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Tips

4 Crucial Tips for Client Communication in a Crisis.

Picture this: You’re a business owner whose livelihood is dependent on a particular important server – and you wake up one day to find that it conked out overnight. You’re losing thousands of dollars for every minute the server is down. Code red!

Who you gonna call? The trusty IT support technician, of course. You call them up and explain the issue, making very clear that this is 5-alarm priority-one issue. “Yes sir, right away sir.” *Click* Ok, good. They’re on it.

An hour goes by. Two. Three! Finally, fed up, you call them. Their update? “Oh, uh.. we’re working on it. We’ll let you know when we know more.”

Would you be satisfied with this response? Doubtful. I don’t know about you, but an IT technician like this would be better suited to shining hubcaps at the flea market rather than supporting your valuable IT assets.

Proper communication in a crisis is, like anything else, a skill – one lacked by a surprisingly high number of IT professionals. If you can demonstrate proper communication skills during what a client would consider a major crisis, it’s yet another one of the many ways to differentiate yourself and provide that plus-one service that will give you a leg-up in the marketplace and get you ahead of the curve.

Below are four tips based on my crisis response experiences as an IT professional; put these into practice, and watch client satisfaction go up while the amount of stress generated by a major IT crisis goes down.

1. Stay Calm.

A no-brainer – if you’re in an IT crisis and your support engineer sounds like he or she is having a panic attack, what kind of confidence does that instill? Even if the client is freaking out, remain calm and address the issue promptly and directly. If voices are being raised, don’t take it personally – you’d be raising your voice too if an entire day’s work was on the line. Just assist in what is asked of you and listen to their words, not their voice.

2. Send Regular Updates Defined in Advance.

In the example above, we pondered an IT professional who refuses to communicate in a timely manner – and when clients are sitting on the edges of their seats awaiting problem resolution, nothing is more irritating.

Get this through your skull: Communication is nearly as important as fixing the problem. When a crisis begins, let the client know that you’re working on it and give them an exact time by which they can expect another update. “The next update will be e-mailed out no later than 9:30am or upon crisis resolution.” Define the schedule of updates and follow through on it; this will assuage the client from feeling totally helpless and wondering if they’re really getting any help at all.

3.  Be Direct and Stick to the Facts.

When engaging in crisis communication with a client, don’t overload your messages or discussions with fluff, speculation, or inscrutable IT jargon. When productivity and money are on the line, they just want to know when work can go back to normal. You can take more time after-the-fact to explain to the client the 50 different possible root causes of the problem, ranging from angry IT poltergeists to sentient Dvorak keyboards. But in the meantime, just tell them what they need to know and don’t beat around the bush. “This morning, your site-to-site VPN went down. We know that it’s working from A to B, but not from B to A. We’re working on it and will update you no later than 9:30am or upon problem resolution.”

4. Keep Your Excuses to Yourself.

A few months back, I was caught up in a client IT crisis involving work from a 3rd-party contractor who managed the office network; the network was down and all productivity was essentially halted. As I’m speaking to the guy who managed that particular office network and was trying to get some useful info on the problem for troubleshooting purposes, he keeps peppering our discussion with phrases like, “…Now, this probably wasn’t my fault. I was just doing what I was told. I didn’t touch anything! I don’t see how that could happen, as it’s never happened when I pushed the button before. The manual told me to do it! The instructions had said…”

Stop, stop, stop! I got frustrated rather quickly and told him politely but directly that I wasn’t looking for excuses and was not trying to blame him for anything – we just needed the problem solved.

When I needed this guy to come through for us in a time of crisis, he seemed more concerned over covering his rear with excuses. Don’t be that guy – the client is not interested in your excuses, they’re interested in their IT systems. Focus on the issue at hand and everything else can be discussed later.

CONCLUSION

Communication is a fine art, and easily overlooked by a lot of IT professionals. If you want to be the best and leave clients feeling like they could never work as well as they do without your help, then keep these tips in mind and take crisis communication by the horns. You may shock yourself with just how much effective communication helps!

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