Gauging Customer Service Skills while Hiring

“Don’t ever doubt in the customer service business the importance of people and their attitudes”. – Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher

Things can go seriously wrong in a company if customers get upset and decide to speak ill of the company and also take their business elsewhere. It is absolutely essential that companies focus on every aspect of their customer service which includes the people they hire to run with this critical feature. It is important to remember that gauging customer service skills must happen at the hiring stage to get the ‘right’ people to work in this crucial department. It is only through customer service that a company can distinguish themselves and stand apart from competition and therefore selecting applicants with the appropriate attitude, skills and culture fit is crucial.

It would be wise to put in the extra effort to gauge the customer service skills while hiring as it will save your company a lot of trouble with customers in the future. A survey has revealed a shocking fact – 85% of customers will strike back at a company if their needs are not met and at least half will sever ties and stop business with the company. Taking the time and gauging customer service skills of the people at hiring, is a robust investment with high returns. Put together customer service skills tests that every hopeful must pass to prove their capabilities, skills and knowledge required for this challenging arena.

When your frontline employees are equipped with the best of customer service skills, your company’s leadership can rest easy in the knowledge that your customer’s will be well taken care of. How can a company ascertain customer service skills while hiring? How can it be sure that the people they recruit will be able to solve problems pertaining to the customers whilst managing the relationships with them and their team members?

– A great customer service agent would be able to use their discretion on being faced with a problem. By asking pointed questions and presenting a problematic situation the hirer can gauge how the candidate would react, behave and respond to such situations. It will also be possible to ascertain how fast the applicant understood the problem and the speed of response to the problem presented. Providing curve-ball situations would help to assess how much creativity and quick thinking the applicant is capable of and the kind of resolutions he or she presents that will serve to placate the situation.

– A critical trait for any customer service representative is unflappability or patience. It is no secret that many times customers tend to be impatient and even meander to the side of rudeness and intolerance. In such situations too, the customer service person is expected to keep their cool and also say the ‘right’ things to ensure that the customer is pacified. A lack of patience will reflect in the tone of voice and mannerism of the agent which could aggravate the situation further. Providing a life situation in which the customer is irate will allow the hirer to understand how stoic and placid the incumbent will be when faced with a similar situation while on the job.

– It is not just essential for the customer service incumbent to be pleasing towards customers, but also to be able to handle conflicts within the team. In a high stress environment, it is expected that there would be friction and resultant problems. The applicant should be able to present solutions to such real situations that would serve to elucidate whether he or she is a team player and whether they would be part of the problem or the solution and how respectful they would be towards their peers, superiors and people from other teams.

These real life ‘role plays’ are vital to gauge the customer service skills while hiring new staff since asking questions may not suffice. Also another effective means of assessing the perfect customer service fits for your company could be behavioural based interviewing technique. This technique involves asking the incumbent to relate a real life conflict situation and explaining how they handled it and then asking them to describe the result of their actions. This is a technique to predict future behaviour based on behaviour exhibited in the past. This also helps the hirer to ascertain whether the incumbent has actually faced any difficult conflict situations and the description of the same would provide an insight on the communication skills as well. Providing the incumbent with situations is one way of checking their skills but catching them unaware to describe a situation they faced, could leave them stumped if they haven’t been through a state of conflict. It would be difficult to make something up on the spot since the details wouldn’t quite match up.

Every customer service person must also have certain soft skills and attitudes to perform the crucial task of meeting and exceeding the needs of the customers. While preparing the questions, the hiring persons must consider some basic realms of customer service in to which the incumbent would be suited.

– Whether the applicant is capable of making and sustaining a personal relationship and connection with customers without crossing the line of familiarity. Will the candidate be able to use eye contact, body language, appropriate words, tone of voice, smile and display an attitude of empathy?

– Is it a natural behaviour of the candidate use please, thank you, you are welcome and such other courtesies – they would display these during the interview as well. The general demeanour must be one of consideration and respect for others. For example: While interviewing for a similar role once, a friend noticed how the incumbent spoke to the receptionist and even the person from the pantry who served her water. She was polite and had a ready smile and even thanked these people on her way out. The candidate was selected for a supervisory role, post these observations. Politeness, courtesy and a pleasant deportment are the key characteristics of great customer service.

– Being able to speak well, write well and convey lucidly are extremely important customer service skills. Having a two-way communication using the right tone, expressions and appropriate words is the sign of someone who would be comfortable speaking to people. It’s important to ask the incumbents to write a paragraph or two on some random topic to ascertain written communication skills as well.

– Observe carefully the last impression the candidate is able to make on you as closure of the interaction. It should be positive, have meaning and want you to get this person to work with you.

The questions that you ask the customer service incumbent must be open-ended so that the maximum information can be elicited. The questions must be relevant to the level and nature of job responsibilities of the incumbent. The questions must point towards understanding what the incumbent feels is great customer service and how to ensure that the team works together so that customer service provided is always excellent. Ask the incumbent on the best way to manage an angry customer and what they would do or may have done when faced with such a customer. Lead with a question on how best to handle problems within the team and how they would react to conflict situations. Ask them to describe the kind of technology they have been used to and how it has benefited them while managing customers and also their experiences with managing customers via social media sites. Elicit instances of when they were faced with a customer’s problem, what actions they took and how well it worked for the customer.

The answers to such questions will help you evaluate the potential of the incumbent as a great customer service person. The responses would demonstrate whether they have a positive attitude that encourages them to create wow experiences for every customer by personalizing each interaction. The answers would lucidly explain whether they will be happy to look at creative ways to sort out the customer’s problems and be willing to do ‘that little bit extra’ to ensure that the customer’s expectations are exceeded. The incumbent would show a resolve to find solutions to problems and also to ensure that the customer leaves happy every single time.

At the end of the interview and when the incumbent leaves, if you are left with a feeling that he or she was memorable in a positive way, you have a winner. It just makes good customer service sense to gauge the customer service skills of persons while hiring rather than regretting your choice later.

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