Customer service is a more important part of many corporate strategies than it has ever been but it’s also become much harder to get right.
This is because customers’ expectations of the quality of the service they receive continue to rise and, despite the best efforts of customer service executives, most believe that they are at best keeping pace with those expectations, and some fear they are falling behind as customer satisfaction and loyalty numbers stagnate.
Today most customers prefer to use online self-service channels for the majority of tasks and only call the contact center as a last resort. So, with simple issues typically handled through self-service, reps face a mix of more complicated and less routine questions and problems. Plus, reps must often work with customers who already feel they have expended time and effort online trying to resolve the issue.
What these customers want is an answer, a solution to their issue – and ideally quickly so they can get back to their lives. They don’t want to have to repeat themselves, feel like they are getting generic service, or have to expend even more effort.
In response, firms need contact center reps that can handle higher service expectations from more demanding customers, and that are able to fully own customer issues from start to finish. But for this to happen, the managers of customer contact centers which employ these reps must change their recruitment strategy: they should stop hiring the rep who is “nice “ or “understanding,” and instead hire the rep who will guide the customer to a resolution.
What Makes a Good Customer Service Rep?
CEB data from a survey of 2,000 customer service reps from more than 20 companies across a wide range of industries and locations show that reps fall into seven personality types:
The hard worker is persistent, doesn’t give up easily and always gets the job done on time.
The empathizer is more than happy to spend time helping others solve their problems and likes to connect with others emotionally.
The innovator is easily bored and likes to keep things interesting by generating new ideas and concepts.
The controller is confident, understands customers quickly, and likes to take control of the conversation.
The rock is an optimist with a laidback attitude and tends to expect that things will turn out well in the end.
The competitor is self-assured, likes to win and forces others to see his/her point of view.
The accommodator is trusting of others and tries to reach a consensus before making a decision.
Empathizers make up the majority of the rep population (32%) and are preferred by many hiring managers, as they strive to build personal relationships and diffuse any tension in difficult situations.
But as more complex customer service issues replace simpler ones – such as the need to check a statement balance or pay a bill – the empathizer often struggles to help, especially when they cannot give the customer exactly what he or she needs. Being nice is not enough if the rep cannot also turn the conversation to a resolution. Reps can no longer get away with simply being polite – in fact, 84% of customers say their prime concern is to be directed to the swiftest and most efficient solution.
Against this backdrop, the controller far outperforms all of the other personalities, including the empathizer, when it comes to low-effort customer service – the type of service proven to best improve customer loyalty. Controllers are firm, opinionated, confident and remain calm under pressure, which makes them the perfect rep for today’s customer service.
Controllers are able to cut through the complexity and guide their customers through each problem efficiently and effectively, which leads to low-effort, high-loyalty customer service experience. Unfortunately, only 15% of service reps in companies fall into this category, so managers looking to hire more controllers have their work cut out for them. To start, they will need to ensure they hire a disproportionate number of controllers.
Stacking the Deck
Companies should use a three-pronged approach of hiring the right type of reps, getting recruitment agencies on board, and putting in place the right screens during the hiring process.
Targeted job postings: Hiring managers should move on from generic job descriptions and instead post more detailed and more specific recruitment adverts. Targeted job postings outline personality traits and attributes that contact centers are looking for and will help narrow down the talent pool.
Embed recruiters into contact centers: As personality is such an abstract idea, contact center managers need to ensure that HR or third-party recruiters are able to understand what they’re looking for in a candidate. One way to do this is to have recruiters shadow contact center managers so they gain firsthand experience of the kind of candidates that are most likely to become high-performing reps.
Tailored interview questions: Find controllers right from the interview process by asking the right questions and using scientific assessments to ensure only the right kind of candidates are hired.
For instance, interviewers could ask candidates to explain how they would handle a situation where a process they were asked to follow didn’t make sense. The candidates who looked for alternate solutions or took immediate action could potentially fall into the controller category. Recruiters should be cautious about candidates who would take the lead from someone else or prioritized finding consensus over taking action.
Customers want a different type of service experience from companies, and heads of service centers need to respond by hiring the right type of service rep. It’s not that the controller isn’t professional and pleasant to work with, but their main focus is on getting the job done, and in this new world that’s what matters most to customers.