By the time I was ready to leave the nonprofit world, I was really sick of not getting paid. It felt like the work I was doing and the paycheck I was receiving bore no connection to each other. And so I sought to overcorrect, by taking a job where my paycheck directly reflected my competence: Sales.
There’s another group of people who were very concerned about money. At the time, hiring customer service reps was all about the almighty dollar. The goal was to get the cheapest labor possible. Considerations like aptitude, attitude, experience, and motivation were easily sacrificed as less important.
Or so alleges the Zendesk guide, How to Hire The Best Customer Service Reps. But based on 99% of my experience with customer service up until about five years ago, I must concur.
Customer service represents your brand, and you need to put your best face forward. But how to do you find and hire great reps? The most important thing to remember is to hire for personality.
Skills can be taught. Experience will be gained eventually. But personality is something that’s hard to fix. If someone either doesn’t have the temperament for customer support, doesn’t fit in with your team, or doesn’t agree with your brand’s personality and principles, that’s going to be a hard row to hoe.
Traits to look for include work ethic, patience, and empathy. You want someone who is thoughtful and likes to find the fun and humor in life. But how do you hire for personality? How do you get to know someone in the short amount of time you have with them before you make a decision?
Here are five tips to help you along:
1. ABS – Always be scouting
Brad Black, CEO of HUMANeX Ventures calls the secret to great hires “ABS: Always Be Scouting.”
Basically, your ideal candidate isn’t always available when you’re looking to hire. By taking inquiries all the time, you can find the best when they’re available. But an even better tool for finding great candidates, who are also likely to be good culture fits, is to encourage your employees to recruit their friends. That’s how I knew to apply to Capterra, after my friend Rachel was bragging about her great job.
It can also help to broaden your pool of talent by looking outside your city or even your country. An added bonus is, if your customer service reps work in different time zones, you can use that to make your support available over more hours of the day. Here’s a guide on managing remote customer service teams.
2. Glean personality info from a cover letter
A cover letter is a good introduction to someone’s personality. At the very least, the quality of their writing is a key to whether they’re going to be able to respond to emails and chats in a lucid manner.
It’s also going to be great if you can find candidates whose enthusiasm for the job shines through in their cover letter.
First of all, enthusiasm is a great quality for customer service. Beyond that, it’s nice to hire someone who’s jazzed about your company specifically and not just looking for another job. Mentioning specific things they like about your company is a good indicator of enthusiasm for your organization.
3. How to scan a customer support resume
You want someone who is a helper. Volunteer work can be a good sign, as well as the more obvious previous work in customer service.
Experience waiting tables, answering phones, or working in retail can be decent proxies for a customer service personality. Especially if they’re still looking for customer-facing roles.
4. Picking up on personality over the phone
The two most important things to learn during a phone screen are, 1. Is this person socially adept and 2. Will this person get along with my company and my team?
Again, things like when to talk and when to listen, how to respond appropriately, and correct tone of voice are difficult to teach. You want someone who has those things down. And the phone screen should reveal this.
Does this person rush to fill every lull in conversation with blather? Or does this person use silence for maximum benefit? Does this person let you finish your thoughts? Do you feel like you have to keep the conversation going?
Beyond the rules of etiquette are the subtle differences in personality, would you want to hang out with this person is a relevant question to ask: you’ll be spending a lot of time with them.
5. Tell them to work it
I remember the moment my CEO asked me to call a prospect during my interview at Capterra. I had never done a sales call before in my life. I’m a Millennial. I had barely talked on the phone since texting was invented.
But Zendesk concurs with Mike. The best way to see if someone can do the job is to get them to try to do the job. Zendesk recommends stripping away all identifying information and having your candidate respond to a positive ticket and a negative ticket.
Again, you’re looking mostly at personality. In Forbes, customer service expert Micah Solomon recommends the acronym WETCO. It’s “a mnemonic that makes these traits easy to remember is to picture a wet dog shaking itself off outside of PETCO.”
W is for Warmth: Simple human kindness.
E is for Empathy: The ability to sense what another person is feeling.
T is for Teamwork: An inclination toward working together, as opposed to doing things alone.
C is for Conscientiousness: Detail orientation, including an ability and willingness to follow through to completion.
O is for Optimism: The ability to bounce back and to not internalize challenges.
It turned out sales was not for me, but I did stay on with Capterra in a writing role. It was easy to learn the skills I needed for my writing job. But nothing could have made it a good culture fit if it hadn’t been.
Things like advanced email, live chat software, or help desk software are easy to train someone in. WETCO is not. These tips should help you find customer service candidates who have the personality and temperament to succeed in representing your brand well.
Let me know in the comments if you have any tips I’ve missed.