Providing good customer service to your team

One of the things we tell new team members is that there’s a huge amount of communication here.

An expectation that everyone, regardless of job title, needs to be responsive, empathetic, and express a positive attitude to clients and coworkers alike. This is a big, chalky, bitter pill to swallow at times.

On any given day, we have a dozen consulting projects in flight, public releases to coordinate, customer service to provide to non-english speakers, and a barrel full of technical jargon which needs distilling into simple, human terms for clients and coworkers alike. Oh, and we gotta be nice about it too.

For folks used to this kind of tempo, they fit right in. For others accustomed to a more siloed work atmosphere (it is a programming team, after all), it’s a new hat to wear.

So, I’ve been thinking of a few memorable techniques to get good communication higher on everyone’s list. Here’s what came to mind.

Think of coworkers as customers.

Think of the last great customer service experience you had. For me, surprisingly, it was with my credit card company a couple of weeks ago. They had a fantastic and, dare I say, empathetic IVR system and the customer rep I had was prepared for me, polite, and didn’t try to push a bunch of marketing crap into the call.

Now, think of the last horrible customer experience you had. Mine? My family and I were at a local italian restaurant one weeknight recently and the service was sparse and detestable, our orders were screwed up, and to boot, the place wasn’t even busy. It was our last visit to that restaurant.

With those experiences fresh in your mind, consider some recent interactions at work through the same lens. There’s managers, peers, IT support, HR, project managers, and probably a dozen other folks you deal with day in and out. Who provides the best experience, who’s got room for improvement? What’s the general dynamic at your office, is it a sweat shop with a boss calling audibles, or does it feel like a well-aligned team working towards the same goals?

There are a lot of interactions at work where good customer service can make a positive difference. There’s reviews, emails to clients, troubleshooting code with a peer, project planning meetings. What are a few ways you can make a better experience for the person on the other end of your interactions?

The goal here is to realize that your coworkers are customers. They’re your customers. Treat them with the same respect, responsiveness, and quality you’d like in return.

When there’s a fire, everyone’s a fireman.

When there’s a problem at work, like a power outage or a critical bug on a site, throw on your fireman’s hat and help out. Your job title, skillset, or DVR settings are the last thing you should be considering. Don’t even bring it up. Rather, offer up your support and good morale to the folks on the front line fixing the problem. See what you can take off their plate. Buy ’em a sandwich. Often times, just letting them know you’re aware of the issue goes a long way.

Under more normal circumstances, stay cognizant of the stress points at the shop. It’s a skill you can hone by taking an interest in projects you’re not a part of. Which sites are closest to going live? Which ones have the toughest clients? Who looks like that thing the cat dragged in? Which ways can you help out and make things run more smoothly? Remember that you’ll be in that situation in a few weeks and do unto others as, well, you know.

Technology isn’t always the solution and too often the problem.

We use the phone, instant messaging, video chat, email, Basecamp, DoneDone, and regular old face to face communication to work together here. That’s 7 different personas for every person on our team to deal with. Keep that in mind the next time someone’s IM pisses you off. That dry sense of humor may not translate well in 1’s and 0’s. If that’s the case, stop with technology. Stand up and walk over to a coworker to discuss an issue or pick up the phone and call the client.

Technology too often lulls one into thinking real, human interaction is obsolete. It’s quite the opposite. While technology will always come and go, there will never be a replacement for live, face to face discussions. So schedule a lunch, a trip, a meeting once in a while. Get to know the people you’re working with. In real life.

Give feedback and ask for some in return.

Most people appreciate getting feedback but aren’t that great at giving it, myself not withstanding. I think the easiest way to solve this paradox is to simply say something to someone. Be proactive and either pay a compliment on a small win or lodge that gripe a bit earlier before it becomes a problem.

At the organization-level, create a rhythm of regular check-ins beyond the typical annual reviews. This creates a stream of communication which otherwise is relegated to a time when everyone’s thinking about salary and promotions. Instead of a bunch of posturing, these more casual conversations provide ample opportunity to make small adjustments to workload, responsibilities, and potential problems.

Communicate. Then do it again.

You may not be a great writer. You may not be a great orator. That doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective communicator. The only thing you need is will.  So, take a look around at the folks you work with. Figure out two things you’ve been meaning to talk about with a coworker. Now, stir up your will and do it. Next week, do it again.