I’ve been in the management and customer service business for longer than I care to admit, but as the decades have rolled by, I’ve learned a thing or two about what to look for when hiring and training a stellar customer success team. And at the risk of offending sensitive ears, I think it’s worth stripping off the candy coating of HR for a minute to lay out the bare necessities required of anyone who represents your company to your customers.
Too often in writing job descriptions and interviewing candidates, we focus on ascending progression of job titles, tech-dependent skill sets, and required degrees and certifications. Instead, look for customer success representatives with qualities that are unique to the human experience. To create a customer service team that performs at the highest level, learn to look for these four character conflicts.
Driven by Results, But Also Enjoys the Process
Results-driven employees can be a dream to manage, but not without the discipline and patience that’s often required when learning about a customer’s issues. Sure, it’s great to be able to check a box and provide support for a customer in minutes, but in many businesses, especially in the world of SaaS, it’s often necessary to approach customer issues with a set standard for process of elimination and a structured diligence. Many people find this infuriating. Ideally, you hire folks who can’t help but mull over clients’ cases after hours, despite the fact that you’re not paying them to do so.
When interviewing, ask about a time when they had trouble solving a problem and ask about their approach — how long it took, if they felt like giving up, and whether they sought help. If this Sherlock Holmes quality is in their nature, they’ll probably have a few examples to share and likely report fairly specific details of their problem-solving process as well as deep satisfaction at finding a solution to the problem.
Tells the Hard Truth, Optimistic to a Fault
One of the basic tenets of relationship building is that you can’t trust someone who doesn’t tell you the truth. It’s no coincidence that one of the essential requirements of a profitable business is establishing a loyal customer base. Given that no product or company is perfect, it’s likely that at some point your customer service team is going to have to learn how to be honest about product shortfalls, less-than-stellar integrations or sub-par service. At the risk of hiring Eddie Haskell (millennials, Google him), you need someone with the ability to simultaneously deliver bad news and add a positive spin to it.
Codependent, But Takes Nothing Personally
Customer service reps must have empathy for days, but not so much that they can’t walk away from a call if they cannot help. Hire folks that take pride in problem solving and making others happy with their thoughtfulness. Conversely, while it’s imperative that customer service reps empathize with the customer and do everything in their power to help, they must have a firm sense of where they end and the customer begins. If they need it, help them form healthy boundaries and identify when a call with an angry customer is headed into abusive territory or simply into a place where your company or product can no longer meet their needs.
Channel your inner Stuart Smalley — tell them you know their job can be draining and sometimes feel like they’re submerged in negativity, but make it clear that you’re there to support them and provide tools to manage their work without leaving depleted at the end of the day. Some best practices that might be helpful: Take a mandatory five-minute break outside after a certain number of calls. Offer your ear for 15 minutes at least once a day for them to share about their most ridiculous call or toughest customer. Incentivize them to find happy customers for case studies and marketing quotes. Schedule company-sponsored cage fights among staffers during lunch breaks. Actually, don’t do that last one.
Confident Yet Humble
Balance is everything. In other words, beware of customer service reps who default to preacher mode when faced with a tough situation or a challenging customer. Conversely, introverts and shrinking violets need not apply to customer service positions that require an outgoing nature and casual, folksy demeanor. Somewhere in between exists a comfortable exchange of give and take, ying and yang, peanut butter and jelly, teaching and learning. Hire reps who know that listening is the key to problem solving and problem solving is the key to happy customers.
Not all customer service is about contradictory personality traits, however. There's one quality that is important enough to stand on its own, and that's dependability. Even the most charming and intelligent support staff cannot get the job done if they're always late, absent or behave inconsistently. Trustworthiness is non-negotiable; it's an absolute requirement. Hiring anything less is, well, moronic.
Bill Gargiulo is the vice president of customer success at Webgility, a multichannel e-commerce solutions provider.