Perfecting Service Management

Issue #87

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

How to Find and Hire Stellar Customer Support Representatives, Part 2
by Harry Heermans, Ph.D.

In our last issue, we discussed the importance of finding and hiring stellar Customer Support Representatives (CSRs). In this issue, we start to discuss the hiring process.

The first step in hiring stellar CSRs is knowing what to look for. This sounds obvious, but how do you know what makes up a superior performer?

Job description

Most managers start with the job description, but where does that come from? Rather than creating one from scratch, managers often take the easy way out, obtaining one from the Human Resources department or using one left in the pile from the previous manager. Sometimes, it comes off the Internet, where a manager does a search of similar jobs and copies one that looks appropriate or puts out a request to a listserv for examples to use. All of these approaches can help you get ideas, but it is no substitute for the careful thought necessary to define what is needed for your job at this moment in your department's circumstances.

What skills do CSRs need? Not all skills are equal. Some are absolutely required while others are merely desirable. For example, CSRs communicate with customers most often via telephone, email, and chat. Strong verbal and written skills are essential to making a good impression on the customer and effectively capturing information, so make them a requirement. On the other hand, if 90% of the questions deal with how to use a software product written in VB script and only 10% deal with defects where the knowledge of software programming is helpful, don't require VB script; list it as desirable. This sounds commonsensical but how often have you seen an advertised position with a long list of requirements, all of which you know cannot be absolutely necessary. Excellent candidates may self-select themselves out of applying if they feel they do not meet all the requirements. Explicitly differentiate between required and desired skills.

A list of skills needed to perform the job is only the least common denominator, the minimum necessary to do an adequate job. You do not want merely adequate performers; you want exceptional talent. After all, how can you provide exceptional service with average talent? To identify characteristics of stellar performers, use a "success profile". An easy and effective way to create a success profile is to have your CSRs think of one or two of their colleagues who perform exceptionally well, then without naming them have them write down the attributes and characteristics that make them stand out. As a manager, you can do this too, in a slightly different way. Think of the average performers in your group and consider what they need to do to move into the exceptional category. In fact you may have already done this during performance reviews. Take your list and the lists from your staff and analyze it for clusters of attributes common to the star performers. Now you have a success profile for stellar CSRs. Incorporate it into your job description and you have increased your chances of pulling in resumes from exceptional candidates.

Handling the blizzard of resumes: Finding the needle in a haystack

Once you have advertised the position, be prepared for an avalanche of resumes, especially if you post to well-known national electronic job boards. At first blush this can be encouraging because you think, "Wow, look at all the qualified candidates I have to choose from!" This assumes all who reply have read the ad carefully, considered the qualifications you have so meticulously listed, and have found they match up well. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The reality is that a large percentage of replies will be sent by people who are not even close to what you need, because the ease of replying electronically invites potential candidates to fire off a resume even if they are only remotely qualified. How can you quickly and easily separate the wheat from the chaff? Try this technique.

Have candidates reply via a web site, where they not only include their resume but reply to on-line questions. Each question represents one of the major qualifications and asks them to describe in detail how their background and experience matches the advertised requirement. If you do not have the technology for this, accomplish the same thing by either asking candidates to include a cover letter answering the same questions or responding to their original resume submission with an email listing the questions and asking them to reply with answers.

Doing this serves three purposes:

  • If you consider only those who follow these instructions, you have cut down on the resumes to screen.
  • It insures only motivated candidates apply, because it requires extra effort beyond blindly firing off a resume.
  • It provides a convenient way of zeroing in on candidates' strengths relative to your job needs, without your having to pick through each resume to divine how well each matches your qualifications.

In the next article, we will walk you through the telephone screening and interviewing process.

View previous articles in this series.

Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down

This column is devoted to memorable customer experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This issue provides an example where customer service falls a little short.

Here's my customer service pet peeve: I have no problem with automated telephone self-service, as long as I have a clear way to reach a live person (usually pressing "0" does the trick). Sometimes to reach a live-person, I still have to enter an account number and password using the phone key-pad – still not so bad. And then the first question the customer service representative asks me is "Could I have your account number?" And I wonder, "Why did I just waste my time entering all of those digits into the phone?"

Editor's note: Always think about what you're asking your customer to do in order to do business with you. When the requirements are not really requirements, the customer is jumping through unnecessary hoops, and eventually will get tired of jumping. If you ask for an account number to be entered via a telephone key-pad, make sure the customer service representative has the account information available as soon as he or she answers the phone. Use the information you are given from the customer, and don't ask for any information that you won't use…it just wastes everyone's time, and no one has time for that.

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 2
+ Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
+ Recommended Reading

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Happy New Year!
We wish you 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
To complement Harry Heerman's series on Finding and Hiring Stellar Customer Service Representatives, we recommend CRM Magazine article Match Customer Service Agents to Customers by Allanna Kelsall. In addition to providing tips to help you find the best representatives to hire, Ms. Kelsall discusses the concept of agent profiling, the process of matching customer service agents directly with the needs and personalities of customers.

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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