Hiring frontline reps is one of the most important parts of the customer experience process. Bringing someone in with the wrong attitude, skill set, or cultural outlook can be toxic to a team, wasteful of time, and damaging to the customer experience.
So, what characteristics should you look for when hiring for entry-level customer service? Should you focus on skill set or attitude?
There’s an old expression that says “Hire the smile, train the skills.” And what that means is to look for personality first. Often, when hiring those new to the workforce, this approach makes sense; however, there are many more attributes that make a great customer service rep, even one with little to no experience.
These five attributes can help you go beyond just “hiring the smile.”
You want to know if they have the outlook necessary to be customer-centric. If they haven’t already acquired a customer-centric outlook, seek to find those that are “people persons.” If they genuinely care for others, they’ll usually have the attitude necessary to be good customer service reps and constructive team players
In the interview, look for their ability to communicate thoroughly and effectively and to get their points across in a customer-friendly way. You’re looking not only for basic courtesy but also for a natural affinity for basic customer service language techniques such as active listening and careful word choice. Think Dale Carnegie, unpolished.
Applicants who are good in interviews can sometimes be disappointments later. Often, when the gap is related to their customer service skills (as opposed to work ethic and similar dynamics), it’s because they know how to say what they should do but can’t actually do it. Role-playing is the cure. Make sure to role-play with the applicant, focusing specifically on challenging situations. This will expose one of the greatest skill gaps in customer service, the ability to provide great service when everything is going well and to be unable to handle situations, and customers, when they become difficult.
Working with customers can often be challenging. Creating great customer experiences often takes proactive effort that does not have structure and that is not part of a checklist. This takes work ethic. Reps who sit around waiting for service to happen are never A-Players.
If someone is focused on work, they may or may not be focused on customers. However, if they’re not focused on work, you know they’re not focused on customers. It’s that simple. A good customer service rep must be a good worker. Even if they succeed onstage, through charm and people skills, they will fail offstage without a solid work ethic.
Closely related to work ethic is being a go-getter. A person who is a go-getter doesn’t just work hard but takes initiative. They go out of their way for their customers. The best customer service reps don’t stop at the first obstacle but make it their mission to try to find solutions. They not only seek solutions but seek options for when the solution the customer wants is not available.
Looking for these five characteristics during your next entry-level customer service interview can help you increase the odds of adding the right person to your customer service team.
Of course, hiring anyone, even an entry-level service rep, is more complicated than just applying a simple checklist. However, adding the above characteristics to your standard qualifications can help you increase your chances of getting it right the first time — making your life easier, your team’s lives more pleasant, and your customer’s experiences more satisfying.
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.