There is an undercurrent in IT, pulling organizations towards a more end-user centric approach. In years past, customer service was such a rare skillset that IT teams were only expected to fix issues and minimize downtime. How courteous they were in this pursuit was largely irrelevant. As long as they could talk to computers, they were perceived as proficient in their duties. However, as the average end-user grows more tech savvy and accustomed to higher levels of customer service, IT reps are finding that they need to improve their people skills. These include communication abilities, critical thinking, empathy, flexibility and cultivating a friendly demeanor. It’s a tough task as the variety of devices and systems in use continues to multiply, but as a recent survey of our customers shows, IT teams are aware that improving these “soft skills” is a critical priority.

The survey found that 72% of IT pros believe there has been a growing emphasis on soft skills in the last three years. Furthermore, 93% of respondents say that soft skills will become a more important part of their role in the next five years. It’s obvious that IT teams have accepted their fate and are on track to improve areas of their performance that were perceived as secondary in years past. However, our research also found that there are a number of areas for improvement.

The survey showed that currently, system administrators are the ones lacking soft skills the most, followed by IT managers and lastly, CIOs. This suggests that as IT pros work their way up the ladder, these skills only become more important. The need for everyone to improve illustrates the rising importance of IT overall. As technology continues to play a more prominent role in business operations, IT teams will grow in importance and be expected to make decisions that will have a huge impact on the organization. In this environment, the need for finely tuned soft skills is evident.

The main motivator for improving soft skills among survey respondents was efficiency. IT teams are realizing that there is no point in fighting the current—swimming with it enables them to go much further. If reps can work well with others and empathize with end-users, issues generally are addressed much faster and with far fewer challenges on both sides. Almost half of the respondents said they communicate about IT issues to non-IT colleagues daily so it’s an area of improvement that can have an immediate impact. Over time, these efficiencies also add up quickly making them a worthwhile investment in terms of training. This too is not lost on employers with 55% of respondents saying improving soft skills is encouraged by their organizations.

IT reps are under greater pressure than ever before. As their importance to the overall organization continues to grow, the ability to communicate and work with others will be as crucial to their success as their technical know-how. Our survey shows that organizations are feeling the pull towards a greater emphasis on soft skills and it will be interesting to see how this continues to alter the IT landscape in years to come.