How to Find and Hire Stellar
Customer Support Representatives, Part 3
Harry Heermans, Ph.D.
last issue, we discussed how to develop an effective job description
that targets the characteristics of top performing CSRs and how to cull
resumes to find good candidates. In this segment, we outline how to screen
and interview effectively.
Once you have identified solid potential candidates by reading their
answers to your targeted questions and by reviewing their resumes, follow
up with a telephone interview. Do not push this task off on Human
Resources. It is crucial that you make this telephone contact yourself.
The chances are high your CSRs will be dealing with customers via the
telephone and it is critical that they present well on the phone. You are
the best person to judge this.
Prepare by having a standard set of questions ready to ask. Since this is
your first direct contact, a good way to put candidates at ease is to ask
questions that confirm items on the resume that relate to the job
requirements. Keep the list short enough so the conversation lasts no more
than 20 minutes because the phone screen is as much about how candidates
sound as it is about what they say. Listen for their choice of words,
their grammar, their energy and enthusiasm. Picture yourself as a customer
and ask yourself, "Does this sound like someone I have confidence in
solving my problem?" If you like what you hear, the next step is the
There is an adage in human resources that at the point where you invite
candidates to an in-person interview, you have already decided they can do
the job. After all, you have reviewed their resumes and talked with them
on the telephone, so you know they meet the minimum qualifications. What
you are looking for in the interview is how well they can do the job and
how well they will fit the culture of your organization. Remember, you are
looking for superior performers, not merely adequate fill-ins. What
questions do you ask and how do you ask them to get satisfactory answers?
As with the telephone interview, have a standard set of questions for all
candidates. Target your questions at the required and desired skills from
the job description, the attributes you uncovered in the success profile,
and way your company does work, its culture. The most effective technique
is to craft behavioral questions. There is a basic psychological principle
that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Behavioral
interviewing elicits from candidates their past behavior in the form of
PARs, Problems, Actions, and Results. You are looking for the problems
they faced, the actions they took, and the results they achieved. Typical
behavioral questions begin with "Tell me about a time when . . ." or "Give
me an example of . . ." Savvy interviewees know how powerful PAR stories
are in conveying their qualifications but more often you will encounter
interviewees who are not familiar with the technique so you will need to
help them along. For example, if your CSRs have to deal with disgruntled
customers on a regular basis, ask "Tell me about a time when a customer
called and gave you a hard time. What did they complain about, what did
you do, and how did it turn out?" Just this one question can tell you
about their product/service knowledge, initiative, follow-through,
interaction style, and emotional maturity.
Be careful of "Should" or "Would" questions, which at first blush appear
to be behavioral questions. For example, notice the subtle difference
between "Give me an example of . . ." and "What would you do if . . ." The
former asks for previous experience, a behavioral question, while the
latter is a hypothetical question, which can be answered by what the
candidate thinks you want to hear rather than what he might actually do.
Beware of other types of ineffective questions, like leading questions
(e.g. "You are a good team player, right?") and questions that can be
simply answered "Yes" or "No".
A vast amount of information is conveyed via non-verbal cues. Tune in to
facial expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, body posture and motions.
All of these are keys to personality and style and add to the total
picture of the candidate.
So much of a CSR's responsibilities involves written communication, such
as emailing customers, logging cases and escalating them, and authoring
FAQs; well-developed written communicate skills are essential. You need to
get a sample of the candidates' writing. Ask them to bring it in with them
to the interview or have them email it to you after the interview. The
closer the writing sample is to the subject matter they will be dealing
with the better, but any sample that illustrates their ability to convey
concepts clearly and concisely using proper grammar and punctuation will
If your CSRs do training, you will also want to see a sample presentation.
This should be short, no more than 15-20 minutes, because this is all you
need to judge their comfort speaking before others and their ability to
articulate a concept, perhaps using visuals. Give them sufficient time to
prepare and as with the writing sample the subject matter is not as
important as how well they perform.
It is increasingly common to administer standardized tests to job
candidates. They can be useful adjuncts to other data gathering techniques
but they need to be kept in proper context. Ask these questions:
Have the tests been psychometrically validated by a
What information will be gained that is not available
via other techniques?
How will the information be used in the decision
process and how much weight will the results be given?
Most importantly, how well do test results correlate
with job performance?
In the next
issue, we will wrap up the process with reference checking and candidate
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 was better
I bought the Windows XP Professional upgrade last week while on
vacation. My home PC has long been in need of an OS upgrade. Something
went wrong with the upgrade and it failed to load correctly. Panicked, I
quickly exhausted my limited technical ability and then looked in the
instructions for the tech support line. As I dialed, I dreaded what lay
ahead. I had visions of being on-hold for an hour only to then be
transferred around continually until I gave up and sought assistance
elsewhere. Initially my call was answered quickly by Tier 1 who opened the
ticket and then transferred me to tech support. I was disconnected 3 times
while Microsoft Reps tried to transfer me. I called back each time
explained my situation and was transferred/disconnected each time. On the
4th try, I was placed in a hold queue, as previously mentioned, I was
expecting this to be a terminal hold. To my surprise, I was connected to a
rep in less than 5 minutes. He asked some questions and pinpointed the
most likely cause. He walked me through some corrective actions and then
stayed on the line with me while I reinstalled the upgrade. I was on the
phone with him for over two hours while he determined the problem, gave me
corrective steps, and waited for the upgrade to fully load. I was blown
away. What I expected was him to disconnect after the initial
troubleshooting and tell me to call back if I had any other issues.
Instead, I had first call resolution (after some initial hiccups with the
transfer). When the call was over, my PC was up and running with the new
OS and I was a happy customer. My technical capabilities are limited and I
expected I was going to have to reach out to someone for help or pay the
store to fix what I started. I guess I had low expectations for Microsoft
Support and they proved me wrong. I have written a letter to the techs
manager to let him know how pleased I was. The P.S. to this story is that
Microsoft out-sources their support to
India. Everyone I spoke
with was offshore. While there were accents, it in no way impeded the
service delivery. Illustrative that offshore solutions can work for some
Editor's note: While this
illustrates an effective example of off-shore customer service, it also
demonstrates a couple of other things:
Thorough, comprehensive, personal customer service can
overcome technical support difficulties: enabling a customer to reach a
human being without too much hassle, then resolving the issue during
that same call makes up for disconnecting them a few times in the
Customer expectations are an important factor in
achieving customer satisfaction: it is easier to meet or exceed customer
expectations when those expectations are low to begin with. While we
wouldn't suggest under-promising in order to over-deliver, we would
suggest accurately setting customer expectations with what they should
expect, then meeting those expectations.
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 3
+ Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
+ Recommended Reading
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This issue's recommended reading comes from CRM Today Magazine:
What Builds Customer Loyalty? Take the Long View by Paul Ward. This
two-part article talks about the need to re-engineer customer-facing
processes to support how customers buy, when they buy, and what they buy.
Giving customers choices about how they do business with you will make
them want to do business with you, on their terms.
About Customer Centricity, Inc.
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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
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In short, we align the resources of your organization to exceed your
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