Management - Employ Customer Service Standouts
Hire And Train The Elite
Customer service can be trying, difficult work. Finding and training great customer service reps can be equally as demanding.
“I’ve learned that a customer service rep can have a lengthy list of skills and experience in other industries but still struggle with this position,” says Sara Webb, founder of InTandem Promotions. “It’s a challenging role. You are juggling multiple factors with multiple orders, each having their own challenges and opportunities.”
So how do you acquire and retain savvy, capable customer service reps who will be a great fit long-term within your company? Here are five steps.
Make Interviews Real
As part of the interview process at her firm, Webb asks applicants to come into her office for a “day in the life” experience.
“This affords them the opportunity to see a 360-degree view of their potential position, all of the highs and lows, the demographics of the team, and it provides us with the insight into how they handle pressure,” she says.
Providing applicants with a snapshot of that real-job experience can also be a test of practical skill.
“The skills that are most important for this role are the ability to be calm but a bulldog in moving the orders through to the next stage,” Webb says. “Great reps see the pattern where there often doesn’t seem to be one. They’re able to juggle the phone ringing as they deal with salespeople stressing, clients needing information, supplier partners not having stock – and still get through the day.”
Having customer service applicants go through a behavioral assessment, experts say, is a great way to learn about their strengths and weaknesses.
“You might want to consider some type of an assessment just to make sure they have the right mindset and behavioral style,” says Shep Hyken, author of The Cult of the Customer. “It doesn’t guarantee success, but it goes a long way to understanding if they will be successful.”
Hyken recommends utilizing a DiSC assessment that gauges people in four different behavioral traits: dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. “Salespeople are definitely influencers,” he says. “Or maybe, a relator-type of person might be important for you. You’ll know what your best behavioral styles and traits are for different jobs based on the information you’ve gathered with these profiles.”
There are no wrong or right answers in the DiSC assessment, but Hyken thinks it can help ensure you’re getting the right fit for your company’s needs. “One category is not better than another,” he says, “but in certain jobs, like a customer service rep, you want somebody that has a high profile of people skills.”
Invest in Hospitality Workers
Hyken notes that Jim Bush, senior vice president for customer service worldwide at American Express, is a major proponent of bringing aboard customer service reps directly from the hotel and restaurant world. “He opened up my eyes to hiring people from the hospitality industry as a great way to bring in people who have that customer service mentality,” Hyken says.
Today, Hyken is an avid proponent of converting former members of that industry into a customer service role. “In the promotional products industry, you’re looking for people who understand how to work with people,” he says. “What I’d be looking for is somebody who has a background in working at a hotel, perhaps a restaurant, where they understand how to integrate with people.”
Whether you accept résumés from an online job site or actively search for people at a job fair, Hyken says it’s OK to be picky and let applicants know that a background in the hospitality industry is required, or at least preferred. “You can get specific and say, ‘If you don’t have this background, don’t apply,’” he says. “Just be clear.”
Immerse Hires in Good Culture
The people you hire to fill your customer service needs should also understand and embrace your company’s core values. The best way to do that, according to Hyken, is through constant refresher courses.
“They need to be indoctrinated into your style and your culture,” he says. “But if you want to teach customer service, this is not something you do at onboarding – this is something that you do ongoing.”
Hyken’s company has its own set of online virtual training programs. “They’re interactive. You can track and monitor their progress. You can see where they’re struggling, what questions they missed on their quizzes,” he says.
But Hyken also says the indoctrination into a company culture is learned, and relearned, over a longer period of time. “You may put someone in a four- or eight-hour training period when they first start, and you may not need to do that again for two years, but between the first day and two years, you should hit them with something to reinforce it,” he says. “It could be five or 10 minutes worth of training or discussion. It could be an article you ask them to read, and then sit down and have a discussion about the relevance to your business.”
Teach Problem Solving
To err is human, and as such, your business will inevitably make mistakes. But it’s when those mistakes occur that your customer service reps have an outstanding opportunity to shine. “It’s how you deal with mistakes that doesn’t just fix the problem, but actually restores the confidence that the customer has in doing business with you,” Hyken says.
Hyken suggests customer service reps implement a five-step process to handle every customer complaint: acknowledge the problem, apologize for it, fix it, have the right attitude, and convey a sense of urgency.
Take, for example, a package that was damaged in the shipping process. “It may not be your fault, but it’s your opportunity,” Hyken says. “And the goal isn’t to just fix the problem, it’s to restore confidence. Anybody can fix the problem.”
By apologizing for the mistake and doing everything reasonably possible to make it right, reps let customers know that they’re there for them, and they can turn an unpleasant business experience into a welcome reminder of that.
“Nobody’s perfect, so there’s going to be a mistake or a problem at some point,” Hyken says. “What you’re looking for is for the person to say, ‘I love working with them because I know that when there’s a problem, they’ll always take care of me.’ That word ‘always’ is a really important word.”