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The Importance of 'Soft Skills' in IT

By  May 6, 2008

Topics: Certification, CompTIA

One thing I really admire about CompTIA and their certification programs is their inclusion of customer service skills (the so-called 'soft skills') in their exam objectives.

For instance, check out the following extracts from some CompTIA exam objective lists:

  • A+ Essentials (Exam 220-601): Communication and Professionalism-5% of exam content
  • A+ IT Technician (Exam 220-601): Communications and Professionalism-15% of exam content
  • Network+ (Exam N10-003): Network Support-35% of exam content

I have had many students (admittedly most of whom were newcomers to the IT industry) complain, "C'mon, Tim. Don't you think that it is kinda 'Mickey Mouse' for CompTIA to test our customer service skills?"

My answer is a resounding "No!" Some PC/network techs have plenty of technical skills but next to no interpersonal abilities. Conversely, other PC repair folks have mediocre technical competency, but are excellent communicators.

Of course, the ideal PC tech is an individual who possesses generous helpings of each skill set.

To give you an example of customer service skills gone wild, consider an independent computer consultant whom I will call David. I learned through the proverbial grapevine that David was hired by an elderly lady who lives in David's community to perform some minor maintenance on her computer.

Because David was a tad overly aggressive in 'cleaning up' and 'locking down' the customer's computer, this nice lady found herself unable to perform simple printing and Web browsing tasks that she was previously capable of undertaking with no effort.

When the customer contacted David to request his assistance, David insisted that the way the lady was using her computer to date was 'stupid,' and her 'unsafe browsing habits' left her 'vulnerable to attack.'

David then spent 20 minutes trying to talk his customer into dumping her existing service provider, switching to one that David recommends, and just 'dealing' with the increased security of her computer.

"Look, David," said the nice elderly lady. "No matter what you say, I am not going to change my service provider. I don't understand what you are trying to teach me. I just want to use my computer my own way. Now please reset my computer to the condition it was prior to your working on it."

So how did David do wrong in his interaction with his customer? Let us count the ways:

  • David failed to realize that the customer's computer is THE CUSTOMER'S COMPUTER, not his
  • David insulted the intelligence and abilities of his customer
  • David argued with the customer (does anybody remember the old saw, "The customer is always right?!")
  • David spoke in "tech geek" language that was not in any way, shape, or form appropriate to his audience
  • David needlessly generated fear and paranoia by scaring the customer with Internet horror stories

Essentially, if you do the opposite of what David did in his interactions with his customer, you will be most or all of the way there in terms of conquering the 'soft skills' questions that you are likely to see on your CompTIA exams.

And oh yeah, you might find yourself with happier customers and a more satisfying (and lucrative) professional life in IT.