Tech Support to the RescueIt is not what you know; it is how you use what you know…

Reminds me of a philosophical debate:

If a tree falls in the forest,

and there is no one to hear it fall,

does it make a sound?


What if you have great technical expertise,

but others don’t see it,

does your technical knowledge really count for anything?

Now, let’s not discount the value of your technical expertise. Somewhere along the path of your career journey, you decided to become a technical support professional. Perhaps it was a clear decision; maybe the opportunity found you. Either way, today those steps you proudly took led you towards your position as an Analyst, Engineer, Agent, Escalation Expert, Help Desk Operator, or Security Specialist…the opportunities were abundant. You were hired because of the special and deep product and/or technical knowledge and specialty certifications that you bring to the job.

The rest of us, especially your customers, are thankful for your decision and career commitment. If there were not support professionals like you, machines would stop working, software would crash, equipment would malfunction, systems would go down, networks would go off-line and applications would die. Worse… communications would be disrupted, transactions would terminate, and the business world would come to a screeching halt. Sounds like the end of the world! Like a caped crusader, you and your technical expertise keep things working. And the business world keeps spinning. Well, not quite…

The challenge: it is likely that another human being reports the problem with the equipment, hardware, software, application, etc. It is probable that this customer does not have your level of technical support expertise. It is a person under pressure, a tad stressed and perhaps not technically articulate. Yet, this person is a customer who, in part, pays for your salary and benefits.

In the Human Resources field, the comment has been made: “Hired for technical ability, fired for (lack of) communication skills.” So you can see where this blog is going. Your technical skills got you into the game, and you likely progressed nicely, keeping up to date on all the product developments, new releases, and current versions (as you continue to do). But a silent hero you cannot be. Your customer, the damsel in distress if you will, expects answers, explanations, and solutions. This, the communication effort, is the other half of your job that completes the rescue mission.

“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There…”

… happens to be the title of a book written by a great expert in the human improvement field, Marshall Goldsmith. The Wall Street Journal places Marshall in the top ten of executive educators. After coaching a significant number of executives, he noticed a pattern, a trend of about a couple dozen “fatal mistakes” — fatal not in the physical sense that someone died. But these mistakes did contribute to a career “death” — an executive ended up being fired, or moved out. Interestingly, many of the fatal mistakes were not a lack of brains or technical knowledge. The mistakes mostly related to a breakdown in communication skills.

So, how do technical professionals improve their communications skills, (known as soft skills in the training industry)? Foremost, there is a commitment required. It is an inner, deep and lasting decision—a mantra, if you will: “I am going to devote my time, effort and resources to improvement.” Communicating is a skill, and like driving a car or playing a sport, it can be improved. If you stand still, you are actually falling behind. For professional success, frankly, improvement is not optional.

Once committed to improving their soft skills, technical professionals take advantage of a number of resources:

  • Reading books, articles and even blogs like this one
  • Seeking a mentor that will give you timely and specific feedback
  • Practicing handling your most difficult communication “opportunity”
  • Asking your manager regularly for advice, and be open to the input
  • Attending a workshop in soft skills

All suggestions above will “get you there.” Follow them and you’ll become a communications expert. Together, your dual expertise will bring you to the top of your field. And just as you continue to keep apprised of the latest versions of software, technology and upgrades, you will also be keenly aware of what works as you continually improve communicating your work, your abilities, and product capabilities to your customers, your clients, and your colleagues.