Best-in-Class Hiring: Customer Contact People

In Part 1, we discussed a simplified hiring process and some good hiring tools. Part 2 discussed hiring better technical professionals; Part 3, managers; and Part 4, salespeople. In Part 5, we will discuss hiring better customer contact representatives. The Customer Contact Position No one gets “hammered” more than the customer contact person. Customer service can be either outbound or inbound, on the phone or in person, sitting or standing, behind a counter or behind a phone. The job is about the same: hours and hours resolving issues and occasionally taking verbal abuse (usually caused by someone else). Customer service people are among a group of employees considered to be semi-skilled. Productivity differences for these folks are estimated to be about 30% of base salary. That means a department of 30 CSRs earning an average of $35,000 will lose $315,000 each year due to productivity differences (30 X $35,000 = 1,050,000 x 30% = $315,000). Customer contact people represent how the company really feels about customers. Here is a good example of a customer service program to avoid. A few months ago, my wife called the customer service department of a large bank. It seems like our 15-year-old credit card account had been passed from one acquiring bank to another until it ended up at “GreatBigBank.” (The actual name shall remain confidential, but it contained the words “First” and “Union”). Anyway, in the process of one bank gobbling up another bank, GreatBigBank sent us a very nasty letter about a single late payment. When my wife called to complain about the tone of the letter, the Customer Service Rep told her GreatBigBank was the third largest in the country and there were more people wanting to open accounts at GreatBigBank than close them. Then, the “customer service” rep hung up on her! Isn’t it ironic? No matter whom you call today, a phone call for help is just as likely to increase your blood pressure as it is to decrease your problem. GreatBigBank’s advertising drive to acquire customers was totally undermined by their customer service drive to retain them. Measuring Customer Contact Competencies The following section outlines a few common competencies for the customer contact position (they may not be all inclusive for your jobs, but that is the reason why “job analyses” are necessary). You might also notice that competency names are similar to other jobs we have discussed earlier. That’s normal. Competencies are always defined by specific job activities (i.e., PROBLEM SOLVING for credit card holders and problem solving for resolving computer problems are significantly different):

  • Ability to learn
  • Problem solving (client based)
  • Teamwork (internal)
  • Customer service
  • Communication (oral and written)
  • Primacy of work
  • Learning attitude
  • Client focus

You might also notice that there are fewer competencies for this position than some of the others. It’s not because the job is any less important – it’s because the job is less complex. Let’s see how the competencies look when they are organized by skill area. Below is the risk of not measuring a specific competency, what to measure, and some tools that will provide the highest degree of predictive validity. As always, each tool should be either content (or criterion) validated before use.

1. SKILL AREA: Ability to learn, solve problems and make decisions.

Job risk What to measure Competency name
Not being able to learn new product or client information Ability to quickly learn and apply information Ability to learn
Not able to resolve customer problems Ability to quickly assess problems and recommend solutions Problem solving
Most effective hiring tools: Customized problem-solving simulations; behavioral event interviews; ability to learn tests.

2. SKILL AREA: The ability to get things done through people.

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Job risk What to measure Competency name
Not able to resolve customer problems Ability to empathize and probe for information Customer service
Inability to communicate effectively Ability to present ideas and write effectively Oral and written communication
Inability to get internal support Ability to work effectively with co-workers Teamwork
Most effective hiring tools: Behavioral event interviews; teamwork problem simulation; customer service simulation.

3. SKILL AREA: Specific attitudes, interests, and motivations associated with doing a job (these are really not “competencies,” but we will stick with the term to avoid confusion).

Job risk What to measure Competency name
Bored by repetition or poor attitude toward clients General attitude toward work and customers Primacy of work
Unwilling to learn and apply new information Attitude toward learning Learning attitude
Not knowing how to balance customer requests with organization needs Wanting to serve the customer within guidelines set by the company Client focus
Most effective hiring tools: Behavioral event interviews; tests of specific attitudes, interests, and motivations.

Like the others, you can also use this list as a diagnostic tool. Just look over some of the reasons why your customer contact people tend to fail and you will see which skill areas are being overlooked during hiring. In the next article, we will describe competencies for hiring blue-collar workers – a key component of your overall quality initiative.