I’ve been thinking about the similarities between customer support calls in IT and reference interviews in libraries.
In both cases, a client has a problem, and they’re asking you for help. In both cases, your job (as either the support staff or the librarian) is to help them solve that problem.
But it’s also to reassure them, and ideally, to help them learn how to solve similar problems for themselves in the future.
This video by Don Crawley of soundtraining.net is a practical, sensible guide to structuring an IT support call:
His 6 Steps are:
- ACTIVE LISTENING
- Get the caller’s contact details
- Get the details of the problem
- What version of the product are they using?
- What was the caller trying to do?
- What went wrong? What are the symptoms?
- How urgent is solving this problem?
- GAIN AGREEMENT
- EMPATHISE, APOLOGISE, REASSURE
- Empathise that this is a problem
- Apologise if the problem is caused by your company
- Reassure them that you will try to solve them
- PROBLEM SOLVING
- CONFIRM RESOLUTION
Here are my notes expanding on Crawley’s six steps.
Let the caller know your name and company (so they know they’ve called the right place), and then offer to help.
SUPPORT: “Hello. This is David from Library Three Thousand support. How can I help you?”
Chances are, the caller will respond in a similar manner:
CALLER: “Hi, this Anjit from ACME Libraries. Our Robolibrarian is going haywire and throwing books at all our patrons!”
This is a good time to empathise with their problem, and reassure them that you will help.
SUPPORT: “Oh dear. That sounds like a serious problem. Let’s try and fix that, shall we?”
2. ACTIVE LISTENING
Active Listening is a technique for not just listening to another person, but letting them know that you’ve heard them and understood what they are saying. The core parts of active listening are:
- Let the other person speak (don’t interrupt or cut them off)
- Let them know you’re listening (in person: make eye contact, nod. On phone: “okay”, “yes”)
- Repeat key details back to them. (“Okay. You have a problem with your Robo-Librarian.”)
- Also: use their name.
There’s actually a few sub-stages in this stage of the support call.
2.1 GET THEIR CONTACT DETAILS
You need to get the caller’s contact details so that you can record the call in the helpdesk system, and in case you need to call them back.
SUPPORT: “Before we start, can I please get your name, company and phone number in case we’re disconnected?”
2.2 GET THE DETAILS OF THE PROBLEM
This is where you start to gather the information you’ll need to fix the problem. The important things to ask are:
- What version of your product are they using?
- What is the caller trying to do?
- What are the symptoms of the problem?
- What is the impact of this? How urgent is this?
The urgency or priority of this support call may be determined by contractual Service Level Agreements.
SUPPORT: “Okay, Anjit. You said you had a problem with your Robo-Librarian. Can I please get some more details to help solve this? What were you trying to do before the problem started?”
CALLER: “We just asked it to shelve the new returns.”
SUPPORT: “And what was the first sign of trouble? Were there any error messages?
CALLER: “There was a loud bang, and smoke came out of its casing. And then it went haywire.”
SUPPORT: “Okay. That sounds bad. Can you tell me how urgent solving this problem is for you?”
CALLER: “Very urgent. It’s chasing a pensioner with the collected Harry Potter.”
SUPPORT: “Ah. Yes. Assaulting patrons is a Critical priority under your SLAs.”
3. GAIN AGREEMENT
Is this stage, you repeat the problem back to the caller. This is both to confirm the details, and to reassure them that you are listening.
SUPPORT: “Anjit, can I just confirm I’ve understood the problem? You asked your Robo-Librarian to shelve the new returns, there was a loud band, smoke came out of the casing, and now it’s chasing patrons with the works of J. K . Rowling.”
CALLER: “Yes. Although it’s moved on to graphic novels now.”
4. EMPATHISE, APOLOGISE, REASSURE
I’ve chanced Dan Crawley’s order here slightly.
Empathise means letting the caller know you agree this is a problem.
Apologise means saying sorry and accepting the blame if the problem is clearly the fault of your company.
Reassure means letting them know that you will take on the responsibility of solving their problem.
SUPPORT: “That sounds like a very frustrating problem. Let me say I’m sorry for the trouble our product is causing you, and that I will take personal responsibiliry to resolve this matter.”
CALLER: “Thank you. That’s very kind. Can we get going on this? The children’s storytime group are hiding under the shelves in terror.”
SUPPORT: “Of course.”
5. PROBLEM SOLVING
The art of IT problem solving is outside the scope of this article. But Crawley mentions an important point: you need to keep reassuring the caller that you are working on their problem. If all they hear is silence, they will feel like you’ve abandoned them.
One way to ressure tehm is to describe to them what steps you’re taking to solve their problem.
SUPPORT: “I’m just going to bring up the service log for your robot. Hang on one second…”
Antoher is to give them some idea of how long your tasks will take:
SUPPORT: “It’s going to take me about five minutes to read these log files. Do you want to wait on the line, or shall I call you back?”
6. CONFIRM RESOLUTION
Once you’ve found a solution, and you think you’ve fixed the problem, confirm that with the caller.
This gives them the chance to tell you if the solution is actually working, or if they still need more help.
SUPPORT: “Ah, I think I see the problem. Your robot’s RAMPAGE setting is set to ON. I’m just going to set that to OFF remotely. What’s it doing now?”
CALLER: “It’s stopped throwing books and started cleaning up the mess.”
SUPPORT: “So have we solved the problem?”
CALLER: “I think so, yes.”
SUPPORT: “Great! I’ll close this ticket. Please let us know if you have any more problems.”