Charles Hooper

Thoughts and projects from a site reliability engineer

Stop Letting Technical People Get Away With Social Ineptitude

As a technical person who has worked many customer-facing support roles, I’m offended by the often-cited notion that technical people have poor people skills or are poor at filling customer support roles. Earlier this week, a web host incited a Public Relations nightmare when their “Technical Director” responded childishly to some customers, disabled their accounts, and deleted their backups. The company’s response was to create a new customer support position so they could keep their Technical Director yet isolate him from their customers. In this new customer support personnel’s recap of the situation, he wrote:

Jules is the Technical Director. Jules does a fantastic job looking after things and keeping the infrastructure running well. Unfortunately though, as is often the case with very technically minded people, customer service is not always his strong point.

As I stated above, I find this absolutely offensive. Unfortunately, it’s often believed to be true because there are so many engineers and technical personnel with poor people skills. I never have seen statistics to support the notion that the ratio is higher in these professions than in others, yet employers often find that people filling these roles with poor people skills are still employable. This needs to stop.

I’m of the opinion that every position is customer-facing. Sure, some positions might not interface with the company’s customers, but the position is likely to have customers of its own – whether internal or external. All it takes for someone to be good at customer service is:

  • The understanding that they represent their employer and that people are relying on them,
  • A compassionate, helpful, and courteous attitude,
  • The knowledge of whatever they’re supporting.

Frankly, if you don’t have those qualities, how can you work with anyone at all?

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