7 essential rules to ensure you survive in IT support

You arrive at work, grab your cup of coffee and settle in at your computer. The morning is quiet and you are looking through your check list. You sigh in relief, it looks like a light day. It’s been one of those weeks, so you could really use a break.

Then you get that call.

The angry end user. Not only is this person upset with you, but apparently the entire IT world as well. Obviously yelling at the computer hasn’t help, so now they set their site on you.

What do you do?

Let’s talk some about our IT Soft skills, how to handle the angry end user.

Allow me to share something from my own experience. Years ago, I was promoted to Tier 2 on a product I was the least familiar with. When I received my first escalation, the customer was arrogant, upset, and impatient. This was his disposition before the case was handed over to me. I cannot stress enough that this was the most condescending individual I have ever had to deal with in all my years of working in IT. To make matters worse, he actually did know the product better than I did in many ways. I was in a place where I needed to be the guy who knew all the answers, when clearly I did not.

One year later, when moving on to another product, I received this reply from him when I sent him a letter of introduction to the next Tier 2 tech.

“I can only assume you are moving on to bigger and better challenges and I am sure that you will do well (selfishly I hate it but wish you the best). You have been a pleasure to work with. Good luck in the future.”

The skills we will cover in this blog are the “rules” I used to turn that customer around. Using these skills has worked for me personally almost every time.

Rules to survive

In the movie “Zombieland” the young hero had a list of rules he lived by that allowed him to survive when others did not. Coming up with a survival list of rules is not a bad idea, in fact, it will truly save you.

RULE #1 Don’t panic and run or you will always panic and run
IT is technical, people are emotional. However, when dealing with IT support, those two “worlds” collide. Often times you cannot get to the technical issue if you are dealing with the emotions of the end user.

We all have different tools when it comes to being confronted with someone who is upset or angry. For many of us, our first instinct is to get rid of the person, pass them off as quickly as possible.

Resist that urge. If you decide you want out of the situation from the beginning that is all you will work toward. And the end user will sense this. If you do this once, you will make a habit of this and never learn the skills to get past this point. Your first goal then is to get the end user’s confidence so you can get to the actual problem.

RULE #2 Slow Down
The end user is in a hurry, you cannot be. When we rush, we make mistakes. Remember Miracle Max in “The Princes Bride? “You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.” The end user wants the problem fixed NOW. You need time to understand the issue, collect data, and come up with a solution. Work smart and steady and keep to your troubleshooting procedure.

RULE #3 Be honest
Repeat these words, “I don’t know”. Or a variation of this, “I have never seen this issue before.”

The truth will gain you more points than trying to bluff your way through an issue. Do not try to be more than what you are.

If you bluff and the end user calls you on it, your credibility is shot. However if you say, “I don’t know what the answer is, but I will find out for you,” that will add to your credibility.

RULE # 4 Remain objective, do not get caught up in the drama
When an end user is upset you need to help them, not get caught up in the drama. Tension can be like a virus, jumping from one person to another. If a person is panicking and you join them in that panic you are no longer effective in assisting with their issue. Of course we care and want to help, but we must remain objective. Logic fixes computer problems, not emotions.

RULE # 5 Be prepared
When you are not working to solve issues, study IT or better yet work on a certification or other training that will enhance your skill set. Be aware of the type of issues your end users will face, research the software solutions they use on a daily basis. Knowing our stuff builds our confidence in our ability to resolve the issues at hand. That confidence communicates over to the user that someone capable is taking care of their issue.

RULE # 6 Be respectful
Avoid becoming “Nick Burns Your Company’s computer guy.” If all end users understood IT, we wouldn’t have a job. Respect can go a long way in calming someone down. The last thing they need when something is broken is someone treating them like they are stupid. Especially if they did something to cause it.


RULE # 7 Be thorough
Take an extra five or 10 minutes to let the end user test everything for themselves if possible. Make sure when you leave, the issue is actually solved. Nothing is more frustrating for them as to think the issue is solved, when you leave, only to have it come right back again.

Remember, as system administrators, we interact between the end user and the technology. In my experience some of the best admins understand people just as well as they understand the IT.

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