Customer service, at its core, is ensuring that your customers are happy with your products and company so they will continue doing business with you. Seems simple, right? Yet it’s becoming increasingly complex as the responsibilities of customer service change, the number of customer service channels expand and customer expectations increase. When you consider that 82% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company because of bad customer service, you begin to understand the scope of the issue. Poor customer service ultimately means lost customers and lost revenue. Even worse, given the information sharing tools available today, unhappy customers can impact the choices of prospective customers more than ever before.
The good news? Customer service still comes down to prompt, honest, empathetic communication with your customers, and even small companies can do it well. The question is – how? We are tackling this question on our Focus On: Customer Service series, where we’ll explore planning for, implementing and scaling customer service for your subscription business. The full series includes:
- Customer Service: The Basics
- Establishing a Customer Service Department
- Outsourcing Customer Service
- Handling Common Customer Service Questions
- Your First Customer Service Hire
- Scaling Your Customer Service Team
Your First Customer Service Hire
Your first customer service hire is a key role within your organization, regardless of whether the position is full or part-time. This person may also perform other activities, but their priority should be customer service. The following are several ways to prepare for your first customer service hire.
Questions to Think About/Policies to Set
As with all other aspects of establishing a Customer Service department, planning ahead and pinpointing what you really want in a hire will increase your likelihood of finding a good fit. Here are some questions to consider before you post a job:
1. Do you want someone to focus only on customer service, or also to sell, act as a receptionist, copyedit and do bookkeeping? If there will be other duties, what is the balance of daily work between the priorities?
2. What are you trying to gain through the hire? Are you looking to free up your own time, garner expertise, or expand your customer service hours?
3. Where will they be located? In the office with you, nearby or anywhere in the world?
4. What is your budget? Take a look at http://www.salary.com to get an idea of what to expect in terms of salary.
5. What will they be doing – answering the phone, or typing answers on SMS or email or handling a live chat? What systems will you expect this person to use, including phone systems, live chat, email, as well as bug tracking and CRM.
6. What questions or situations you want to handle yourself?
7. What about setting standard policies for refunds and other common situations? To provide proper customer service, it will be necessary for your hire to know the policies of the business, what actions they can take to make things right with a customer and what situations they can decide themselves, versus needing your approval.
8. Who will this person report to?
9. How will the hiring decision be made?
10. How will you bring this new hire up to speed? Be sure to allow those who will train the hire the time to do so, including you!
11. How will you measure this person’s success? Establish the metrics and how you will gather them.
These questions will all help you create basic, written customer service policies for key issues with simple statements of facts and procedures to execute. Include the stated policy and the amount of leeway the customer service rep will have to go beyond it, both with and without additional approvals. For the following issues, think specifically about what the rep can handle, what must be escalated, and what the procedure should be:
- Password reset
- Payment terms
- Product replacement versus reimbursement
- Accusations of plagiarism or fraud
- Press inquiries
- Calls from legal representatives
Develop a Clear Job Description and Expectations
Write a clear job description and expectations of the role to set expectations with regard to culture, work hours, and performance measurement. You can use tools such as BLR, salary.com and others to track HR policies, salary benchmarks and to find detailed language and SEO-friendly words to write a job description that will appear in your prospective employee’s searches. Below is a “starter” customer service description for an entry-level Call Center Representative. Of course, you should modify this in order to meet your specific requirements:
“Duties include answering telephone call inquiries and promoting products and services. Responsible for researching and resolving complaints to ensure customer retention and satisfaction. Requires a minimum of a high school diploma or its equivalent, and 0-2 years of experience in the Customer Service field or related area. Must have knowledge of commonly-used concepts, practices, and procedures within . Relies on instructions and pre-established guidelines to perform the functions of the job. Works under immediate supervision. Primary job functions do not typically require exercising independent judgment. Typically reports to a supervisor or manager.”
What Makes the Ideal Candidate and How Do You Discover Those Qualities?
Use the hiring process as a living example of your prospective hire’s ability to provide customer service. Role play as the customer during the hiring process, as the one who may “buy” this person’s “product.” How they treat you will be an excellent indication of how they’ll treat customers.
Every organization will have unique needs to ensure a good cultural fit, but there are universal skill sets that all Customer Service Representatives should have. There are also some reasonably easy techniques to discover whether your candidate has those skills. The following is step-by-step guide into discovering whether the candidate you’re considering will be a great Customer Service rep.
Beginning Your Search
For the best chance of success, post your job on recognized search engines and on your website, paying close attention to how candidates are presenting themselves.
- LinkedIn, Indeed and SimplyHired are good places to find help. If you’re looking for an intern in order to save on costs, look at InternMatch, or contact a local college for someone majoring in a subject aligned with your subscription.
TIP: We have found some of our best team members, especially when in start-up phase, through our personal networks. Don’t forget to leverage yours!
- Look at the resume, bio or profile and ask yourself these questions:
- Is the contact information for this person easily found? Are there many ways to get in touch listed?
- Are the “selling points” backed up by facts?
- Is the tone positive, friendly, and geared toward the “customer” – AKA you?
- Is the spelling and grammar correct? Is the writing style one you would find acceptable when used with your subscribers? For those of you with literary subscription businesses, this is particularly critical!
During the Screening Process
This is an ideal time to assess responsiveness and personality. Be sure to pay attention not only to the facts and detail in the exchanges you have with prospective hires during this phase, but also to the following:
- Is the candidate responsive to inquiries? Did you receive a call back or email response within one day?
- Are the communications pleasant and at the level of formality you think is appropriate?
- Is tone, content and grammar aligned with the representation you’d like for your business?
During the Interview
Some combination of soft and quantifiable skills has brought a candidate this far. Now it’s important to hear their stories and examples of how they’ve handled customer issues in previous jobs. Even when interviewing candidates with no direct Customer Service experience, probing for examples of actual situations where the candidate had to leverage the following skills is critical. In this way, you not only hear how they feel or believe they will perform, but gain insight into how they have performed. It’s important to probe for examples that illustrate the following:
- Learning curve
- Sense of humor
- Verbal and written skills
- Sales skills (if applicable)
Questions for the Customer Service Interview
While not all of these questions may work for your situation, they offer a good jumping-off point to ensure a meaningful interview process. Notice that the questions are open-ended, and ask for specific examples of performance, rather than a statement of belief. Use the ones that work best for you, or adapt as necessary:
|“What Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software applications are you proficient in?”||
|Comfort level with using CRM systems you use or plan to use; ideal candidate would have specific experience with your systems.|
|“In what ways have you interacted with customers in the past?”||
|Comfort level with live chat, email, text/SMS and/or telephonic communications.|
|“What products/services have you supported in the past?”||
|Subscription-service business, subject-matter expertise, technical proficiency.|
|“How many queries did you deal with in an average day?”||
|Experience with similar volumes, resolution expectations.|
|“How was your success measured?”||
|Match with your plan for recording performance metrics.|
|“Tell me about a time you escalated a customer recommendation that changed your product for the better.”||
|Critical, big-picture thinking; identifying patterns.|
|“Give a specific example of when you had to resolve a complex problem for a dissatisfied customer.”||
|Examples of asking questions to find the right answer, persistence, logical thinking, patience.|
|“Describe a recent situation when you had to handle a very angry customer.”||
Aptitude for Customer Service
|Patience, ability to say “I’m sorry” while not necessarily agreeing with the customer or taking blame; allowing customer to vent; maintaining professionalism.|
|“How do you define ‘going the extra mile’ for a customer, and give me an example of when you’ve done this.”||
Aptitude for Customer Service
|Extent of effort; willingness and creativity in helping.|
|“Describe a time you had to change your approach to a customer because your first efforts were unsuccessful.”||
|Customer-focused thought process; empathy.|
|“Give an example of when you had to deal with a major change in the customer service policies at your company.”||
|Ability to adapt; questioning to understand versus questioning to challenge.|
|“Tell me about a customer encounter that really tested your patience.”||
|Sense of humor; patience; empathy; persistence to resolve.|
|“What do you regard as being the most positive aspects of dealing with customers?”||
|Enthusiasm; ability to give several examples.|
|“What do you like and dislike about the customer service job?”||
|More positives than negatives; more enthusiastic than not.|
|“What is good customer service?”||
Job Motivation, Fit
|How does the candidate’s answer align with your views?|
|“What, in your opinion, are the best metrics to measure customer service?”||
Job Motivation, Fit
|How does the candidate’s answer align with your plans to measure success?|
|“Tell me about a time you upsold a customer to a new or enhanced product package.”||
Aptitude for Selling, Flexibility
|Comfort level with some selling; ability to spot a customer who clearly wants or needs to buy.|
|“What tools do you like to have at your disposal?”||
Job Motivation, Aptitude
|Customer data, buying history; ability to resolve w/o getting mgmt. involved.|
|“Did you ever work somewhere where you disagreed with the policies you needed to follow? What were those policies and how did you adapt?”||
Stress Tolerance, Adaptability, Fit
|Maturity; poise in front of the customer; philosophical fit with your strategic goals.|
After the interview you will discover a great deal about the candidate’s ability to be both persistent and diplomatic, two very valuable skills in a Customer Service rep. Evaluate your candidates at this level based on:
- Prompt follow-up. Again, a good rule of thumb is a one-day turnaround, or an extended absence greeting that explains a delay.
- Does the candidate diplomatically move things along, encourage a decision, ask for the job, without harassing your or your team?
With all of this, should have a solid foundation for a successful first hire to your customer service team!
Diane Pierson has deep experience in product management and marketing, having delivered results to companies including Dun & Bradstreet, LexisNexis, American Lawyer Media and Copyright Clearance Center. She has built products & services that have delivered over $100 million in revenue and knows what works, and what doesn’t, when executing product plans and strategies. She is also a contributor to Subscription Insider. (Read Diane’s full Bio)