How to Find and Hire Stellar
Customer Support Representatives, Part 4
Harry Heermans, Ph.D.
This is the final installment in our series. Previously we have described
how to write an accurate job description and select resumes of ideal
candidates, as well as
effectively interview them. In this installment, we wrap up with how
to check references and decide who to hire.
Who checks references and when should they be done? Companies often have a
policy stating that "the job offer is contingent on satisfactory
references." This means that essentially the hiring manager has already
decided to offer the position to a candidate and that reference checks are
done after that. They are often done by the Human Resources department,
not the hiring manager. Resist these temptations.
Check references yourself. You know the candidate best, so you are the
best judge of what references are telling you. Have two sets of questions,
a standard set you ask all references for each candidate, and a different
set, specific to each candidate and developed as you are interviewing.
Check references after you have interviewed the top candidates but before
you have made a hiring decision. If you check references after you have
decided on the candidate, you have already committed in your mind that
this is the best person for the job. After all the work you have done to
this point, how open are you going to be to evidence disconfirming the
candidate's strong points? How much energy are you going to put into
probing for weaknesses? Instead, human nature suggests you are likely to
"hear" only the good news and discount the bad. Rather than being
dispassionate about your decision, your desire to "get this over with" can
cloud your decision-making. Of course it is more work to check references
on three candidates than one but in the long run it is less work than
repeating the entire hiring process because you made a bad hiring
References are an excellent target for behavioral interviewing, because
they have seen candidates in action. Ask for examples of how they handled
certain situations and get estimates of their skill level. Don't forget to
find out about candidates' job habits. You are better off knowing someone
spreads malicious gossip, is constantly late, and yaks incessantly on a
personal cell phone before you hire someone than afterwards.
Look for what is not said. If a particular skill is absolutely essential,
the candidate has convinced you he has it, but the reference does not
mention it, find out why. If, in reviewing work history, there is a job
from which you would logically expect to see a reference but the candidate
does not provide one, it could be a red flag.
Hire for attitude, train for skills
After all the work you have put in to get to the point of deciding who to
hire, the truth is that you will not have found the perfect candidate.
Each will be lacking something and the key is to know which skills,
attributes, and experience the employee must have day one, which you can
get along without, and which you need but the candidate can learn.
CSRs must have a customer service orientation, which is a personality
attribute they either have or they don't. Trying to train someone who is
not customer focused is an uphill battle at best, so look for people who
have it; don't think you can develop it. Likewise, we have stressed the
need for good written and verbal communication skills in dealing with
customers. These skills are developed over a number of years and if the
prospective employee does not bring these to the job initially, even with
training they are not going to develop them quickly or competently enough
to make a difference.
It is unlikely you will find CSRs with specific job knowledge, such as how
to use your CRM and ACD systems and what your procedures are for getting
work done, like escalating issues and communicating with other
departments. You will have to train them. What about subject matter or
domain expertise? How much of that you require depends on how quickly you
need new CSRs to be productive and how technical or subject-specific the
customer queries are likely to be. In the long run, it is less important
what CSRs know prior to getting hired than how quickly they can learn new
things. Look for an aptitude to pick up skills you need. Even if
prospective employees arrive with technical and domain-specific skills,
the pace of change has accelerated so quickly that what employees know now
may not be relevant in the future. New products and services are released,
existing products are changed, and new procedures are introduced. CSRs are
directly affected by these changes. Great performers embrace change and
learn quickly; mediocre performers are threatened by it and are reluctant
to let go.
In short, if there are two factors that differentiate great CSRs from the
rest of the pack, they are attitude and aptitude. Look for passion,
energy, enthusiasm, and adaptability. Concentrate less on the specific
job-related skills prospective employees bring to the job but focus more
on their ability to add to their skill set quickly.
Finally, do not settle for a mediocre candidate. This can be difficult
when you think you need someone immediately. While it is painful not
having someone in place, consider how long and painful it is to terminate
someone, then go through the entire hiring process again. Mediocre talent
produces mediocre results. If you follow the process we have outlined in
this series, you will find stellar CSRs who will dazzle your customers and
enhance your company's prospects.
View previous articles in this series.
+ How to Find and Hire Stellar Customer Support
Representatives, Part 4
+ Recommended Reading
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recommended reading comes from the Experts Column of CRM Today
Magazine. The question posed to Cliff Conneighton, SVP of Marketing at ATG
(and a former BBN colleague) is: What obstacles prevent companies from
delivering a satisfying customer experience and how can they be overcome?
Click here to read his expert opinion.
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