Positive reinforcement: An essential and often overlooked tool in IT support

In IT support calls, communication goes both ways. Here are some tips to making it as effective as possible.

I’ve now dedicated two posts to discussing how customers should behave when contacting support, but how should support react to negative behavior? What should you expect from us? If technical support staff want customers to be respectful when calling in then we need to behave in a way that encourages this type of behavior. In dog training and child rearing there are two schools of thoughts on how to elicit the kind of behavior you want; positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. I tend to lean towards positive reinforcement and believe other tech support workers should as well. Here are a few of my techniques and why I believe they work.

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Remain calm

No matter how irate, verbally abusive or irrational a customer becomes, remain calm and emulate the tone you’d like the customer to have. Yelling back will only serve to make the customer angrier and will make the company you work for look bad. Additionally, if you remain calm and don’t yell back, there is a good chance the customer will stop yelling too. People are conditioned to imitate the tone and candor of someone they are speaking to, so your calmness should rub off.  Also, if you respond to their negative behavior it only reinforces their actions and will shorten their fuse for the next call.

Wait for the person to be calm to respond

Rather than responding to rudeness and rewarding this behavior, wait for the person to finish their rant and then ask them to repeat themselves. You can say something like “I’m sorry, I wasn’t able to catch all that, can you explain the problem to me again, but in a lower tone?” While this might make the customer angry, it will get the point across that you can’t/won’t help them if they are being rude or yelling. Then, once they restate the problem in a calm manner, and you help them, they will realize they get more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Be responsive

When a customer calls in and is understanding, communicative and calm, be sure to do everything in your power to help them. Of course, you should do this for every customer, but if you reward positive behavior with helpfulness, the customer will be more likely to continue being pleasant. It doesn’t hurt to thank the customer for being so understanding, as this will let them know you appreciate them and will make it less likely they will fly off the handle during future calls.

In any customer service position you are going to come across angry customers. It is part of the job. That does not mean you have to reward this behavior. Instead, use these positive reinforcement tools to help you. They work for dog training. They should work for tech support.

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