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Hiring Customer Service Reps: Best Practices

Your customer service and/or support team operates as the backbone of your business. Maintaining a strong support team not only helps stabilize your business by increasing your average customer’s lifetime, but it also helps you attract strong leads for converting new customers. According to results from a Nielsen survey, The Nielsen Global Survey of New Product Purchase Sentiment, customers who have positive experiences with a company’s support staff are far more likely to recommend that business to their peers. And people are 77% more likely to purchase a product or service when they learn about it from friends and family.

First Things First: Know the Role – And Document It

In hiring customer service reps, preparing a well-defined job description is the first step when beginning the search for your customer support all-stars. Seem simple, but it’s important to think this through thoroughly to document all relevant skills and responsibilities. A clearly articulated job description attracts suitable candidates who are more likely to be a fit for the roles you defined. It also keeps you focused on what’s important when interviewing and assessing potential candidates. Remember that no candidate is going to be a perfect fit for every aspect of a role. Separate the core requirements of the job – the background and traits a new hire absolutely has to demonstrate – from the supplemental ones that may be beneficial, but are not necessarily a deal breaker.

Qualifying Round 1: The Cover Letter

Once you define the roles you need filled, begin looking for the people that best fit those roles from an objective perspective. Gather valuable information about your candidates with every step of the interview process. First, look at the applicant’s cover letter. If the candidate does not have a cover letter, ask the individual to submit a short written sample about a time they showed leadership, flawless execution, or whatever valuable trait you identified in your job description traits. This process sheds light on some relevant experience the prospect offers for the role, but importantly, the action identifies candidates who clearly do not have the minimum writing skills required to communicate effectively with customers. This first step is a quick way to thin the batch of applications and allows you to use your time more efficiently.

Qualifying Round 2: The Phone Interview

Like the previous step, the phone interview serves to screen candidates so you do not waste your time, or theirs, down the line. In-person interviews generally take at least an hour, so the more you condense your candidate list by screening the applicants with a phone interview, the better. You want the phone interview to be quick, but engaging. Ask your candidates why they are leaving their previous job, what they seek in their new role, when are their preferred hours, etc. You don’t need to try and learn everything there is to know about each candidate. Rather, you’re looking for deal breakers—poor verbal communication skills, profanity, etc.—so you do not waste time setting up in-person interviews with applicants who are clearly not qualified for the job. This step, like the first one, can be done quickly, and results in a practical list of potential new hires with whom you can set up in-person interviews.

Qualifying Round 3: The Personal Interview

Using the two stages of screening, cover letter and phone interview, presents you with a solid list of candidates to interview in person. This is the time to drill down and ask your candidates about their relevant experience, goals, motivation, ability to handle stress, and so on. Do not rush this—spending more time on this phase of the hiring process prevents you from wasting time in the future with employees who are poor fits. Immediately after your interview, fill out a scorecard for the interview based on the traits and skills you documented in the job description. Does the candidate show empathy? Are they intuitive? Did they demonstrate a decent understanding of your industry, or an enthusiasm to learn more about it? This helps keep you objective, and it serves as a helpful reference when making final hiring decisions.

Qualify Round 4: The Take Home Test

Congratulations, you’ve finished the most time consuming part of the hiring managers interview process! Your candidate, however, has at least one more task to complete before you can make a confident hiring decision. After the in-person interviews, have your candidates follow up with a take home assignment that demonstrates their ability to understand a customer issue and produce a solution. An example of such an assignment is to have the applicant look at a fake cancellation request from a customer that includes more than one reason for the complaint. Your candidate should, at the very least, be able to answer the following prompts:

  • How would you describe the customer’s tone, and why do you think they feel this way
  • What tactics or strategies would you use in response to this email?
  • What would you do internally with a ticket like this?
  • Write a sample response to the customer.

Conclusion

The importance of your support team to your company’s bottom line cannot be understated. Hiring the best candidates for the role from the get-go not only leads to a strong team, it also saves you from endless headaches from trying to manage team members who are not the best fit for their roles. If you have followed the best practices described here, then you have successfully done the following:

  1. Clearly defined the job you need filled and the type of person that can best fill it.
  2. Saved yourself valuable time by screening candidates without acceptable written and verbal skills in two easy steps.
  3. Created an objective scorecard for every candidate you interviewed in person for future reference.
  4. Had every interviewee provide a sample of their response to a difficult customer dilemma.
  5. Given yourself the chance to assess how your candidates handle themselves on the phone, in person, and in writing based on objective standards you’ve set for the job.

Some jobs or employers may like to add additional steps based on their preferences and the nature of their business. For example, before a hiring decision is made at AVOXI, hiring managers fill out an 8-Point Success Matrix designed to assess how the employee would fit in not only with their own department, but also the company culture as a whole. It is not uncommon for companies to hold multiple interviews for the same applicant with multiple managers to ensure reaching an objective assessment of each candidate. Regardless of the adjustments you make for your specific business, following these best practices will help you build you all-star team of support representatives from day 1!

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