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Employee Hiring, Development, and Retention

Hiring for Customer Service: Find the Best Fit

Mike Poskey | September 28, 2018

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Your company is growing. Now you need to hire for customer service positions to maintain quality relationships with new and existing customers. How do you fill these customer service openings, ensuring that you hire the best candidates for the role and reducing your risk of turnover?

The first step is understanding the core competencies that make up the best customer service representatives. These vary by industry and create an important need to understand which competencies translate to some roles but not others.

The second step is understanding which questions to ask during a behavioral interview to unlock each candidate's past behavior in a similar context to what duties they will be asked to perform in your company.

Unlock Core Competencies When Hiring for Customer Service

The most important competencies for customer service varies because tasks and duties are different in each role. At one end of the spectrum is an account manager who will be the direct contact with a client over the life of the business relationship. On the other end of the spectrum is a customer service representative in a call center who will have a one-time interaction with a customer.

Being successful in these two roles requires different core competencies. Your company needs to understand these competencies to ensure that you are hiring the person who best fits the roles on each end of the spectrum and somewhere in between.

Account Manager Core Competencies

  • Empathy
  • Relationship building skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Responsiveness

Picture the account manager at an insurance agency. This customer service agent is essential for ensuring that a company is protected while conducting business. Therefore, the account manager needs to be empathetic toward the needs of the insured. The person also needs to build a relationship with the business leaders, think critically if insurance issues arise, and be responsive to the company's needs.

ZERORISK HR studied an insurance company that lost one of its largest clients because the account manager was unempathetic toward client requests and did not respond in a timely manner to important questions. The problem began when the company did not unlock the core competencies of the individual and only one person conducted the interview before making a hiring decision. They relied on a subjective opinion about how friendly and pleasant the individual came across during the interview.

When hired, though, the account manager ruined the client relationship by being rude, unresponsive, and inattentive to the client's needs and slow to follow up when actually responding to the client's needs.

After the employee was fired, the insurance company followed the behavioral interview process to hire a new account manager. The company was then able to build new client relationships because the replacement was a better fit for the role.

Call Center Core Competencies

  • Less empathetic
  • High energy
  • Flexibility
  • Structured thinking
  • Self-confidence

You may be surprised to discover that customer service agents involved in one-off calls or interactions should be less empathetic than account managers.

ZERORISK HR studied a company that hired based on the belief that call center agents needed to display a high level of empathy. However, this did not reduce turnover. What the company discovered is that the most successful call center agents in their industry had high levels of self-confidence.

Customer service representatives in this role need to be extremely confident to handle a variety of emotional states from customers: confused, worried, angry, and frustrated. Being empathetic to a customer's situation is important, but the most important core competency is self-confidence.

These types of representatives also need to be energetic and flexible. The work is repetitive, monotonous, and lacks a relational aspect. Therefore, call center reps need energy and focus to handle each customer issue as if it's the first time they've had this conversation and follow a call script to lead a customer through the process of addressing their need or problem.

Now imagine if you had an inflexible, empathetic customer service agent trying to build a relationship with a customer over the phone. This rep would not be a good fit because they would not immediately address the customer's issue and spend an hour on the phone discussing topics unrelated to the immediate need. The result is backing up the call log and negatively impacting productivity.

Aligning these competencies with the industry and the nature of the position is vital to ensuring the best fit for your job opening.

Ask the Right Behavioral Interview Questions

To unlock the core competencies that relate to the customer service position you are filling, you need to understand which questions to ask during a behavioral interview. Again, these differ based on the industry and role.

Hiring for Account Manager

  • What steps did you take in a previous role to establish rapport with a customer? What did you do to gain their confidence? Cite an example.
  • What have you done to improve relations with a customer in a previous role?

These questions reveal a candidate's past behavior in the area of relationship building and critical thinking skills. These are important competencies for the managerial aspect of the customer service role.

A candidate should be able to explain a situation where they established a relationship with a new or existing client, worked with the client on a regular basis, and managed the ebbs and flows of a business relationship.

Perhaps they were hired to manage a difficult existing client. Or, the company won the contract for a new client that proved to be difficult. How did the candidate cultivate a relationship? Or, if the candidate failed to develop that relationship, it points to a lack of relationship building skills and critical thinking.

Hiring for Call Center Agent

  • Give a specific example of when you had to address an angry customer over the phone. What was the problem and what was the outcome?
  • Describe a situation where you had to quickly make a connection with a customer under difficult conditions. What was the outcome?

The goal for this type of customer service representative is to resolve a situation as precisely and efficiently as possible. Therefore, these behavioral questions focus on the outcome that resulted from a one-time interaction with a customer.

When interviewing, you need to discover whether the candidate has the competencies to complete the tasks they will be performing for your company. By examining their past behavior in a similar role, you will obtain the necessary information when making a hiring decision.

The key is staying away from hypothetical or subjective questions. Asking a candidate what he or she would do if they encountered an angry customer over the phone leads to misinformation based on the candidate presenting a rosy picture of how they would act. You need information about actual events where there was a situation, they had a task to complete, they took action, and there was a result.

Make the Customer Service Hiring Decision

Now that you understand the core competencies of customer service representatives and which questions to ask during a behavioral interview, you can apply this information to fill your job openings. This process will allow you to filter candidates who do not match the profile of the person you need to hire, make more informed hiring decisions, and maintain productivity as your company grows.

To learn more about how to conduct a behavioral interview when hiring for customer service, consider the Behavioral Interview Training program. This 2-hour online training course will walk you through the process of conducting an effective behavioral interview to find the best candidate for your company.

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