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Not having a uniform makes the job harder

Have you ever seen a postal carrier not wearing a uniform? It may sound meaningless, but you may have this series of thoughts:

Is that really the postal carrier? Who do they think they are, not wearing the uniform? I wonder if they get more than one uniform and if theirs is being washed? I wonder if they’ll get in trouble for not wearing it? Why does this bug me, it’s not like it affects how they actually deliver mail? I wish they’d put on the uniform.

Doctors have their white coats. Policemen have uniforms. Firemen, plumbers, repairmen – they have trucks, belts, toolkits. Lawyers don’t have uniforms, so what do they do? They put their diploma on the wall. They put a ton of law books usually in view of their customers when you walk through their office.

How is this remotely related to IT work? Few IT people wear uniforms. Geek Squad employees do, which that helps customers trust their brand. If you’re going to let someone into your house, you want to know that they are “official” in some way. But for most IT pros, they don’t have a uniform to rely upon. In the past, “geeks” would wear pocket protectors and a handful of pens in a shirt pocket. Stereotypes also included thick-rimmed glasses. But in the age of  “business casual” clothes,  contact lenses and Lasik eye surgery, it’s harder to tell an IT person from another person. This matters. It matters because as an IT pro, you don’t “look” like a pro. You look like a normal man or woman (should I put normal in air quotes?) So how does someone know if you’re really a pro and not just some guy off the street? They don’t. That makes them nervous.  Here are 6 things you can start doing right away:

  • Give out your business card. Your name, logo, business address and the professional gesture of giving your card already demonstrates you are a service professional. It may seem excessively formal, but it works. If you're working completely remotely, do a LinkedIn invite. It establishes more authenticity.

  • Don’t talk down/up without checking. Your client might want the “low tech” explanation, or they might like the “high tech” one. Don’t presume. If you start talking tech and think that will “impress” them, it could backfire 100%. If you dumb-down the answer, they may feel you are condescending and aloof. If someone asks you what you did or are doing, ask them “do you want the technical answer or the normal English answer?” - let them decide.

  • Cite your experience – carefully. You know you’ve seen this particular computer issue a hundred times. They don’t know that. They might think you’re learning on the job. “Oh, I’ve handled this kind of thing hundreds of times” sounds like bragging, and only can hurt your credibility if you run into trouble. “This is a pretty normal kind of occurrence” can work well. The fact that the customer is not the only person who has dealt with this should make them feel better and more relaxed. And your relaxed delivery will put them at ease. If your surgeon said “whoa” as they were examining you, you’d freak out. Same thing goes when you’re working on someone’s computer. “I like the way this is responding, that’s a good sign” - those encouraging, vague kind of statements are comforting to a customer.

  • May I ask you to log into your mail for a moment and open up a message to test this?” - then stand up, walk AWAY from the computer and turn away when they type in their password. This shows that you respect their privacy, that you don’t want or need to know their password, and that you’re not going to go through their mail yourself. Handing you their computer is like handing you a purse or wallet. It’s personal, it’s not a comfortable feeling. Computer people don’t remember this.

  • Speak authoritatively when giving a recommendation. Do not say “I recommend”, or “if you want, you could” – say “Here’s what I need you to do.” If the customer asks you “can I get away with not doing that?”, 90% of IT people will often tell them a truthful “yes, you probably could, but…” – the problem is that after the word “yes”, the customer stops listening. Instead, tell them what they SHOULD do. “You need to back this computer up regularly.”

  • Don’t use Google in front of the customer. If they see you do this, they’ll think “what am I paying this guy for? I can do that myself.” They don’t realize that the way you use Google is probably WAY different than them. As a result, them seeing you use it will hurt your credibility. Tell them you need to check a few things first. If you doctor pulled out a textbook from medical school in front of you, you’d worry about what they know. People are irrational in how they interact with computer professionals. Rather than being mindful of it, IT people tend to do things that fuel this behavior rather than correct it.

When the postal carrier delivers your mail in uniform, you trust the entire process. You trust that your mail is not being opened, or lost, or stored improperly. When you work on a person’s computer, they need to trust you. If you don’t “look” the part, at least act it. 


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