Customers can be tough.
Some, once they’ve paid for your product, become demanding and difficult. These customers pick at your support staff, slowly wearing them down.
When this happens, conflict is inevitable.
Your support staff is your first line of defense. They experience abuse on a regular basis. Customers approach from a neutral place of need and occasionally a negative place of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
Can your support staff thrive in that environment or…
Will your support staff make things worse?
Most of us know it’s important to choose the right support staff. We hear legendary stories about amazing support teams and how they’re (rightfully) rewarded with amazing reviews and more business.
But we also hear the horror stories.
- A Starbucks manager yells at customers, attacking them verbally for taking a straw.
- A Comcast support rep refuses to cancel a customer’s internet service. The rep uses bullying and intimidation to strong arm a customer.
- A Baymont Inn customer service rep gave customers a room that was infested with bugs. Their room also had boogers and blood smeared on the walls.
You have your own horror stories I’m sure.
We all know what a horrible customer service experience looks like. We’ve also seen the negative reviews that come with horrible service, and we know what it’s like to deal with terrible support staff.
How do we find and hire amazing support staff?
More specifically, how do we hire support employees who’ll virtually guarantee we receive positive online reviews?
Step #1: Use OCEAN to find amazing support employees
The big five personality traits, listed under the acronym OCEAN, gives you the keys you need to find amazing support employees.
- Openness to experience measures intellectual curiosity. Imagination, independence and variety are hallmarks of this personality type.
- Conscientiousness describes a person who is dependable, ambitious and dutiful, showing self-discipline, and a preference for planning.
- Extraversion refers to the energetic, passionate, and fun-loving life of the party. These employees are often seen as talkative and domineering connectors.
- Agreeableness refers to the empathetic, compassionate and cooperative peacemakers among us. These employees tend to be helpful, trusting and pleasant.
- Neuroticism describes the tendency for a person to experience unpleasant emotions (e.g. anger, fear, depression and anxiety) more easily than others around them.
So which personality traits are most important? Which one will lead you to the right support employee?
1. Agreeableness. Compassion and empathy are standard requirements for support employees. These employees have higher levels of compassion and politeness so they’re much easier to get along with.
2. Conscientiousness. Higher levels of conscientiousness means your support employees will do what it takes to take care of the customer and your business.
While the other factors are helpful, agreeableness and conscientiousness are most important. Here’s the thing about that though.
You need them both.
High on agreeableness, low on conscientiousness? These support employees are far more likely to become doormats, handing out too many concessions, discounts and incentives. They’re routinely abused and mistreated by customers.
High on conscientiousness, low on agreeableness? These support employees can be domineering, authoritative and brutal. They’re often inflexible, cold and matter-of-fact. This means they’re less likely to convey empathy and compassion to customers.
Step #2: Ignore personality, recruit everyone
When you’re looking for amazing support employees it’s a good idea to cast a wide net. The usual recruitment channels, Job boards, want ads, and recruitment campaigns, are great ways to fill your funnel.
There’s one channel that works best.
Once you have a few employees you can ask them to recruit like-minded employees.
According to the Jobvite Index, employees who were hired via referrals have a 46 percent retention rate (compared to 33 from career sites and 22 percent from job boards).
Once you’ve started filling your funnel use automated, semi-automated and manual tools to filter out unqualified candidates.
The goal at this point shouldn’t be about hiring. Your focus should be squarely set on finding “potentials.” The criteria for potentials are simple.
They’ve made it through your first set of filters.
When you have a list of potentials you’re ready for the next step. Scheduling a phone or in-person interview to further qualify/disqualify your pool of candidates.
Step #3: Topgrade potential candidates
Topgrading is a hiring and interviewing methodology developed by Bradford D. Smart. Smart’s methodology shows employers how to attract, win and keep A player employees.
Using Topgrading, employers can hire with confidence, knowing that 90 percent of their hires will be A players.
Testing for temperament and personality is important, but it’s most helpful once you’ve already identified potential A player candidates.
And, how do you identify potential candidates?
You get them to identify themselves through their references. Most employees offer references with the expectation that prospective employers call around.
With Topgrading, potential employees are required to arrange a call with the references on their list.
A Players know they’re amazing. They jump at the chance to prove they’re the best candidates.
B and C players? Not so much.
When B and C players are asked to arrange a call with their former employers they freeze. Typically, they drop out of the hiring process or remove themselves from consideration altogether.
At that point, hiring A players is easy.
Step #4: Protect new support employees from failure
You’ve done it.
You’ve found the perfect support employee. You’ve spent a considerable amount of time and money on them, but it’s worth it. You have a bonafide A player who’s a perfect fit for your team.
Which is why they’re going to fail…
Unless you help them.
It’s common for unsophisticated organizations to provide a minimal amount of training, a few days, then expect employees to simply perform to their high standards.
That’s a recipe for disaster.
It used to be that onboarding would take a few days, but recent research shows it may take as much as one year to help employees get fully up to speed.
A players need A player training.
For the first three to six months, your A players are vulnerable. A recent study found businesses lose 17 percent of their new hires in the first three months alone.
So, how do you keep your A players?
Your new employees need to feel accepted and part of the group. But why does that matter?
Support employees accepted by the group receive greater access to information and resources. Emotional acceptance empowers your team, enabling them to do an amazing job for you and your customers.
Here’s the thing with acceptance.
It needs trust to survive. Your support employees need to be able to figure things out for themselves. Once you’ve trained them, given them a framework to follow, they need autonomy.
For instance, developing useful protocols, FAQs and the empowerment is key to building trust. Create an environment where A players employees help to shape the rules and best practices of the support team. This could be as simple as employees adding to your knowledge base or as complex as auditing support team systems and procedures.
When employees have ownership it stops being your business, it becomes our business. A players become fully integrated into your organization and your support time thrives.
What if you do the opposite?
Attempt to force arbitrary or oppressive rules and policies on them and you limit an A player’s ability to serve.
What does that look like?
- Wells Fargo bullying their support staff, pressuring them to open new accounts for customers without their permission.
- Comcast bills customer $1,775 incorrectly withdrawing their “early termination fee.” Comcast admitted the money shouldn’t have debited from their account but customer service reps refused to issue a refund, telling customers to “take it up with their bank.”
- United Airlines policies caused support staff to drag a customer off the plane, simply because he refused to give up the seat he paid for.
Step #5: Give staff the permission to be Legendary
Danny Meyer, owner of the Gramercy Tavern, cultivates a culture of hospitality in his restaurants.
He influences the 1,500 support employees at his location to create what he calls “extraordinary experiences” for the 100,000 customers that walk through their doors every day.
One day, a woman rushes through the entrance of Gramercy Tavern. She’s in a state of panic. She’s just left her purse in the taxi that dropped her off for lunch.
Carlo, one of Danny’s employees, notices.
He notices her look of panic, invites her to join her party, they’re already seated and waiting for her.
“Don’t worry about paying.” he says.
“For now, please enjoy yourself. In the meantime, what’s your mobile number?”
At that point, Carlo springs into action. He asks a co-worker to repeatedly call the number. Carlo gets a hold of the driver who’s on the other side of New York City, agrees to meet him half way, pays the driver for his trouble, recovers the woman’s purse and returns it to her…
Right as she’s finished her lunch.
Here’s what makes this story incredible. Similar situations, stories of legendary service, occur routinely on a daily basis at each of Danny’s restaurants.
Give your A players the permission to be Legendary.
Recognize and reward them when they go above and beyond to serve others. Protect, champion and fight for them and they’ll fight for you.
Going above and beyond, routinely.
This is the secret to amazing positive reviews. Recruit the right people, create the right environment and you’ll attract a flood of positive reviews.
Customers can be tough
Your support staff is your first line of defense. Customers approach from a neutral place of need and occasionally a negative place of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
Your support staff makes all the difference.
Choose the right support staff, in the right environment. Do it well and the next legendary support story (and the flood of positive reviews that come with it) will be yours.