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  • Cliff Krahenbill, aka, Prof. K

Knowing When to Hand Off an Issue


Technology would be a great vocation and career choice if we just didn’t have to deal with end users. That’s an old tech joke but it is easy to become quickly jaded if we don’t understand the rules of dealing with people, especially end users.

Regardless of what our job is or our level of responsibility, we often get shamed into doing things we should never have done. Call it social engineering or getting played, regardless; eventually, we all come up against a difficult end user or client.

We all need to develop or personal skills just as we develop our technical skills and there will be times when both will get stretched to the limit. We must know when to hand off an issue. We’re not walking away; we’re escalating. How we escalate the issue depends on the situation. If it’s not technical but personal as with a difficult client, time to call in the big guns, our manager or if the situation calls for it, a senior partner.

Never get into a verbal confrontation with a client, let the client lose control but as a professional, we should never allow ourselves to get caught up in the moment. We can excuse ourselves by telling the customer we’re going the escalate the situation. If we lose control of the situation, we call our manager and make them aware of the situation. Remember; managers talk with managers. This is how things get done.

Clients will always want to save money and to do so, they may allow their tech support contract for an expensive piece of software to lapse. People who do not work in technology made the assumption that anyone who does work in technology must be an expert with troubleshooting every piece of software ever built. They have advance knowledge of how to use Microsoft Excel, Word, and Access and can build a commercial grade website using HTML5 and CSS. Finally, anyone working in technology must be an expert programmer and can build any type of application using C++, Python and Visual Basic. How can someone work in technology and call themselves a technology professional if they cannot do all of this and more?

That’s the shaming part. It usually starts out with, “I’m having an issue getting this 16-bit database program we purchased back in 1997 to open. All our bookkeeping and inventory is stored on the database which is running on a Windows XP box in the CFO’s office. We need you get it up and working as soon as possible.”

Two things going on here. First, the client is trying to shame someone into taking ownership. Two, there’s the dilemma of how you’re going handle this gracefully. We can start by asking for the tech support number for the software provider. Two things are going to happen here, first, the client says the application was custom built by an individual and he wants to charge a flat fee for every tech support call. The client smiles and says, “Therefore we called you.”

This is a prime example of you needing to hand off the issue to the software developer. Get them on the phone, talk tech to tech and agree to resolve the issue. The work around here is to have the developer bill your firm for the call and have your firm bill the client. Problem solved! Know when to hand off!

The second dilemma is what happens if you touch the machine. Could be the XP box just needs to be rebooted or if you restart it, it could blue screen. We need to ask if there is a backup copy of the program and if the database has been recently backed up. You need to check the event viewer for critical errors. You need to see the program and verify the backup.

Clients never tell the truth about anything so you must trust but always verify everything they tell you. Never assume anything they say to be factual. Often, you must keep asking the same question repeatedly but paraphrased differently each time until you finally get the real story.

“So, you were just reading your Gmail and suddenly you started getting all these unwanted porn pop-ups? Did you click on any windows or messages? Did you install any recent software or notice any new toolbars in your browser? No? The porn pop-ups just happened unexpectedly?”

“Strange, you usually have to click on something to get this kind of redirection. Sure there wasn’t a link to a web page you might have clicked on? Oh, there was? And that’s when the pop-ups started happening?

“So how long have you been getting the pop-up? Since Monday? And you decided to call Friday night at 4:30 PM for tech support? Great! Oh, you need to leave to go home for your kid’s recital but I can stay as long as it takes to fix the issue. Thanks!”

A couple of things; never, ever, try and save any client money. They won’t appreciate it and they will never remember it. Invoice them for every minute you are on site and if they want to complain, let them do so with your manager.

The take away here should be two things, never allow anyone to talk down to you or shame you into doing something you know to be above your pay grade. You must learn to play the game of one-upmanship. When it’s your move, make sure you make the right one. Don’t fall into the trap of taking ownership!


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