The process of hiring a new customer support rep is a very complicated subject (and that’s why I’ve been putting off writing about it for quite a while). But in the end, it all comes to picking the right candidate.
I’m not an HR manager, although I’ve hired a fair share of people, so I’m not going to write about the general questions to ask during an interview. You can find those on your own. I will focus specifically on what we are looking for in a support rep.
General population still views customer support as something like being a waiter – it’s just an entry-level temp job, and everyone is capable of doing it. In reality, not everyone can be a decent support agent (or a waiter for that matter).
Does a candidate want to work in support or is it just a temporary position until he finds something better? This is the biggest one for me. I’ve seen this too many times, especially in the tech industry. Most of the current support reps have ambitions of becoming programmers, product managers or something else.
Here’s where you ask them about their previous experience. If this is not the first customer support job for the candidate, it is an excellent sign. Previous experience in positions that require lots of empathy also counts – waiters, flight attendants, jobs that require working with people or even with animals.
Technical support, comparing to, say, programming, requires little prior knowledge and experience. In this sense, most people will be capable of doing it indeed. So do not focus too much on experience in your field.
I’ve worked with a very complicated product as head of customer support at one of my previous jobs. If someone would write a complete manual on it, it would probably take 300-400 pages. It was tough to learn.
When faced with a challenge to hire people to help me support it, I focused on just recruiting patient, empathetic candidates, even if they had no previous experience. And it worked out great. Of course, a technical person would get the product a bit faster. But it’s not worth it in the long run. I’d rather hire one person for five years and spend a bit more time training just them than hire two new people every year because the previous ones kept constantly quitting.
Customer support is a very stressful job. I’ve repeated this a hundred times, and I will say it again. You reply to one ticket, and three new ones come in. No matter how hard you try, your job is never over.
This is why hiring waiters and flight attendants is so good. They regularly work under pressure, and they have to deal with a lot of things: never being able to catch a breath, dealing with asshole customers, being able to pay the same amount of attention to multiple people at once, etc.
As for the interview questions, the only thing that comes to my mind is “Have you ever had a burnout at your job and how well have you dealt with it?” This is a very specific question, comparing to the generic and vague “How do you handle pressure and stress?”
Burnouts are the biggest danger in customer support. You want to know if a candidate has experienced it, knows how to deal with it and, most importantly, knows how to avoid it.
Those are the three most important things you want to look for in a customer support candidate. You want to find a person who can cope with high amounts of stress every day and not burn out. Also, don’t forget to hire people who won’t quit after a couple of months. I would love to hear about your hiring experience. Do you have any thoughts or ideas?