The IT Professional’s Business and Communications Guide

A Real-World Approach to Comp TIA A+® Soft Skills

Steven Johnson

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For Tracy,
who told me I could,
and for John,
who made me believe it

About the Author

Steven Johnson is the managing editor for PrepLogic, a leading IT training and preparation company, and he has been involved with IT for more years than he’d care to admit. In addition to being “Triple A+” Certified (Remote Support, Depot Technician, and IT Technician), Steve holds many other certifications and is a graduate of Texas Tech University. Steve got his start in IT as a sales associate for RadioShack Corporation, which he credits as the single greatest business inspiration in his life and the greatest teacher of true customer service that he’s ever known. When he isn’t doing IT support for his work, friends, family, or associates, he spends most of his time in the air as an ambitious private pilot dreaming of one day soaring the skies as an airline captain.

Acknowledgments

This book would not have been possible without the careful guidance of dozens of people, all of them having affected my life in some positive way. Most especially, I’d like to thank Jay Gandee and Jeff D’Adamo, who provided me with the opportunity to be in a position to write such a book.

Moreover, I’d like to thank the incredible editorial team at Sybex, including Jeff Kellum, Toni Ackley, Neil Edde, and Christine O’Connor. Their courtesy, encouragement, belief, and support have been more than I ever could have asked for during the periods of reevaluation and questioning, and even doubt. Any author should be honored to work with such a group of talented individuals.

Another big help along the way has been some of my colleagues: Brian Harkins, Todd Lammle, Justin Korelc, Christopher Parker, Lou Rossi, and James Stanger. They’ve not only been an inspiration but also friends and counselors along the way.

Last, I’d like to thank the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) as a whole. Were it not for their amazing certification programs, hundreds of thousands of dedicated information technology professionals would be without a way to verify their capabilities and show their worth.

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To Our Valued Readers:

Thank you for looking to Sybex for your CompTIA A+ exam prep needs. The Sybex team at Wiley is proud of its reputation for providing certification candidates with the practical knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the highly competitive IT workplace. Just as the CompTIA is committed to establishing measurable standards for certifying IT professionals, Sybex is committed to providing those individuals with the skills needed to meet those standards.

The author and editors have worked hard to ensure that the book you hold in your hands is comprehensive, in-depth, and pedagogically sound. We’re confident that this book will exceed the demanding standards of the certification marketplace and help you, the CompTIA A+ certification candidate, succeed in your endeavors.

As always, your feedback is important to us. If you believe you’ve identified an error in the book, please visit Wiley’s Technical Support web site at wiley.custhelp.com. If you have general comments or suggestions, feel free to drop me a line directly at nedde@wiley.com. At Sybex we’re continually striving to meet the needs of individuals preparing for certification exams.

Good luck in pursuit of your CompTIA A+ certification!

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Neil Edde
Vice President & Publisher
Sybex, an Imprint of Wiley

Introduction

Welcome to The IT Professional’s Guide to Business and Communications. Whether you are new to the field, an IT professional looking to bone up on your communication skills, or a seasoned pro looking to arm yourself for your upcoming exam, you’ve come to the right place. This book is a tool that you can use to understand business communication as a whole and particularly the important role that communication plays in IT. By reading this book, you will not only improve your personal and business-related communication skills but also your general IT skills.

The Purpose of This Book

The IT world has changed a great deal since its inception. At the dawn of the computing era, you could possess absolutely no social skills whatsoever but could still be highly technical and expect to receive a job with a major corporation commanding a high salary. Today, however, this is no longer the case. Now, companies have begun to require that IT personnel, in addition to possessing specific technical requirements, maintain a high level of social and communication skills.

In 2006 CompTIA reacted to this industry demand by making the biggest change that had ever been made to the A+ exam. Rather than testing technical knowledge and ability only, it became a test of IT business aptitude as well. CompTIA achieved this by implementing two things: soft skills and customer interaction questions. The reason this book is so valuable to you as an IT professional is because you need to have the knowledge and ability to deal with customers, coworkers, consultants, and other businesses as an IT technician. Without a lot of training and experience, you simply cannot understand it unless you’ve seen it in action!

Who Should Read This Book

You should read this book if you are new to the computing industry, have never worked in a business environment, have never worked in a situation that involved much communication, or are generally interested in improving your communication and customer interaction skills. You probably don’t need to read this book if you are an experienced businessperson, skilled orator, or communication expert. The approach is high level, general, and designed for those transitioning into the professional world.

How This Book Is Organized

Unlike a textbook, this book is broken into case scenarios. There are a total of 49 scenarios, each involving some of the most important points in customer interaction and business communication. You will be able to jump into each topic headfirst and observe both mock and actual situations that are either likely to occur or have occurred in the real world. The major topics covered in this book are:

Customer Interaction How to treat, respect, understand, and assist your customer in a retail, corporate, or other business environment

Professional Behavior Understanding the proper way to conduct yourself in a business environment as an IT professional

Proper Phone Techniques Basic phone communication procedures, including transferring calls, treating callers with respect, and conducting yourself professionally in a phone center environment

Communication Security In-depth analysis of common communication security issues, such as privileged information, social engineering, and user privacy

Workplace Communication Communicating with other professionals in the workplace in a clear, direct, and easy-to-understand manner

Leadership How to present yourself as a leader in an IT environment

Communication in the Real World Actual historical scenarios pulling from the preceding six subjects to give you a real-world perspective of the IT business environment

Study Tips and Best Wishes

Jumping into IT is not an easy thing to do. It’s common to get bogged down or intimidated by the sheer amount of paths, information, and technical capabilities that some of the people in the world possess. As you start down this road, you’re going to feel a bit torn as you feel your technical interests pull toward one specific area or another, but don’t fret—this is normal. When you’re reviewing this book, just keep in mind that while the technology may change, the business world may adapt, and the industry as a whole may have a different face in the future, good communication practices aren’t going anywhere.

After reading this book, if you aren’t already a business-savvy professional you should be well on your way. Or if you struggle with communication, you will understand the actions and intentions of your coworkers much more than you would have without reading this book. As you’re reading, mark for future reference those scenarios that occur frequently in your own life. If you still have difficulty, turn back to the situations you struggle with in real life and read the /Key Concepts/ and /Resolution/ sections once again—after all, practice makes perfect.

Chapter 1
Interacting with Customers

Before I can begin discussing any type of interoffice, general, or business communication, I have to point out one very important fact. This fact is that, whether you realize it or not, the foundation of all IT and general communication in the professional world is based on customer interaction. This is because a customer is much more than just a person you deal with in a retail environment. A customer is any person you interact with who could stand to grant you and your company potential benefits. This includes consumers, other businesses, service providers, consultants, and a myriad of other individuals.

Remember: A large potion of your exam is going to be on customer interaction, and it will probably involve situations that are similar to those listed here. It’s a good idea to read about the interaction, collect your own thoughts on how the situation could best be resolved, and then take the suggestions and analysis into consideration.

This chapter breaks down into the following seven different scenarios, each dealing with some of the most commonly occurring issues in professional communication:

Scenario 1: The Angry Customer

Scenario 2: Rude and Ruder

Scenario 3: Impatience: Not Quite a Virtue

Scenario 4: Assertive Intelligence

Scenario 5: The Challenged Customer[

Scenario 6: A Quiet Case

Scenario 7: Easing Tension

The Angry Customer

Here’s the hard-and-fast truth: no matter what you’re doing, whether you’re in information technology, business, support, engineering, or working at a fast-food restaurant, chances are that you’re going to run into an angry customer. As much as we don’t like to deal with angry people, they are just one of those tough facts of life that we as IT technicians have to learn to deal with. Fortunately, the trick to dealing with angry people is that most of the time they are upset, frustrated, angry, or just generally agitated, but not with us. They are agitated with the situation. In this scenario, you’re going to see what it’s like to deal with an angry customer, how best to resolve the situation, and how you can turn an angry customer into a friend of your organization for life.

Scenario

It’s 9 a.m. and you’ve just opened the gates to a local computer store where you have recently been placed into a position of authority. As the sole A+ Certified Technician, not only are you in charge of ensuring that all of your technical tickets and requests are fulfilled, but you are also responsible for customer support issues involving technical matters that the normal customer service representatives cannot field.

After setting up your work area and greeting two of your newly arriving coworkers, you are disturbed from the assembly room by a frantic and frightened coworker who bursts into your back room, breathlessly saying, “There’s someone at the front counter screaming at the top of his lungs and demanding to speak with a person who ‘knows what he’s doing!’” Surprised, you walk out to the sales floor to investigate.

Upon arriving at the sales floor, you immediately notice an incredibly large and furious-looking man, hunching over a sales terminal and glaring at your second coworker. This coworker, equally as frightened as the first, turns to you for support with a pleading look on his face. The customer catches on to this instantly and turns to address you, yelling, “You better know what the heck you’re talking about!”

Stunned, you stammer for just a second, but you are able to get out, “Yes, sir. How is it that I can help you?”

Barely allowing you to get your statement out, the customer yells, “I’ve had a really bad night and your piece of junk computer is broken. What are you going to do about it?” He then stares at you directly, further urging on a confrontation and intimidating other coworkers in your store.

Background

Although we’d like them to be the exception, angry customers in the modern workplace have become sort of the norm. When unfortunate events happen to people, they tend to react negatively toward the people is closest to them. In this particular case, it’s happening in a retail or personal contact–oriented business. However, this happens even more often on the phone or via distance (as in an e-mail), because although only a few people might have the courage to approach you with an “I’m angry!” attitude, many more people feel that not seeing someone face to face allows them to vent their anger at will. Therefore, it’s important to remember that while customers like this might require the most attention and the gentlest of kid gloves when you’re interacting with them, these ideas should be put into practice when you’re dealing with all of your customers. It will help your customer performance evaluations and might just make someone who’s boiling on the inside feel a bit better.

Overview

Before I talk about being in the position of dealing with an angry person, put yourself in the shoes of Fred, the angry customer. Fred has just bought a brand-new laptop from Super Company X. The laptop is fast and stylish, and it’s got every new feature Fred could ever ask for. To top it off, this laptop even comes with a nice briefcase he can use to carry it back and forth to work.

Unfortunately, last night Fred spent his entire night preparing a business presentation for his company. After he had spent three hours writing the presentation, the computer screen went blank and the computer refused to turn back on. Panicked, Fred has come to your computer store. At this point, his hardware, work, and job are on the line. He’s tired, scared, and more than a little frustrated.

As stated before, Fred is not necessarily angry with you or your company. In fact, it’s the opposite of that. Fred is actually hopeful that your company will be able to help him with this problem that he has encountered. In reality, Fred is angry with the company that manufactured the product and is upset with said product’s usability. He has the sincerest hope that your company, and more importantly you, will be able to help him. That’s the first thing you have to reassure him about.

Key Concepts

When most people without certification training are presented with this situation, they naturally respond with one of four options. These options generally depend on the type of person, but they can be broken down into:

None of these thoughts is necessarily illogical, but one of them is certainly the best approach for dealing with an angry person. Let’s consider all these options and discuss why each of them is or is not a good idea.

Lecturing Fred About His Tone

Of all the options presented here, this is by far the worst one. When people are angry, they don’t want to hear that they are sounding angry. They want to hear that their anger has gotten the attention that they desire and that you are going to help them with their problem. Furthermore, this doesn’t let the customer know that you’re going to try to help him, which is what he really wants.

Fighting Fire with Fire

If you respond to rudeness with rudeness, you’re not going to help anyone, especially yourself. Most people who respond with this attitude to a situation believe that whoever is addressing them in this fashion is insulting them. This isn’t necessarily true. One could actually argue that when someone is angry with an employee in a retail or remote situation it is because the person believes that the employee is capable of helping them but unwilling. This indicates a great deal of unspoken respect.

Getting Straight to the Issue

Of the options discussed so far, this would seem like the most appropriate one; however, it has some flaws. First, it doesn’t necessarily tell the customer that you are going to help him out. In fact, it indicates to the customer that you are already classifying him along with hundreds of other cases you have already seen. Second, the customer hasn’t explained the problem yet. He’s barely begun to discuss it. Already asking questions indicates that you believe you have already solved the problem and, in his view, are insulting his intelligence.

Telling Him You’ll Help

Although it may seem fairly obvious, the best thing you can tell an angry person is that his problem is going to be fixed. Truth be told, he does not want to be there and you do not want him to be upset. After you’ve established this, the customer can feel comforted in you as a person and begin to tell you what you need to know to help him.

Resolution

Most frustrated and angry customers just want to have their issue resolved. Furthermore, they want you to address them in a way that they find comforting and to investigate their issue with concern. This simple tactic and mind-set can save you hundreds of hours of argument, frustration, headaches, and annoyance, as well as making someone a friendly customer of yours for life. However, there are a lot of additional tactics you can use, including using passive voice and speaking in a pleasant tone.

Passive Voice

The simplest way to remove blame from any situation is to discuss the problem as if it just happened by chance. This is accomplished by using passive voice. Simply defined, passive voice is voice that is not active but acted upon.

Although that may not seem immediately clear, it’s actually fairly simple to understand. It means that whenever you speak about action involving a subject, you speak as if the subject has had an action impressed upon it, versus making the action itself. To clarify, consider these few examples:

Active (Normal) Voice

“So, you disconnected the motherboard from the power supply?”

Passive Voice

“So, the power supply was disconnected from the motherboard?”

Active (Normal) Voice

“Did you buy the right type of DIMM for your motherboard?”

Passive Voice

“Is the DIMM that was bought the correct type?”

This tactic succeeds in removing any type of personal blame and instead places the blame on an unknown entity. Although in reality it’s normally still the user’s fault or issue, the language used removes any personal liability.

Pleasant Tone

Remember the old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar”? It’s true. Customers who are angry always respond better to people who are polite and courteous. It takes away any ammo they have to become angrier. If you think back to the times when you were extremely irate and were calmed down, chances are that the person you were dealing with was very understanding and spoke in a way that you found soothing in some form or another. It’s important to understand the effect this can have on customers in a retail or remote environment and to effect a semblance of it on a day-to-day basis. You’ll find that it goes a long way toward making not only your customers a bit easier to deal with, but also your friends and family.

Skills for the A+ Exam

Here’s an example of the type of questions you will see about angry customers on the A+ exam:

  1. A furious customer slams his hands down on the desk in front of you and demands that you pay for the computer that he believes you broke. Which of the following is the best statement to calm the customer?
    1. OK, sir. Let me see if it’s broken and we’ll go from there.
    2. I’ll be certain to let my management know to help you.
    3. OK, sir. How much does that product cost? Maybe we could help.
    4. Sir, I’m more than willing to help. Let me see what I can do to fix the situation.

    Answer A: Incorrect. This answer leads the customer to become angry. He will think, “What do you mean you’ll CHECK to see if it’s broken?”

    Answer B: Incorrect. This answer makes the customer believe that you can’t help him with anything and that he should be speaking with your manager.

    Answer C: Incorrect. This answer makes the customer think that your company is cheap and will only help him if it’s in the budget.

    Answer D: Correct. This informs the customer that you are willing to help and try your best. That’s all the customer can really ever hope for.