Skills To Look For When Hiring Remote Customer Support
Originally published at blog.aftership.com on December 15, 2016.
More and more companies are embracing the idea of remote work. This is especially true for customer support. Perhaps you too have been considering or is in the process of hiring remote customer support.
In this article, we will be diving into the areas to look out for when considering a candidate and how to maintain productivity in the long run.
Before we begin, it may be a good idea to first understand why so many have jumped in on the bandwagon.
For the most part, remote customer support is cost effective. It reduces overheads. Some expenses may not spring to mind immediately but when the bills come in for the office rent, electricity and the like, you start to get the picture.
On top of that , you also get the advantage of honing in on people’s most efficient hours as a remote agent gets the flexibility to decide for themselves the best times to work at.
A Stanford study even found that remote working increases productivity by 13%. In fact, remote working helps minimize a lot of the distractions commonly found in the office environment. Jason Fried talks more on the matter in the following video:
But remote working isn’t without its difficulties. Not everyone or business is fit for this mode of work.
Can you imagine the difficulties you’d face if you hired the wrong people? It would be like trying to run a zoo from afar.
Defining Your Need
Before diving headfirst into finding your candidate it is best to first evaluate the current state of things.
Is there actually a need for an extra person to help out? Sure enough when you are buried under a sea of customer tickets you’d think there is no doubt about hiring another person.
Even though a remote task force is cost effective, if they are not necessary, you are simply spending needless money and putting on dead-weight.
You have to consider the bigger picture. Are there more tickets to handle in general because your company is growing or is it perhaps a seasonal matter. If so then hiring a contract support may be more fitting. This is also a good time for you to properly evaluate your product. Could that be they be the cause.
A good motto in business is to always find the cause before trying to fix the problem.
Hiring someone remote should be weighed out with the same, if not more, precision than hiring in general. Think about the actual capacity of work.
If you indeed hire someone for customer support is that alleviating you or your team to pursue more important matters. If the hire results in more yet unproductive time, then it’s better you re-evaluate your options.
This goes a long way. By having a guideline that is informed by your brand, you can find better fits which will reflect in the long run.
When outlining the qualities of your ideal candidate you will find that there are two main schools of thought. On the one hand are the personality factors, which determines how well they align with your company branding . While on the other, there is the person’s character.
Your customer support team is your central point of contact with the clients. So it’s crucial that they represent your brand in a deeper manner.
Of course, responses can be guided with company outlines and attitudes. But you will be doing both the candidate and yourself a great help by finding someone who is naturally aligned with your company ethics.
Brands have different personas. While one takes a more no nonsense approach, the other can be casual and laid back. Another still, may be funnier and more direct in tone.
Attitudes are hard to fake. It takes effort.
Someone who is already in agreement with your company attitude is able to put more attention on the actual customers and spend less time trying to nail the brand’s personality. Or worse, missing it entirely and misrepresenting your company.
For more on customer support culture, check out our article ‘How to Deal with Frustrated Customer’.
There are also universal traits when hiring a remote customer support. Traits that should be present regardless of company branding. In a sense these are the more essential traits that make sure your candidate is someone who can deliver when working remotely.
You may think of it this way. The following characteristics lay the foundation of a great candidate, someone who can carry themselves without much supervision in a remote setting. Meanwhile, the personality traits we’ve already mentioned is the cherry on top that makes them the crème de la crème.
1. Well versed with remote work
Contrary to work at the office, remote work requires a different set of skills and discipline. It means that they would not have the social setting usually found within the office, so it is important that they are comfortable with this.
Beyond the personal attributes that make your candidate fit for remote work there is also the environmental.
WIFI. Internet connection does not come scarce these days so it can be overlooked. But just because you have easy access to it doesn’t mean your candidate does, so don’t assume! It is the only thing connecting them to you, so make sure this is also factored into your consideration.
2. Self disciplined
There are people who need the traditional 9 to 5 schedule to keep themselves on track and engaged. When looking for your candidate, make sure to look out for signs that they are not such people. We will talk more on what to look for in their experiences and how to test theirs in a bit.
Working remotely relies a great deal on self discipline. In a sense, the office setting almost forces one to be working (or at the least pretend to work). Therefore it is important that they are able to manage working alone and prioritizing their work.
Of course their work or lack thereof does not go on unnoticed, but obviously it’s better to weed out the ones who may not be as fitting than have to deal with the matter afterwards.
Self explanatory really. Customer support is all about taking the initiative to helping your customers. You want someone who will take good care of your clients. This also ties in with the idea of self-discipline. You want someone who is on the go and doesn’t wait for orders.
Working in a lone setting, they lack the supervision of others so it is crucial that they have a proactive attitude to make up for it. Imagine how frustrating it would be for your client if your customer support personnel replied in a minimalist manner and doing only the bare minimal.
4. Good communication skills
At the end of the day, customer support is about communicating with your customers. So you want to look for someone who can carry themselves in a conversation. If they come off as awkward or unapproachable when conversing with you, then chances are they would also be the viewed in the same manner by your customers.
A reason why it’s so important to first identify your ideal candidate is that it helps prepares you subconsciously. By making yourself aware of the different traits to look out for, you are heightening your awareness towards their behavioral cue that allow you to identify your candidate.
Nothing special about the photo above?
Well, do you notice the Batman symbol on the dog’s forehead? Well now you won’t be able to unsee it. Just like when told not to think about an elephant, you cannot but picture an elephant in your head.
In the same manner, by first coming up with the picture of your ideal candidate, your mind is then more attuned to the different factors and behaviors the candidate displays.
Things To Look Out For
Past Experience. Find someone who can do the job of customer service better than you. You want to have someone who is not only well versed but top of the line in terms of practice.
Beyond just having done customer support, try to look out for whether or not they’ve held freelancing jobs or have perhaps had their own startup. As we’ve mentioned, remote working requires a great deal of discipline.
If they’ve been in a situation where their livelihood was dependent on a display of constant efforts, it’s a sign that they are fit for remote working.
That is not to say someone who’s never tried remote working or haven’t had experience as a freelancer/ building their own start up would not be just as good. But it is something that you should consider before taking the risk. Who knows, you may also be doing themselves a favor by rejecting the wrong candidate.
Don’t forget, to test out your candidate. Think of this as taking on a Shaolin apprentice. Yes, that will mean it may be a timely process but this way you also save yourself in the long run with someone who is actually right for your business.
Try to set up meetings over different mediums. This will not only demonstrate their character but also how well they carry themselves over various platforms. You want someone who can communicate well both verbally and over written message, a specialist in communication if you’d like, than someone who dabbles.
Initially, you may decide to set up written tests. One that helps you evaluate how well they respond over email. You can even design it so that you time their response.
It actually works even better when they are unaware of this, as you are not only able to evaluate their ability but their discipline.
Additionally, you may want to set a Skype call. Video chats allow you to see what the person is like beyond writing. A good way to test out their proactivity is to ask for a Skype call and wait for them to initiate the scheduling.
A judge of character should always be by their actions, so look out for the things that they do over what they say. Actions speak louder than words.
Calls are also great for learning about their ability to hold a conversation. Don’t try to rush through a list of questions. Instead, look at how they carry the discussion forward. Pay attention to whether they are straightforward when answering your questions or if they tend to beat around the bush.
You want someone whom your customers will understand and appreciate, not just bore them out with long-winded answers.
At the end of the day, don’t worry about challenging your candidate. The right talent will appreciate it. After all, playing hard to get doesn’t only apply to dating.
Your remote customer support strategy should not end at hiring process.
The concept is that they function independently. But that does not exclude them as a part of your company and should not shy on the necessary supervision to provide motivate them forward. It is a great idea to set goals. This not only gives them something to work towards but also a meter for you to measure success.
Look at the bigger picture, they should be value adding and help you move your business forward. Setting targets such as reaching a certain customer happiness level or just reducing tickets in general are great ways to promote the company forward.
While you want a candidate who can hit the ground running, make sure you don’t shy on the necessary training. A great talent can only shine even more when they are equipped with the right tools and knowledge.
Lastly, make sure to maintain regular communication with your remote customer support team. Let them know your concerns if you have any. Give credit where credit is due. Let them know that their efforts have not gone unnoticed! The best scenario is if they take the company’s success personally, then you know you’ve hit gold :)
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