Hiring Support Representatives: The 5 Questions You Should be Asking

Believe it or not, that trendy workspace you just leased in an old textile warehouse is not the most important investment you’ll make in your company. It’s the people in that building who drive growth, manage operations, and give your brand its identity. And when you hire support representatives, your decisions will have a major impact on all three categories.

But before we consider what the right candidate looks like, we should recognize the costs of hiring the wrong one. Multiple time-consuming interviews and decreased morale are just the beginning.

Conservative figures from the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that a single mishire can result in a net loss equivalent to 30% of that employee’s annual salary, while other predictions can be as high as $250K.

The good news is, a thoughtful screening and interview process will ease concerns.

So What’s Considered a Good Question?

The specifics will depend on your company’s culture and the role for which you’re hiring, but a “good” question is one that:

  • Provokes Genuine Responses, and
  • Has Broad Implications for the Job as a Whole

Since the 1970s, “Behavioral Interview” techniques have been considered the gold-standard, the idea being that our past behaviors are the best way to predict future actions. The problem is, these questions lead candidates to the desired response if you formulate them the wrong way. Assuming you’ve screened resumes for minimally qualified applicants, questions that imply a certain type of response will lead to remarkably similar (and rehearsed) answers, making a fair comparison difficult.

If you ask candidates to tell you about a time they successfully made a co-worker see things from their perspective, it shouldn’t be surprising when all you can compare are varying levels of success stories. If you ask them to describe an instance when they didn’t see eye-to-eye with a co-worker, the responses might shed more light on their true behaviors. Leaving a situation open-ended will require the candidate to fill in the “correct” answer for themselves.

While the questions in this post can be used the next time you’re hiring support representatives, you’ll more likely want to use them as a template to tailor an interview to your company’s needs.

What is a topic you know more about than almost anyone else?

It seems like an easy question, but when hiring support representatives, this will reveal a ton about his or her potential to be an all-star agent. For one, your customers reach out (especially via telephone) because they want to interact with a human. Humans are capable of emotions (!) and can empathize with the desire for precision and speed when resolving issues.

A candidate’s response to a non-professional question will provide insight into how they communicate as a “real person.” Interviews are high-stress and most professional answers can be rehearsed. A more-intimate question will reveal natural speech patterns and personality.

Pt 2: How would you explain/teach this to a complete beginner?

Furthermore, you need to hear how he or she speaks from a position of knowledge. After a comprehensive onboarding process, this is likely what your candidate will sound on the phone with clients, albeit speaking about your product.

Part two also assesses a potential agent’s ability to think critically about a subject and convey complex information in an abbreviated but complete delivery.

Does this interviewee communicate in a manner that’s logical and easy to follow? Are they able to articulate points using effective language? Do they exude friendliness and confidence? Do they talk too much? Too little? You’ll be able to learn a lot from the answers, in addition to “breaking the ice.”

What attracts you to customer support?

It’s no secret that customer support isn’t an industry for just anyone — a thick skin and buoyant personality are as important as a quality headset. This reality should be acknowledged upfront to avoid rapid burnout. Candidates who are unsure about this career track should be closely examined.

Good representatives might enjoy giving customers that “moment of clarity,” or they may be fascinated by having a vivid glimpse into the details of other people’s lives.

Customer support relies heavily on agents being able to convey an authentic sense of concern and appreciation for every caller, emailer, etc. “Correct” answers will vary, but they will all be honest, contextually appropriate, and presented in a way that elicits sympathy in the interviewer (i.e you). Hire support representatives that make you feel welcome and at ease.

Tell me about a time when you exceeded expectations? What about a time when you “missed the mark”?

Yes, you’ll get a good idea of what a candidate considers satisfactory vs. poor customer support, but the real goal is to see how they introspect and self-evaluate, regardless of whether they have previous professional experience. Good support representatives know that training never truly ends. They’ll be required to learn new features, but also improve upon their own shortcomings (everyone has them).

The standard question, “what’s your biggest weakness?” is cliche to the point of comedy, but this version of the classic interview-stumper will give interviewees a chance to show their desire to improve where possible.

Furthermore, humility can be sensed, whether through email, phone, or chat. Are these “victories” on a more egocentric level, or can they be attributed to communication, collaboration, and an overall team mentality?

Intuitive support agents will provide a complete story. That is to say, there will be a setup, a dilemma, and a resolution. This narrative arc, in itself, is a sign of good communication skills and a leading candidate.

What would you do if you didn’t know the answer to a customer’s question and a supervisor wasn’t present?

This question aims to gauge varying levels of self-reliance and social acumen. If you are in a situation where nobody can help you, what do you do? Do you try to research the answer on your own? If so, do you put the customer on hold? How long do you look before giving up?

In the worst case scenario — which isn’t unheard of — help is nowhere to be found, the agent’s investigation has turned up nada, and he or she don’t have the authority to bootstrap an answer together.

Great customer support reps know how to display genuine empathy for the customer’s situation, but also won’t “throw in the towel” so easily. Do they promise to follow up via email? How will they remember to do so?

It’s these types of “choose-your-own-adventure” questions that give candidates the opportunity to shine. The curious and driven will make themselves known.

How do you manage competing priorities?

Multi-channel support will always create overlapping tasks. But when the queue has grown to stress-inducing levels, will your agents have the steely-nerves to stay sharp?

The question doesn’t ask for a specific instance, diverting slightly from the past-behavior format. In order to answer this question, the candidate will need to describe a process for repeatable success.

The strength of the answer will determine how organized and methodical a potential new hire will be. Will they maintain accurate notes to inform later contact with a client? Do they value speed — or quality — when working under pressure?

Furthermore, the tools they mention and processes they describe will give you an idea if they’ll be an easy fit with the rest of the support staff.

Before the Interview

Behavioral questions are designed to be a little tricky — a “correct” answer may be contained as much in the delivery as in the content.

But there are, of course, a few hardline requirements to look for when hiring support representatives. An ability to acquire new knowledge quickly and a desire to work for your company should be apparent.

Additionally, if an agent is going to be communicating with customers via email, administer a writing-aptitude test before an onsite, or 1-on-1 interview.

No employee will provide value in the long- or short-term if these necessities aren’t met, but a thoughtful interview process will promote lasting and mutually beneficial hires.

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