Posted by: peterhact | August 29, 2012

The customer service experience – when is it OK to use “Idiot Speak”?

The answer is: Never.

Every person you speak to will have a horror story about their bank, their internet provider, the guy who mows their lawns, the trash pack company and, with monotonous regularity, the company who supports their computer systems.

Every IT company has case studies, examples of people who have thought that the service that they have received warrants a “pat on  the back” in print. The bad experiences don’t get a mention, but the great machine of popular discussion, gossip, will take care of telling others how bad it was, how condescending the rep was, how arrogant the tech was, how they just made you feel like an idiot, or a small child.

There is a term used at IT companies, when dealing with someone that isn’t technologically savvy – “dropping down into idiot speak” so that the customers “get” what is being discussed. Bad companies do this, good companies do it as a last resort, great companies don’t do it at all. How do great companies “get away” with not doing it?

They treat their clients with dignity. Without the client, there would be no business. Great companies recognise that we all have strengths and weaknesses, for example, a heart surgeon may know nothing about computers, but can tell you everything about how to fix a heart. Do surgeons treat all people who know nothing about hearts as idiots, or do they raise the education level of the person so that they can understand the topics being discussed? So why do some IT companies think that, because someone doesn’t understand IT, they are idiots?

Because they haven’t encountered the sleeping giant, the IT savvy person who understands exactly what is being discussed, but betrays no hint of understanding. These sleeping giants are often found in retail, often when it is far too late to save your discussion or keep the client. You have made them look and feel like a fool. Now it is your turn to suffer.

Idiots do exist in the world of customer service, unfortunately, they appear to be the ones selling, not the ones being sold to. They are easy to spot. They usually have someone in front of them who has their face contorted into a picture of misery as they explain the speeds and feeds of the product they are trying to sell.

There are many things about a computer. Knowing that it is a core i7 processor, with 8gb of ram and a 500gb hard drive probably doesn’t help when all you want it to do is run the family budget, perhaps type out a few emails and check out the internet pictures that your grandkids have put on their facebook page. But that is retail.

What confronts a small business is far more difficult. In some cases, the small business owner has (not literally) been dragged into the 21st century by demands placed on them by staff, customers and suppliers. They need to get a computer, a website and the internet. They don’t care about the fact that the computer is faster than a blue streak of lightning, processing faster than you can type. The salesperson seems to forget all about what the needs are and has a sort of glazed look – they know the customer is there, but they are so wrapped up in how cool the technology is that they have forgotten what they came to them for.

if they think that the customer isn’t getting it, maybe they will commit the cardinal sin and drop into “idiot speak”.

Imagine if you did this to your mother. She has asked for some help with the computer and you have treated her like an idiot – what happens when she works it out? Let’s just say that the christmas present scene looks pretty bleak.

If you don’t treat your mother like an idiot, when is it OK to do it for anybody else?

Simple answer. It is never OK.


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