By Ben Baldwin
Founder and Co-CEO of ClearFit
Building a business is tough. At the beginning, it’s typically the owner/operator who’s doing all the sales and customer service. However, once things start growing, tending to every customer becomes a bit more difficult for one person to manage. It’s at this time that you’ll typically introduce a dedicated customer support function that caters to the company’s #1 priority: its customers!
Hiring for customer service can be a daunting task due to the high stakes in getting it wrong. Getting it right, however, is critical to the growth of business. Here are some insights on how to find and hire the best customer service employees:
Identify the Top Attributes for a Customer Service Hire
It may be surprising that the most important attributes to look for in a customer service hire are not hard skills or prior experience – it’s a person’s fit to the role and to the company. That’s right, skills can be trained, but personality and motivation are much harder to modify.
Here’s what you should be looking for when hiring someone for customer service:
1) Service Orientation: They have a desire to provide customers and co-workers with the information, solutions or services they need;
2) Stress Tolerance: They have the ability to tolerate stress and a maintain a steady level of performance in spite of stressful situations;
3) Consideration of Others: They demonstrate the ability to act in the best interest of the whole group instead of just themselves;
4) Organization: They provide support through their ability to be organized to work through new problems effectively and deal with repeat issues efficiently;
5) Leadership: They know the customer is in their hands and demonstrate the confidence and leadership to take the appropriate action to ensure the customer is satisfied
How to Hire Right for Great Customer Service
The good news is there are literally thousands of places to get candidates; for example, job boards, social media sites, newspapers, employee referrals, and internal candidates. But if you’re like most small business people, you don’t have the time or expertise to figure out where and how. Are you really going to go to thousands of places to find the right candidates?
When you’re looking for candidates, it’s important you understand your target. In other words, you need to know what the best customer service person candidates are looking for in a job. If you can, ask some friends or colleagues who are top customer service people what sorts of things they look for in a job; for instance, what are their likes and dislikes. The key is to listen and ask questions more than talk.
Also, go where they are. Make sure you know where the best customer service people may look for a job, not just where you get the best job board pricing. You can try colleges and universities and niche job boards, for example. Another option is to look toward other service industries, like retail, where people may prefer performing customer service for you than a clothing retailer.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to get help. There are actually places you can go that will handle all of this for you at a reasonable price.
How to Know Which Candidate Is the Right Candidate
How do you know if your screening is consistent from candidate to candidate? Do you have a systematic approach? Without one, you’re likely to hire the candidate whose resume you like the most, or who you like the most during the interview. However, research suggests that this is not necessarily the best thing to do, so decide on what you need ahead of time and stick with it.
Have you eliminated your personal bias from the situation; in other words, do you rely on a subjective assessment of resumes and candidates or an objective one? Is there an opportunity for personal bias to influence your process before you can even use your objective assessment?
Assessing Candidates the Smart Way
Make sure you assess your candidates based on how well they match your job criteria, especially their job fit – the attributes needed for success. Remember to be consistent and objective as there will be time for opinion before you decide on anyone. Eliminate bias by sticking to your system.
Make sure they have the minimum skills you need, but most importantly, make sure the criteria you use to screen candidates are related to job success. For instance, the top five personality attributes of a customer service person mentioned above (service orientation, stress tolerance, consideration, organization and leadership).
How to Interview Customer Service Candidates
There are all sorts of ways to interview. Unfortunately, many of those ways are not effective in determining the right person to hire, because interviewing is very hard to do well!
Often the interviewer is checking to see if this is a person who’s like them, or someone who they’d want to hang out with. This is called the “halo effect.” It’s when someone’s familiarity or likeability affects how you interpret their ability to perform the job. Try to find out how well someone will be able to do the job—not whether or not you like them.
Make sure your questions are open-ended, rather than ones that provoke just yes or no answers. Ask questions that will help you uncover more about the things you’re not comfortable with; focus on the items of greatest concern. So, when you’re interviewing a prospective customer service person, you should ask the following questions:
- Tell me about your work that was most directly linked to customers. What service did you provide? What obstacles did you overcome?
- Do you expect to be successful when you are working with others? Is it difficult for you to be sympathetic with them? Explain.
Some examples of weak responses are when the candidate emphasizes the service success depends more on the customer than themselves. Strong responses indicate they see customers as having legitimate wants or needs, and of course that they have work experience in customer service roles.
So, when hiring for customer service, remember to hire the right person for the role – and to remember that the right person may be very different from the business owner who currently owns the relationship. Change is ok, if the person is the right fit. If you get it right, your customers may actually thank you for giving them access to a person dedicated to their success!
About the Author
Ben Baldwin is the Founder and Co-CEO of ClearFit, a hiring tool that makes it easy for small and medium-sized businesses to find and hire employees that succeed. He’s a patent holder, Wall Street Journal Startup Mentor, and business advisor.