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How to ensure you hire truly customer-centric service reps

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22nd Dec 2014
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As the ‘Big Six’ energy companies get blasted from every corner for their recent customer service records, and customers increasingly demand exceptional customer care at every stage of their journey, there has never been a better time to focus on the people you hire as customer service representatives.

These people are the face of your business. They’re the ones who visibly represent your company, and who your customers will interact with most. And they directly impact your customers’ opinion of your brand, and affect your bottom line.

Do you consider these important factors when hiring customer service reps for your company? If not, then you might be hiring the wrong people, which could be affecting your business. You need to make sure the people you hire have the fundamental skills and personalities necessary to make sure your business stands out from the competition, and delivers exceptional customer service, time after time.

The Most Important Attributes

You might have heard the phrase ‘Hire For Attitude, Train For Skill’ before, and nowhere is it more important than in customer service.

It’s unlikely you’ll find a candidate who knows your business inside out, and has all the knowledge needed to answer any questions customers may have. That doesn’t matter. You can teach that knowledge, they don't need to be experts.

What matters is the kind of attributes and personality they have, because these are things which take a long time to develop and can’t be taught.

These are what you should look for in order to hire the best customer service representative:

1)      Outstanding Communication Skills

In any customer service role, communication is paramount. An excellent candidate for a customer service rep should have extremely strong verbal and written communication skills. It’s important that someone in this role can use positive language effectively, and communicate important points without leaving anything in doubt.

2)      Passion

You’ll always want your customer service rep to be passionate. They should care about helping people, and be happy about the job they’re doing. Make sure they actually want to be in the job, and have the ability to empathise with customers whenever it might be necessary.

A study by the University of Portsmouth found that people can actually hear when you are smiling on the phone, so it’s important that you do have someone who genuinely cares when dealing with customers. Of course, some good acting skills might also come in handy at times too, depending on the call. 

3)      Good Temperament

A good temperament is also important to look for when hiring. The best customer service reps will be patient and caring, with a strong personality and the ability to handle complaints and criticism. A little humour goes a long way.

“You should look to hire someone who doesn’t get worked up or angry easily,” says Teres Hager, Service & Sales Manager at 1Gas. “You need someone who can chase up customer problems with other departments or companies on the customer’s behalf, and who will get the results without getting stressed or agitated by a shouting customer.”

4)      Problem Solving Ability

Critical thinking and a problem solving ability is another important attribute of a customer service rep, because situations will arise where there is no clear solution to an issue a customer might be having. They should be able to think for themselves and troubleshoot problems individually.

5)      Attentiveness

Being a great customer service rep is also about having good attention to detail. Anyone you hire should have a good memory for names and be able to remember topics which have previously been discussed with a customer.

“Attentiveness is also important for reading between the lines on customer issues and complaints,” says Hager. “A customer might not be asking for a specific change in the way we operate, but if a number of similar issues arise, we rely on our customer service reps to advise us on changing our procedure if necessary.”

6)      Honesty

Finally, honesty is a great attribute to look for in any prospective employee, but it’s especially important for customer service reps. Honestly and transparency are vital for a business when dealing with customers, and a service rep who is open and genuine will be able to give full and honest answers to customers, which are always appreciated. It also means that any apologies which are made will be considered and sincere.

How To Go About The Hiring Process

When you know what attributes you should be looking for in a customer service representative, it makes the hiring process a lot easier, and ensures you won’t settle for anything less. Follow these tips and you should be able to hire an exceptional candidate.

1)    Check CVs thoroughly and request a question be answered in a cover letter.

Checking CVs and cover letters will help you assess the communication skills of a candidate and determine their commitment to a job. And if you request for applicants to answer a specific question, as well as further testing their commitment to the job, you’ll also be able to analyse their attention to detail.

2)    Conduct a phone interview.

Before you invite any applicants for an interview, speak to them over the phone first. Put yourselves in the shoes of your customer and determine if you’d like the candidate to represent your company. If they don’t have good communication skills on the phone you don’t need to go any further.

3)    Put candidates to the test.

When you are interviewing in person test your candidates’ skills without them knowing. Ask them a question you know they won’t know the answer to and see how they’re able to problem solve. And instead of asking hypothetical questions, where a candidate might just give you the answer you’re looking for, ask them to give you an example of a real life situation where they’ve had to help someone with an issue.

Above all, remember that you’re looking for a great attitude and the ability to learn. Excellent customer service representatives can be taught what they need to know about a business because they already have all the skills they need to deal with customers.

Richard Hearne is CEO of 1Gas 

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