Troubleshooting skills can be learnt

“The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.” – Albert Einstein

Troubleshooting seems to be used more in the context of technical problems rather than the regular questions and queries received by the customer service teams. However, customers cannot know or do not take the time to know which part of the customer service team can answer their questions involving troubleshooting and so it becomes important that all have basic skills, even more so, since troubleshooting skills can be learnt.

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Troubleshooting skills are more focused as opposed to the generic skills of problem solving. However, both help tackle problems that may either be recurring or completely unknown. The questions rolled by the customers towards the customer service staff are often problems that don’t have an instant answer or solution. The more troublesome ones, need troubleshooting even if they are not technical in nature. Troubleshooting is about solving a problem in a structured manner using a series of activities and processes to move closer to an effective resolution. Therefore, troubleshooting skills can be learnt as there are several methods and models created to understand and inculcate them. Troubleshooting and problem skills follow the same methodology – Know the problem.

An understanding of the problem simply means first thinking about possible solutions in a structured manner, following the steps and guiding principles and providing a solution to the customer and finally to make an analysis of why the problem occurred and what steps within the troubleshooting process need to be strengthened. Troubleshooting guides are reasonably detailed and it is possible that either the stages need tweaking or some part has been hurriedly skipped or ignored.

Rudimentary to troubleshooting for any problem is the recognition is that the problem lies beyond just the process. It is necessary that every customer service staff understand and is knowledgeable about the product or equipment being offered. This seems so obvious – unless you know the functioning and purpose of a product or equipment – what they serve, the key features, how the product runs and what goes in to the making of the products – it would be difficult to apply the rules of troubleshooting. Inculcating troubleshooting skills goes hand in hand with knowing what your company is offering. Product knowledge and troubleshooting skills can be learnt by anyone, in this case the customer service non-technical staff as well. One skill is deficient without the other. It may not be necessary to teach the customer service staff every detail of every product or equipment, but providing a structured process of learning some and combining that with troubleshooting skills, would help to raise the levels of customer service.
For the non-technical customer service staff, it would suffice to understand the generic features of a technical product and apply that understanding when trying to resolve a problem through the troubleshooting process guide. A later stage of such a troubleshooting guide would probably indicate that for a problem that is more technical in nature, the problem must be diverted to the thoroughly trained technical staff that would provide the requisite technical troubleshooting to resolve the issue.

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The prerequisite and mandatory step is therefore to provide training – both on the products and on how to effectively use troubleshooting guides. A basic training on the technical products would allow the customer service staff to make sense of what a customer says when calling about a product rather than appearing totally incompetent. Since the customer does not know the internal processes and is unable to see who they are connecting with, the first impression would be that they are doing business with dolts. Not the best impression to form through customer service. The already frustrated customer will probably move on to being angry creating a bigger and more potent problem. Similarly if the customer service staff, understands the basic problem but is unable to apply the processes of troubleshooting, would also result in customer ire.

This would be true for any problem and therefore it seems like a sensible idea to train customer service staff on both technical aspects of the product and use of troubleshooting guides.
We say that troubleshooting skills can be learnt even though it is almost an art. However, anything that involves a methodical and organized approach can be taught and troubleshooting is by far one of the most logical and practical approaches to problem resolution. Once the customer service staff ‘know’ the product it gets simpler to apply troubleshooting skills to ‘understand’ the problem. The process of understanding the problem has been identified earlier and using these techniques effectively removes the portions that are not part of the problem. Doing this eliminates going through all the stages of troubleshooting, which at times are rather detailed and time consuming. The more familiar and well-versed the customer service staff is with the product, the simpler it would be to apply their skills of troubleshooting.

Troubleshooting skills can be learnt and are valuable not just to support problems that are highly technical in nature but also as a generic tool to solving problems of any nature. These skills develop a problem solving bent of mind and makes the customer service staff more receptive to learning and being empathetic to customers. It’s natural to be more patient if you know what to do or what can be done. Since problems are an indispensable part of the daily jobs of the customer service staff, troubleshooting skills is like an armor that can be wielded to save themselves and the company a great deal of embarrassment and bad mouthing. Customers with time will also perceive the commitment on the part of the company and in turn will provide repeat business leading to loyalty and increased revenues.

Rather than getting in to the rut of unresolved problems, companies must place their customer service staff in training that will challenge their normal course of thinking. Experiencing the discomfort of not knowing will push them in to developing their creative thinking abilities leading to a better usage of the detailed troubleshooting guides. It could prove hard at first, but as they see the positive results – happier customers means better business. Better business translates to better opportunities and an increased salary and or benefits.
Learning how to use troubleshooting skills seems fundamental to the realm of customer service and can be the difference between great customer service and service that is below average. Companies must invest time and effort in to honing these skills for their customer service staff before they expect them to start creating wonder stories within their realm. Troubleshooting skills must be taught and constantly upgraded to keep up with the ever increasing demands of customers and also to keep pace with the ever changing product scenario.

– Coaching and training for troubleshooting would give each customer service representative to be problem solvers in a practice environment. They will understand the importance of thinking proactively and creatively even when using a structured and laid-out troubleshooting guide. This will give them a sense of accomplishment and develop their confidence for dealing with ‘real world’ issues.

– The part of the training that would be aimed at telling the staff about troubleshooting would involve understanding each representative’s inherent characteristics of problem solving, empathy, remaining calm under pressure and a general level of courteousness. Developing their capabilities in these areas would help to implement the troubleshooting methodologies with more precision and effectiveness.

– The final part of teaching troubleshooting would be to present to the staff being trained, an actual and maybe unresolved problem. This serves a two-fold purpose – provides a training tool for the participants who can think about it in a more relaxed and less stressful environment and will throw up some creative and not thought of solutions to an actual problem.

Even though companies pride themselves in providing detailed and diagrammatic representations aimed at troubleshooting, sometimes alternative solutions might be required. They must be thought up and put forth and customer service staff that is adept at troubleshooting would be able to do so. You never know who will come up with a solution that has hitherto not been thought of!

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