8 Tips to Find the Best New Agents

I'm often asked how to find the best people to hire for contact centers. Who is the person that will be just the right fit to interact with every customer? The contact center is the heart of the company, and that pulse is instrumental in creating a positive customer experience. Representatives must be knowledgeable and possess interpersonal skills to effectively respond to customer issues, concerns, and questions. As speech recognition has become more refined, customers prefer to self-serve, with information on tap 24/7. Therefore, when a customer wants to speak with a representative, every company should ensure that the rep can handle those needs efficiently while also providing a memorable experience to create and build a personal connection. But how do you find the best people to fit into these roles?

The same attributes that shape good customer service also define the characteristics to look for in a new hire. The eight steps outlined in my book, The Endangered Customer, can be used as a hiring assessment tool. When you're interviewing candidates for your contact centers, ask them questions tied to each step below.

Make me feel welcome.

Start off by asking the candidate the following: When someone walks into your home for the first time, what are some of the things you can either do or say to make them feel especially welcome? Then, ask the candidate how they would replicate that same feeling on the phone or in an email.

Give me your full attention.

Ask candidates whether they have ever taken active listening courses or are familiar with the concept. Ask them to share how they employ active listening when speaking to customers. It's so critical that every representative not only listens to what customers have to say, but how customers are feeling. Customers do not contact a service department devoid of emotion, in a vacuum. Quite the contrary; customers are most likely frustrated, disappointed, or angry. If a representative can identify the emotion and acknowledge it, the path is paved for an easier resolution.

Answer more than my question.

After candidates ask their questions about the position or company, ask them, "what other questions do you have?" versus "do you have any other questions?" Does the candidate realize the difference? Ask potential hires how they would use this more open-ended approach during a phone call and what the benefits might be.

Know your stuff.

Talk to candidates about the type of calls and emails you receive, especially the complex ones. Give them examples and ask what tactics they would use in a given situation to demonstrate knowledge and competency to consumers.

Don't tell me no.

Ask candidates to describe ways in which they can turn a negative response into a positive one and how they have provided alternatives or options to customers. Role-play with them and ask for examples of past situations when the answer was no but they still made an effort to help.

Invite me to return.

Find out from applicants what they would say at the end of a call to encourage customers to contact the company again, leaving the customer with the idea that calls are always welcome.

Show me I matter.

Ask potential hires how they show their friends they matter and how they have handled customers in the past so they know they mattered beyond the interaction. Have they sent customers follow-up emails to express appreciation or apologized for an unfortunate situation?

Make me feel special.

Inquire how the candidate has made customers feel special in the past, in either words or actions after the interaction.

The contact center is extremely important to the success of any organization. We live in a competitive world. It's critical that companies hire the right people for their customer service departments. The representatives should understand and embrace the eight elements outlined above to ensure the ideal customer experience. Start at the beginning and hire the right people; that is key. Use the eight steps as a framework to ask opportune questions of potential hires. Make your company's service department stand out to further increase revenue and profit.

Richard Shapiro is founder and president of the Center for Client Retention.