Perfecting Service Management

Issue #86

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

How to Find and Hire Stellar Customer Support Representatives, Part 1
by Harry Heermans, Ph.D.

How often have you heard, "A company's most important resource is its people"? A recent survey by Accenture backs this claim, revealing that a majority of high-ranking executives say a key focus is in finding and keeping talented workers. Peter Cheese, global managing partner of the firm's human performance practice, says, "The most powerful theme emerging this year is a strong and consistent focus on people."

This is especially true when it comes to Customer Service Representatives (CSRs). Consider the impact they have. Your customers are the ones paying the bills so how they are treated translates directly to the bottom line. Who has more direct contact with your customers on a regular basis than CSRs? They are vital to the strength of your company, so how do you find and hire top performers? In this series, we will show you how.

Cost of the wrong hire

By one study, as many as one in three employees is in the wrong job. Imagine if you had to replace one-third of your CSRs. While it is unlikely your turnover is that high, it is probably greater than you would like and the cost of replacing employees is high.

Consider the "hard" costs:

  • Severance pay and outplacement assistance
  • Advertising the position on job boards and newspapers
  • Recruiting fees
  • Paying a contractor to fill in while the search goes on
  • Training the permanent replacement

"Soft" costs include:

  • Extra work for the remaining team members
  • Lower team morale
  • Negative impact on the customer
  • Loss of institutional memory and intellectual property
  • Management and Human Resources time spent searching for a replacement
  • Opportunity cost of not doing something else

These reasons alone argue for hiring the right person initially.

The hiring process

You can insure you have the right people working as CSRs by developing solid hiring practices. These include:

  • Defining the job correctly. Too often, the position description is inadequate. We will discuss a seldom-used but powerful technique for capturing a precise job description.
  • Winnowing resumes. At least 80% of firms today use the Internet to advertise jobs. While this is a cost effective way of publishing openings, it can result in a blizzard of resumes, many of which are from unsuitable candidates. We will present a simple technique for quickly determining the most qualified and motivated candidates.
  • Interviewing effectively. When was the last time you, as a hiring manager, received formal training in interviewing? Probably never, unless you work for an enlightened company. Most managers learn by doing, which may work for some managers but often fails to equip them with the skills required to elicit the answers they need to make an informed decision. We will offer techniques to identify the best fit candidates, using both telephone screening and in-person interviews.
  • Checking references. Checking references is often a perfunctory exercise, performed after a decision to hire has been made but before a job offer is extended. We will discuss why moving the reference check earlier in the hiring process can be useful as an adjunct to interviewing to gather information about candidates.
  • Deciding on the right candidate. Of all the skills and traits you have identified in the job description, how do you decide which ones are absolutely crucial that a CSR possess on day one of the job, and which you can train? Of the constellation of skills, attitudes, and aptitudes candidates present, how can you identify which ones are most closely associated with exemplary employees? We will show you how to make these choices.

By the end of this series, you will have the tools necessary to move beyond hiring merely adequate CSRs to identifying truly stellar Customer Support Representatives.

Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down

This column is devoted to memorable customer experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This issue provides an example exemplary customer service.

I just returned from my yearly 4-day Thanksgiving vacation at a family-run Dude Ranch in
Upper New York State. In contrast to my daily life, which can be a trial trying to get decent Customer Service as I go about life, I just experienced four glorious days of "Customer Centric" service. Every moment of everyone's time was geared to making sure that I had exactly what I wanted and needed.

And, guess what this causes! I return every year -- yes, I pay for next year before I leave! And on a smaller level, you should see how generous we are in our three tip envelopes: maid, waitstaff, and cowboys. That exorbitant tip money is freely given and stuffed in those envelopes by all in our party. There is no sense of "duty" as is usually the case with tips. We don't let the maid come into our chalet to clean each day as we like to sleep late, so she does no work. But, because our feeling about the entire place is so positive, we generously tip her also.

The business organization gets paid back by my returning each year. But each individual also gets a significant monetary reward immediately. CUSTOMER SERVICE does it every time!

Editor's note: Yet another satisfied customer of a family-operated business, where everyone, from the owner to the waitstaff to the cowboys, knows their livelihood depends on the customer, and that treating the customer well will reap great rewards. As we go about our daily, harried lives, remember we are all customers and all people, and treat each other as you would like to be treated.

Have your own customer service experience to share?
Email us. Names will be changed to protect the guilty....

View previous Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down articles.


+ How to Find and Hire Stellar Customer Support Representatives, Part 1
+ Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
+ Recommended Reading

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Happy Holidays
We wish you a joyous holiday season and a happy, prosperous new year!


CRMToday Article by Craig Bailey
Check out Empowering Customer Service in the latest issue of CRMToday magazine. The two-part article, about the importance of enabling customer service reps to provide exceptional customer service, was written by Customer Centricity President Craig Bailey, who is on the Editorial Board of the magazine.

Recommended Reading
While you're at the CRMToday website checking out
Craig Bailey's article, take a look at Aspect Software's white paper Five Reasons Why… Proactive Customer Care Means Customer Loyalty. The paper looks at an alternative to call-center cost-cutting: making customer care more proactive, thereby transforming a call center into a customer loyalty center.

Customer Centricity Partners with
Customer Centricity, in partnership with, is offering a free ROI calculator to assist customers in obtaining approval for investing in contact center improvement initiatives. And, for those who would like to take the ROI analysis to the next level, Customer Centricity is offering a no-cost / no-obligation 30 minute consultation. Check it out for yourself!

Seminar in Malaysia
Join Customer Centricity Founder and President Craig Bailey for a seminar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 10-11 April 2006. Rescheduled from October 2005, the seminar covers both strategic and tactical approaches for a company to become customer centric. At a strategic level, we will clearly outline a road-map for creating a customer centric organization. At a tactical level, we will cover practical approaches to enable customer service representatives to deliver top-notch service. Please contact us for more information.

About Customer Centricity, Inc.
We strengthen overall company performance through better service delivery and management.

We boost efficiencies in front-line customer service and technical support teams, order processing, fulfillment, field service, logistics and other key operations functions.

In short, we align the resources of your organization to exceed your customers' expectations in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

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