Great customer service reps can be difficult to hard to select. In order to assess them effectively, you need to understand what an excellent customer service agent looks like first. This means having a list of the customer service skills and characteristics that indicate success in the role.

In this post, we’ll provide you with the 9 best skills, behaviours and characteristics to look for when hiring customer service reps. We’ll also give you some pointers on how to assess customer service skills effectively.

Why is hiring great customer service reps important?

Customer service representatives are the first point of contact most people have with your business. 

According to a recent survey, 81% of customers are more likely to do repeat business with a company after receiving good customer service from them [1]. Companies, therefore, demand high-quality customer service agents whose client-facing skills are exceptional at keeping their customers happy.

So let’s dig in… here’s the list:

  1. Troubleshooting: Curiosity and drive to get to the root of a problem
  2. Decision-making: Confidence to make sound judgements
  3. Oral communication: The ability to effectively communicate with words
  4. Written Communication: The ability to effectively communicate in writing
  5. Comprehension: The ability to interpret customer intentions
  6. Attention to detail: Paying attention to the little things
  7. Empathy: The ability to put yourself in the shoes of the customers
  8. Integrity: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles
  9. Stress tolerance: The ability to cope in stressful situations

1. Troubleshooting: Curiosity and drive to get to the root of a problem

Customer service advisors need to be able to diagnose problems effectively and provide solutions to customer issues.

In order to assess this critical customer service strength, recruiters should pose role play questions on a subject the candidate is likely to know something about. For example:

‘A customer calls in and says “My WIFI is broken. How do I fix it?”. How would you go about troubleshooting the issue?’

Stronger candidates will show calmness under pressure and ask good, open questions, which should then enable them to solve the issue effectively. For example, good responses might include: “When did the issue with your WIFI first start?” “Can you give me further detail on the exact problem with your WIFI?” “What have you tried already to solve the problem?”

2. Decision-making: Confidence to make sound judgements

Confidence to make sound judgements. When hiring for customer service, it’s essential candidates have the confidence to make sound judgements. They work to help customers resolve issues and queries as quickly as possible and will need to know when to escalate issues to higher powers.

To measure decision making you can use a sample of actual customer queries you’ve had that have required a decision to be made by the customer service advisor.

You’re not necessarily looking for a right or wrong answer. What you want to know is whether the candidate can support their decision with logic and evidence. Check for signs that the candidate has considered the issue fully.

3. Oral Communication: The ability to effectively communicate with words

Working in customer service usually means handling phone calls, lots of them! Assessing oral communication is therefore essential.

The best way to assess oral communication is over a phone screen, video or face to face interview. Ask candidates open-ended question such as “Describe something you’re particularly passionate about” will give you some great material to score the candidate on. Scoring is often subjective and is more about how someone responds rather than what they’re saying.

4. Written communication: The ability to effectively communicate in writing

Customer service is often now delivered via email, chat support and text message making written communication more important. When hiring, you want to find a candidate that shows empathy and understanding to customers. An ability to succinctly explain or describe a complex issue in writing is equally as important as oral communication.

Measuring speed and accuracy can be helpful here to come to an overall assessment score.

5. Comprehension: The ability to interpret customer intentions

Quality customer service is about comprehending exactly what the customer requires from you. Comprehension shows a candidate can interpret customer aims, despite what they might be asking or saying.

Recruiters need to assess whether a candidate is able to understand product features or business services, and convert this understanding into fulfilling customer needs.

A good recruiting exercise for this is to present the candidate with a company service brochure and then provide them with a sample customer query of relevance. It might be the case that your services don’t stretch to what the customer is asking but there are other routes to solving the issue. Successful candidates should be able to comprehend this. 

6. Attention to detail: Paying attention to the little things

Attention to detail can distinguish a good customer service rep from a great one. Customer’s form an opinion based on little details; like how many times the phone rang before being answered and the manner of the greeting. Any errors in reporting data such as names, emails or numbers can be deeply frustrating for customers. Getting everything right first time, matters.

Recruiters should look for precise and thoughtful candidates that notice the small details. A good way to assess this can be through online work simulation assessments. For example, ThriveMap assessments often measure attention to detail via real-life image questions, data entry questions looking for both speed and accuracy.

7. Empathy: The ability to put yourself in the shoes of the customers

Customer service reps should have the ability and desire to put themselves in the shoes of their customers. Empathy is a soft skill recruiters need to be looking for during customer service assessments.

A personality-based questionnaire can help when determining someone’s empathy as can role plays focused around a distressed customer.

8. Integrity: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles

Customer service staff often work with personal data and information so integrity and honesty are important characteristics to hire for.

Integrity is also of great importance when dealing with customers, employees need to be sincere and genuine.

Measuring integrity objectively can be difficult, but vetting the candidate’s knowledge of their own claims in their CV, cover letter, and application can be a good indicator here, as well as taking candidate references.

9. Stress tolerance: The ability to cope in stressful situations

Working in a customer service centre is a demanding job, both physically and mentally. Advisors are often on the phone or in front of a screen all day, often dealing with stressful situations and complaints.

The perfect customer service candidate has an intrinsic desire to help customers and can deal with the stress that comes under constant customer scrutiny.

Each customer service centre is unique, so the best way to assess this is to give candidates a realistic work simulation of a day in the life of the job. It’s proven to be the most predictive method for testing a candidate’s commitment to any role.

Conclusion

To hire top quality customer service representatives, your recruitment process needs to identify the skills and characteristics listed above. We recommend using a mix of assessment methods from, pre-hire assessments, phone screens, interviews, role-plays and references to recruit effectively.

When an assessment process is structured accordingly, the best candidates will shine through consistently.