Customer Service

How to Hire Customer Service Agents for a Stellar CS Team

February 25, 2020
12:00 am

When your customers need excellent customer service, who are they gonna call? Hopefully, your business’s customer service team, if you’ve hired the right people. Because even if you have a great product or service, or the most advanced customer support tech, hiring customer service reps who can do the job at a high level will be your ultimate measure of success.

So, how do you hire customer service agents who can elevate your company? Here’s our comprehensive step-by-step guide to help you get the right hires on board:

1. Identify what you want

You can’t hire the right candidates if you don’t know who they are. Ask yourself:

  • What will be the role of each new hire? What’s the ultimate purpose of this role? 
  • What are the specific duties and responsibilities involved?
  • What skills are needed to do the job?
  • What skills would help employees go above and beyond?
  • How will we measure success for this role? (use the SMART framework to set goals)

Note that these questions are questions candidates may ask of you during the hiring process, so it’s important you have answers. To find these answers, draw from your own experience or vision for your customer service team, ask people in your company who have done the job, or use your company’s old job descriptions. That will help you construct the Ideal Candidate Profile to hire customer service agents.

Usually, customer service team members need the following skills:

  • Communication skills
  • Conflict management skills
  • Multi-tasking skills
  • Ability to stay calm in frustrating situations
  • Quick-witted to understand problems fast
  • Tech-savviness

Add unique skills or requirements specific to your company. Consider which skills are essential and which are just desirable.

Also, it’s important to know upfront the types of new hires who will make a difference at the particular stage your business is in. Melissa McMillan, Acquire’s Director of Customer Success, says:

"When you’re a startup, you should aim to hire people who have different strengths than you, people who complement you. That’s because, at this stage, you need employees to ‘own’ things and processes, and you need that diversity of thoughts and ideas more than ever."

2. Write the job description

The customer service rep job description is a vital part of attracting the right candidates. You need to be clear about what you’re looking for right off the bat, so people who are over- or under-qualified will avoid applying.

Base your job description on the Ideal Candidate Profile. Here’s a rubric you can follow:

  1. List responsibilities
  2. List must-have skills
  3. Add nice-to-have skills (clearly marked as such)
  4. Write the intro summarizing the role and its impact on your business’s bottom line
  5. Talk about the benefits you offer
  6. Add an ‘About Us’ section

Make sure you use clear and direct language when talking about duties and requirements while using enthusiastic and intriguing language when presenting your company culture and profile.

If writing the job description seems like a chore, check out our step-by-step guide (including a template you can work on).

3. Post on job boards

Now that you have an effective job description, you need to get it in front of candidates’ eyes. Mainstream job boards like Indeed, Monster, CareerBuilder, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn work well for customer service job posting because they’re visited by millions of job seekers every month. This increases the chances that your job ad will be seen by as many candidates as possible (especially if you choose sponsored posts).

But, if you want to target your job ad to candidates specifically interested in a customer service career as well, you can try niche job boards. Here are a few job sites that focus on customer service roles:

And, there are other sites available for remote or flexible hours customer service roles, or for hiring customer service reps on a project basis. Companies like Amazon and Apple often hire work-from-home customer agents. If you’d like to try it, have a look at sites such as:

4. Find candidates proactively

A good way to get highly qualified candidates is to proactively search for them, instead of waiting for them to apply to your job ad. This involves various methods like:

  • Internal recruitment. It’s possible someone in your company will want to pursue a position in customer service, especially if they’re entry-level. There are advantages in hiring current employees to fill open roles: they’re already comfortable with your company’s culture and processes, and will be easier to onboard. So, it’s worth keeping the position open internally for some time before you post it on job boards, or give priority to internal candidates for interviews. 
  • Referrals. According to statistics, referred employees are better culture fits and have better retention rates. So if your company doesn’t have a referral program, you could start by inviting current employees to refer someone. Compose an enthusiastic email asking for their help to hire customer service agents, providing the job description and a way to refer candidates (e.g. contact the hiring manager). If possible, ask HR or finance if you can offer an incentive.
  • Source online and offline. Look through your network on social media, forums, blogs, at conferences, etc. You may have spotted someone who works in customer service or is looking for a career as part of a CS team. If your company employs a recruiter, ask them to help you find resumes or profiles. See if anyone in your network knows someone.

These methods may be more useful if you’re looking to hire customer service agents with experience in the field. For example, senior or mid-level customer service reps may already be employed and not actively looking for a job, so you might need to approach them first.

5. Evaluate candidates to hire customer service agents who can do the job

When candidate applications and profiles begin to flood in, it’s time to start assessing them on a deeper level. Sure, many of them will have experience or claim to have your requirements in their resume, but they’re not necessarily the best choice as hires. Here are a few tips for evaluating candidates in each hiring stage:

(A) Check resumes

  • Look for candidates who match the experience you’re looking for. They don’t have to have 100%, but if you’re asking for five years of experience, candidates who have three or four years are usually better choices than those with one or two.
  • Pay attention to people who have done other customer-facing jobs. People who’ve worked as, say, sales associates, wait staff, administrative assistants, etc. probably have skills that would be very useful in a customer service team.

(B) Give candidates tests

  • Try cognitive ability or other tests. Usually, cognitive ability tests help you ensure that candidates can think quickly and solve problems. Other tests (like personality, integrity, etc.) are also available, though make sure they’re validated properly and measure what you want (and avoid using them to disqualify candidates, but rather as one data point among many to make a hiring decision).
  • Create assignments based on the role. For example, you can give them a scenario they’ll have to deal with on-the-job and ask them to answer by giving specific examples or actions. You might ask them to provide the flowchart of their actions to help a customer, compose sample responses, and more. Doing this exercise in writing helps you check candidates’ writing skills too, which will be essential on the job.

(C) Prepare for the interview

(1) Prepare questions that are relevant to the role

For example, “Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult customer,” or “Describe your approach to solving customer issues.” According to McMillan, you should ask about their experience handling issues or helping customers in various ways; what kind of problems they’ve solved or solutions they’ve implemented. 

It’s also good to prepare situational questions (questions that ask candidates to describe their reactions to a hypothetical scenario). Here are a few you can use when hiring customer service reps:

  • Imagine a customer calls our customer service with a problem and they’re very angry and frustrated. What do you say?
  • What would you do if a customer wasn’t able to describe the problem they have properly so you can understand it?
  • If you had a disagreement with your team leader about how to resolve a particular customer issue, how would you handle it?

You can craft those questions based on your knowledge of frequent customer support situations that happen at your company. Candidate answers should show that they’re patient, smart, and can think on their feet. If possible, you can also create a mock interaction, where you’ll be the customer, and see the candidate in action.

(2) Prepare culture fit questions

These are important questions to make sure the candidate will fit in well in your CS team. According to an article by Google, Sofia Quintero, CEO of EnjoyHQ, proposes several culture fit questions like:

  • Why do you want to work for our company?
  • How do you like to be managed?
  • What does your perfect workday look like? Take me through it.

Additional culture fit questions you could ask to hire customer service agents include:

  • How do you define excellent customer service?
  • What do you value more: collaboration or individual success? (desirable answers will vary depending on your company’s culture)
  • How would you handle a colleague who was constantly passive-aggressive?
  • What did you enjoy about the culture in your previous companies that you would want to find in your new job?

These questions will complement your overall impression of the candidate and help you choose the ones who are a better fit for your team.

(3) Prepare yourself

To hire customer service agents who are excellent at their job, you'll need to convince the best candidate to come work with you. That’s why you also need to be prepared for the interview – not only to ask but to answer questions as well. Candidates may ask lots of details about the role, your company, the team, the benefits you offer. You need to be prepared to answer.

Also, it’s important to read each candidate’s resume carefully. It might create a bad impression on the candidate if you ask questions they have already answered in their resume or application. Have a notepad with you as well, to jot down important answers, but practice doing this while maintaining sufficient eye contact. It also pays to practice small talk that won’t affect your judgment; for example, it’s ok to break the ice by asking the candidate whether they found your offices easily, but it’s risky to ask them whether they watched the game last night (it’s possible you’ll like the same team and that might subconsciously make you favor that candidate.)

On that note, be sure to check any biases you may have. For example, you may have hired great people in the past who went to a specific school. That doesn’t mean you should favor new candidates who went to the same school, others might prove just as good, or even better. Needless to say, all interviewers should combat any unconscious biases against protected characteristics, like gender, sex, race/nationality, disability, etc. This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also a legal matter.

6. Make the decision

It’s time for the big decision! At this stage, you’ll have already formed an impression of each candidate. But, make sure to be as objective as possible to hire customer service agents effectively: collect your notes, and the job description, then compare and contrast. Consider the gaps between what you want and what candidates have – is it that important someone has less experience than you wanted if they seem to have all the soft and hard skills required? Conversely, someone who doesn’t have good communication skills will probably be unsuited to the role.

Your team’s feedback will be useful here, too. Who impressed them the most? What skill is the most important to them? Take their thoughts into account before you make the final decision.

And if all goes well…

You have a brand new hire! Each time you repeat this process, you’ll be one step closer to the customer service team of your dreams. 

But, hiring customer service agents isn’t just about the hiring process – it’s also about training and onboarding them. Show them the tricks, give them attention and knowledge, and make them more confident. That’s how you’ll build a stellar team from scratch, and offer your customers the best possible customer experience.


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