It was early July, but for some reason it was still cool, a bit foggy, and threatening to rain. We were all sitting on the deck under a big green tarp, dressed haphazardly in Columbia and Carhartt since our uniforms wouldn't be in until the weekend. At 7am, no one wanted to be up let alone sitting on a deck in the cold weather.
But it was worth it.
"If I ever hear these three words out of your mouth, you will be on thin ice. I'll be honest in telling you it could jeopardize your chances of being rehired next season. Not my job. Whatever question someone asks, whether it's your job or not, write it down in your pocketbrain and find out."
We then passed around a box of small, pocket-sized notebooks - pocketbrains that would help us remember strange questions people asked so we could follow up later.
"If you don't know, say I don't know, write the question down, find out the answer, then follow up later. Remember, it's always your job."
A lesson learned working at a remote Boy Scout camp that's translated quite well to client work.
Not My Job
When a customer is asking for help, your job title doesn't really matter. At that moment, you're no longer a developer, designer, director, executive, intern, or anything else. You're merely a representative of the company from whom they need information. True, you might not be the right person to ask. You might have no idea what they're talking about or even who the right person to ask really is.
But neither does your customer, which is why they're asking you in the first place.
"Not my job" is synonymous in this situation with "I don't know what you're talking about, nor do I care." It minimizes the concern of your customer and demonstrates to them how little you value them, their questions, and their business.
Don't be surprised when they leave to a competitor who actually cares about their questions.
I Don't Know
If you don't know the answer, be honest and up-front - admit that you just don't know.
But also follow up with another three-word statement, "I'll find out."
True, they might be asking about something outside your control, responsibilities, or knowledge. Write the question down, follow up internally, and get back to your customer with a response.[ref]Sometimes it might be more appropriate for someone else to follow up. If so, whoever follows up should cite your asking them to so the customer is aware of the continuity of the relationship.[/ref]
One of my favorite grocery stores is Haggen. It's not the least expensive store by any measure, but the customer service there is spectacular. If you ask for a product an employee doesn't know, they'll check with the manager. If they don't have it on stock, they'll order it for you. A relative of mine once needed a specific baking ingredient that apparently no regular grocery store carries. Haggen's baker had some in the back, put it in a bag, and handed it over. This simple action, at a cost of 5 minutes and perhaps $3 to the store, earned them a lifetime fan and customer.
Saying "I don't know" takes exactly the same effort as writing off a request as "not my job." Following up on that lack of knowledge might take some time on your part, but it will return massive benefits in the way of customer goodwill.