How to hire for customer service skills

How to hire for customer service skills

Our blog How to hire for customer service skills
Customer Service Skills

It's hard to think of an industry for which customer service isn't a necessary part of doing business. And since customer service is the primary means through which your customers interact with your brand, it's important to get it right. Not all companies have the resources to hire a dedicated customer service representative, but if you're hiring someone for this essential role, this article will cover how to hire for customer service skills.

We'll highlight the basic skills you should expect of a good customer service representative, as well as how to assess the skills in your candidates.

Traits of strong customer service representatives

In order to ensure good reviews and repeat customers, picking a strong customer service team is crucial. To make sure you make the right hire, you'll need to evaluate candidates' customer service skills and competencies during the hiring process.

These skills may include critical thinking in order to solve unique problems, strong communication skills to interact with customers, and competency with online customer service platforms. By ensuring that your customer service representatives are fully equipped with these skills, they will be better able to represent your company in customer interactions. 

Strong written and verbal communication

One easy way to alienate your customers is to make assumptions about what they need or want in a situation without actually understanding their perspective. Strong communication requires both good listening and expression, in order for the customer to feel like their needs are being served. 

So your customer service representative should be a good listener. They also need to know how to ask the right questions to help the customer to communicate their needs. By taking the time to understand exactly what the customer is looking for, your customer service representative will create a much better experience for customers.

Customer service also requires the ability to respond in a clear and courteous manner. Clarity of communication is an essential skill both for verbal, in-person service as well as written responses to online queries. Regardless of whether they can directly provide the customer with their ideal resolution, your representative should be able to make your customers feel at ease so that they are ultimately satisfied with the outcome. 

Good problem solving skills

In addition to communication skills, candidates with strong problem solving skills will be better equipped to diagnose problems and propose adequate solutions. After all, a customer service representative's main job is to solve customers' problems. So a good customer service representative needs to be able to effectively evaluate and respond to complex situations. This way, they will be able to define the problem, and analyze the situation, and make correct decisions.

Good decision making

Customer service representatives often have to make quick decisions on questions regarding refunds or exchanges for goods and services. These decisions will have an impact on your brand’s image through online reviews and the customer's conversations with people in their network. So your customer service representatives must be able to understand the potential responses their decisions may elicit from the customer, and try to minimize damaging feedback.

But customer service representatives have to balance the need to satisfy the customer with the company’s internal regulations and policies. Making too many unwarranted concessions may set precedents for the company to compensate clients more than necessary, and result in losses for the company as a whole. At the same time, trying to brush over a customer’s concerns or refuse reasonable requests in order to make a sale or protect the company’s bottom line will lead to a negative customer experience.

Your company’s reputation hinges on the customers’ perception as well as any potential legal entanglements, and unethical customer interactions that prioritize profit over customer safety or their needs will be damaging for the company in the long run. Discriminatory practices or responses should be noted as well, such that your customer service representatives are able to respond to each customer fairly and appropriately. The representative must be able to weigh the conflicting needs of the customer and the company, as well as understand the ethical ramifications of their decisions.

Familiarity with online customer service platforms

As brands increasingly shift towards online sales platforms, customer service has also moved online for many companies. This may take place via email or platforms like HubSpot or Zendesk. Depending on the platforms you use and your training resources, it may be necessary to find representatives who are able to navigate these platforms.

That said, candidates with strong skills in other areas can be trained to use these platforms, so previous experience in your software of choice isn't always a deal breaker.

How to evaluate customer service skills

Traditionally, companies have relied on interviews and roleplaying exercises to assess a candidate's customer service skills.

Interview questions

Interviews are a mainstay in hiring process across different industries and roles for good reason. They allow recruiters to gain a better understanding of the candidate’s opinions and values, as well as how they might perform on the job based on their responses. 

When hiring customer service representatives, you can ask questions that illuminate the candidate’s understanding of what good customer service entails. And it is a good opportunity to see if they are aware of the company’s goals and priorities, as this can inform their decisions as a customer service representative.

Interviews also offer an opportunity to ask questions about the candidate’s past experiences in handling different types of customer interactions. Asking candidates to describe and evaluate their past responses and strategies can illustrate whether or not their skills and attitude towards the job match what you’re looking for.

Roleplaying scenarios

Companies use roleplaying exercises to get an idea of what a candidate’s typical customer service responses would be in the real world. 

These scenarios can be developed by your hiring team based on unique past cases your representatives have dealt with before or the most common questions your company receives. These can are then presented to your candidate in the interview setting as a hypothetical situation.

The candidate must then give a response that demonstrates how they would handle the situation as a member of your team. Then you can assess their responses to different situations, such as customer queries that demand significant technical knowledge of the product or highly demanding or irate customers. 

This way, you can see which types of interactions they are most suited to handle, and which they may need more training in.

How online skills tests and assessments can help

While interview questions and roleplaying help to gain a better understanding of a prospective candidate’s customer service skillset, they are time consuming. So it's important to make sure that you only invite the most qualified candidates for interviews in order to most efficiently use your resources.

The addition of skills tests to your hiring process can streamline your hiring process so that you are able to shortlist the best customer service representatives for the next round of the hiring process.

Online skills assessments:

  • screen candidates for skills that may be difficult to assess in a verbal conversation
  • provide quantifiable ways to compare candidates
  • help determine which candidates to invite for an interview

Here are some of the tests to consider:

Hospitality and customer service tests

The most direct type of test you can include are tests that screen candidates specifically on skills related to customer service. When candidates meet a potential supervisor or hiring manager in an interview, they are often primed to respond very politely or provide stock answers that they have rehearsed. These responses are often incomplete indicators of how they would treat a real customer in an actual customer service situation.

In order to sidestep this potential pitfall, customer service or hospitality tests assess a candidate's ability to engage with clients appropriately. This can provide deeper insight into how a candidate approaches customer service interactions.

Software competencies

You can also use skills tests to assess a candidate’s competency with a particular software or platform your company uses to facilitate online customer service. This is especially helpful when the hiring manager does not have an in-depth knowledge of the platform.

By testing software proficiency with an online skills assessment, you see whether they can navigate a particular software as well as they claim and rank your candidates based on their skill level. This can also be used as a benchmark to weed out unqualified applicants before you spend the resources needed to schedule and conduct interviews.

Decision making 

Customer service representatives are often pressed to process information and provide responses quickly. That’s why it’s important to test their ability to process details and provide a judgment quickly while still being fair and courteous to the customer. Implementing tests that assess a candidate’s reading comprehension, problem solving, and critical thinking skills can be useful in measuring how well they are able to interpret a customer’s situation and provide them with a satisfactory response.

Skills tests will help you hire better customer service representatives

Customer service is an essential part of your business that must be handled carefully from the beginning, as it can have a huge impact on your overall brand reputation. Providing strong customer service can be a huge draw for customers, and may even encourage individuals who have had good experiences to make repeat purchases or recommend you to other potential customers. That’s why it’s crucial to ensure that your hiring team can identify and hire competent customer service representatives with the necessary skills, such as verbal and written communication as well as ethical decision-making. 

Interviews and roleplaying exercises are effective, but they are time consuming. Incorporating online skills assessments that test key skills will help you screen for the best possible candidates before you spend time and other resources on the interview process.

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