How to test customer service skills

18th Feb 2018

Testing potential job hires for their customer service skills is essential for any customer-facing role. But how do you do that effectively?

To really test their mettle, you can use a multi-pronged approach. Here’s a list of the various tools and strategies you can use to screen job candidates effectively.

1. Interview questions

In an interview, the goal is to bring out the previous work experience and competencies of the job candidate. Give the applicant plenty of opportunity to explain what they have to offer.

Remember, talent and attitude can be more important than having highly relevant experience. Someone who is good at customer liaison can quickly adapt to a new situation.

If you are interviewing candidates who have never worked in a customer service role, ask questions that show they have the right sorts of personal qualities. For example, they may have participated in highly social extracurricular activities while in school. Look to establish if your candidate is polite, positive, and a good communicator.

The following are some interview questions you can ask your candidates.

  1. What does the term customer service mean to you?
  2. What’s your definition of good customer service? Can you provide a personal example?
  3. How do you go about quickly understanding what a given customer is looking for? What’s the importance of that?
  4. Tell us about a time you came across a person who needed help. Did you help them? How?
  5. Have you ever gone out of your comfort zone to help someone? Describe what happened?

While it’s not always practical to do interviews face-to-face, it’s beneficial to get a feel for how the person engages visually. Someone who sounds good on the phone, may not have the body language skills or friendly demeanour needed for the job. A video interview is preferable to a phone interview, and you should at least have a profile picture of the candidate.

Among the key skills and behaviours to look for are: active listening, keeping the customer informed about processes, a helpful approach and displaying empathy (Nate Vickery).

2. Assessment tests

For someone to be good at customer support, they should be able to consistently interact with people in a calm, personable, and positive way. Whatever the situation, customer service reps need good communication skills, stress tolerance, adaptability, and problem-solving skills. Assessment tests can help you establish if your candidates have any or all of these skills.

Situation judgement test

One of the most commonly used assessments is the situational judgment test (SJT). The test involves a series of, say, 16 to 20 multiple choice questions.

For each question, you present a situation together with multiple (say, four to eight) possible solutions. The candidate is required to pick the best or worst of the solutions, rank them in order, or rate the desirability of each one. Tests are available in paper format or online.

When giving the test, it’s important that each candidate has the same conditions. Doing it onsite with a time limit helps to assess their actual instincts, rather than their ability to research the best approach.

Situational judgement test (SJT) guide: Psychometric Institute

3. Role play

To really test customer service skills when hiring, don’t just rely on interviews and assessment tests. Come up with recruitment events or use an assessment centre where you can see the candidates in action. You could also do a phone assessment where someone acts as a (perhaps disgruntled) customer.

You can have a team of assessors simulate scenarios between a candidate and a customer to find out their responses and actions. In the end, you should be able to establish a candidate’s overall style.

The method and scenarios you choose will depend on the nature of work in your company. For example, you may want to test the ability of the candidate to handle negative comments about a product. An applicant shows the right kind of attitude if they are able to welcome and act on negative feedback instead of being defensive about it.

Role play ideas: Bizfluent

Key message

Hiring customer support staff should be done with special care. It is not just about the amount of money the person costs you in terms of salaries and wages. Hiring a bad fit can cost your company in terms of revenue. On the other hand, a fantastic customer service employee with a positive attitude can help drive business growth.

Testing customer service skills – to the point where you’re very comfortable with your hiring decisions – can be a high-return business investment.

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