I know one thing: that I know nothing
This quote from the greek philosopher Plato has stuck with me through my four years of apprenticeship as a IT specialist. In todays information age, it’s not possible to be all knowing. It’s much more important to know that you can’t know everything.
My main task in my first year of apprenticeship was to answer the phone and try to solve the easier problems for the customers. This led me to make long phone calls lasting up to an hour in which I desperately searched for the solution to the problem.
At the end of the first year a communication coach visited us to teach us about more efficient ways to communicate over phone, email and in meetings.
One point of his presentation has stuck with me until today.
Customers don’t want to have their problem immediately fixed, but want somebody whom they can trust to take care of their problem.
Which means that you shouldn’t try to fix the problem on the spot but rather record the necessary information about the problem. After making sure you’re correctly understood the problem, tell the customer that you will contact him again when the problem has been solved.
With this method you not only save the customers time, in which he can work on his actual core competencies, but you can also prioritize the task you’ve been working on before the phone call and solve the problem later if it isn’t urgent.
Another benefit of this method is that you could now assign the problem to one of your coworker without having to explain him the problem again in detail and without him having to contact the customer again, because you’ve written down the details.
Last but not least if somehow you get sick another coworker can take over your task without having to ask the customer again for the details.
Prepared with this new knowledge I started my second year of apprenticeship.
An important thing to keep in mind when using this method is that it won’t work if I as the customer don’t trust your company to take care of the issue.
I myself have experienced this as a customer when my phone broke at the beginning of the second year of my apprenticeship.
As a more experienced user I first researched the problem and found out that it is quite common with this type of phone. When I called up the support line of the company they told me they would look into it and call me back by the end of the week.
On Friday I was eagerly waiting for the support to call back, but at 5:30 when their line closed officially I still hadn’t heard from them.
The next week I tried calling again and they told me again that they will look into it and call me back. This time I asked for the name of the supporter so I could reference them in my next phone call if they wouldn’t call back.
After two weeks passed by without any kind of contact from them, I called them back to get a status update. They told me they still need more time to look into the problem and will call me back later.
In the end after many more wasteful phone calls and after they blocked my phone number I gave up and won’t buy or recommend anything from this company.
So if you don’t follow through on your promises it will reflect back even worse on you and your company.
In my fourth year of my apprenticeship I had a meeting with a customer to setup a project. When the customer asked me a question to which I didn’t know the answer I told him:
I don’t know. But I know how to find out and will send you the information as soon as I find it.
Because I didn’t try to impress the customer or make something up, but instead told him that I didn’t know but knew where to get the information, he also trusted me to get back to him.
After the meeting I researched the question he had and sent him the answer and how it would be useful for his project.
In my fourth and last year of my apprenticeship I was pretty sure of myself and my knowledge, but still knew that it isn’t bad to not know something.
One time as I showed something to the first year apprentice it didn’t work as I expected it to work. I tried and tried to get it to work and searched for a solution. After a few minutes of troubleshooting the first year apprentice noted that I had missed a semicolon somewhere.
This was the moment I realized that everybody knows or sees something I don’t know or see.
If you take anything from this article, you should remember that it isn’t bad to not know something, if you know how to get the information. And if you don’t, just ask someone else.
Because nobody knows everything, but everyone knows something you don’t.
Below is a recording of my speech about this topic at a local toastmaster competition.