Good internal customer support is possible when you set boundaries explains Rhonda Scharf

Have you ever felt like your company’s Wikipedia? Does it sometimes feel like you’re the only one in the office who knows anything? Or that if you aren’t there during the day to answer some of the most basic questions, things won’t get done?

I have felt that way before.

“Rhonda, do you know why the photocopier is turned off?”

“Rhonda, do you remember the exact number of red that is in our logo?”

“Rhonda, who do we call at American Express for travel? While you’re at it, do you have their phone number?”

“Rhonda, do you know if it’s going to rain this afternoon?”

Sometimes I think that people are just being lazy and don’t want to look up the person’s name at American Express or find the right shade of red. Sometimes they are saving themselves time because they know that I’ll know the answer. But saving themselves time is wasting mine.

When they ask me stupid questions like “Is it going to rain?” I just get frustrated. Your question is interrupting my work!

Co-workers are the number-one source of interruptions at work. A study in the journal Organization Studies noted that we are interrupted on average 20 times per day by a co-worker. Do the math on that—it works out to every 20 minutes! If a conversation takes an average of three minutes, that is over an hour a day spent just answering questions that don’t need to be asked (most of the time).

How do we offer support and good internal customer service while at the same time setting boundaries and getting our work done?


Here are some suggestions to help reduce the number of questions that waste your time:

1. Offer to get that information in 15 minutes, as soon as you are done with x

For instance, if someone texts me, or asks me what the RGB number is for our red, I can quickly say, “I can look that up for you as soon as I am done with <fill in blank>. That will be in about 15 minutes. Is that okay?”

Some people will be fine to wait. You will find that others will respond with “Never mind. I can get it myself,” which means they had the information all along (or knew where to find it) but figured it would be just faster to ask you.

Sometimes (judge accordingly), even if you know what the number right off the top of your head, it is okay to ask them to wait 15 minutes, anyway.

2. Don’t always jump to the solution for others

We have to teach people to help themselves at times. When you are asked if it is going to rain this afternoon, you can respond with, “I don’t know for sure, but I think so” instead of “Let me check for you.” I do that even with my husband. I like to think that being helpful is a strong personality trait that I have. So, when he asks me things like the weather question, I’ll say, “Let me check my app.” I need to start saying, “I think it is supposed to. Have you checked with” instead of jumping to check it for him.

3. Show people how to help themselves in the future

I could send the link to to whoever is asking. I could send the link to the correct RGF color chart we have. Or, I can show people where to find the information they need so that the next time they will know how to do it themselves.

4. Limit your time on the question

The problem with these random questions is that they often interrupt work that has a higher value than responding to the question. Sometimes we need not to engage, other than answering the question even though that goes against our need to support at times. For instance, “Rhonda, do you know why the photocopier is turned off?” can be answered with a simple “No.” instead of jumping up to see that it is turned off and getting it up and running again.

All that advice aside, there are times when the question you are being asked is not a waste of your time, but part of your job description. Make sure you know the difference!

Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF, GSF is a Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame, trainer and author based in Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. If ... (Read More)

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