktop is a visual troubleshooting short cut where terminology and communication may fail. However, the primary drawback to this approach is data security, especially for healthcare or financial industry clients. So agents instruct the end users to close out any Protected Health Information (PHI) or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) before launching a remote session. Ideally, an agent with smooth, well-honed verbal skills can fast track comprehension of the technical issue and determine what steps are needed to get the end user back in business.

4. Use a respectful tone.

If the service desk agent answers the call with grumpy or low energy greeting, what happens next rarely matters. As the first point of contact for all support issues, the service desk is really the department of first impressions. So not only what the agents say, but how they say it literally sets the tone for the end user’s customer service experience. From the greeting to the call’s conclusion, service desk QA teams monitor agents for energy, professionalism, and personality (i.e. no robotic monotone voice).

5. Follow up.

Occasionally, more complex technical issues require escalation to different IT groups or multiple contacts to resolve. When this happens, one of the best ways for the service desk to establish a positive overall reputation is to follow up on open issues. Agents must be proactive and call end users with status updates until the incident or service request is resolved. By contrast, an agent that drops the ball (i.e. escalates and abdicates) creates a negative perception. And that can spread like wildfire among the end user community. Conscientious and responsive agents who exemplify a diligent work ethic not only build trust, but they build the service desk’s brand.

Though people tend to think of soft skills as subjective, they are indeed measurable. Since nothing is more valuable than a client’s performance related feedback, a service desk industry best practice is to email satisfaction surveys upon closure of a ticket. Surveys prompt the end user to rate performance and provide input on all the above. In addition, service desk Team Leads and/or Quality Assurance Specialists perform call quality reviews and rate agents on a variety of non-technical attributes like avoiding dead air in the conversation, providing troubleshooting “play by play” or basic etiquette like asking permission to place a caller on hold.

Ultimately, covering all of the customer service basics with each interaction creates aggregate value for the service desk and the client. C SAT numbers don’t lie. Assuming they’re hovering above 95% on a consistent basis, they’re a reflection of how happy and productive the end users are as a result of the IT support they receive. While technical knowledge is ever evolving, those soft skills will always be part of the customer satisfaction equation.