How to Screen, Attract and Retain Top Support Talent


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This paper teaches support managers how to hire and retain the right talent in order to increase morale and performance and reduce turnover.

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How to Screen, Attract and Retain Top Support Talent

  1. 1. Thought Leadership Series: Hiring, Leading and Teamwork in the Support Center This article is the first in a three-part series that examines the key steps to successfully hiring, leading and motivating your team of support professionals. Hiring For Great Service: How to Screen, Attract and Retain Top Support TalentIn a fast-paced customer contact environment, the people you hire have a critical impact on morale, turnover,and performance – and the skills people need to be successful support agents are not always evident from aresume. This article will explore how to build a sustainable process for hiring the very best people for yoursupport team, by combining good recruiting practices with the unique needs of a customer support operation.Screening CandidatesTry an experiment. Look at the resumes of the very best people who are currently on your support team – andthen look at the rest. If you do this, you will probably make an important discovery: there is probably only a loosecorrelation between real talents and resume credentials.This does not mean that resumes don’t matter – they do. First, they help you screen people for “ticket-of-entry”skills. If someone has to have specific networking certifications, for example, or a minimum level of experience inyour field, these resumes give you a quick go/no go decision regarding which candidates to look at further. Moresubtly, they can often tell you how successful or unsuccessful a candidate has been in the past. Winning awards inmost of their past jobs tells you something, as does a long string of six-month job tenures.Drilling DownOK, now you have taken a large pile of resumes and sorted them into a smaller pile. Now what?Now, start shifting your focus from pedigree to aptitude. Think about the core skills that make people successfulon your team, such as problem-solving ability, interpersonal skills, leadership, or intuition. Then look to see howthe experiences of these candidates might fit that profile. For example, someone who has already succeeded intechnical support clearly deserves a look – but so might people from other high-contact professions that requirepeople to think on their feet, ranging from waitstaff to sales to financial services.At this stage, experience often counts for much more than book learning, so don’t automatically pass over the guyfrom State Tech versus the gal from the Ivy League. And start looking for intangibles, such as progressivelyincreasing levels of responsibility, presentation skills, or a clear career interest in support. Then you can startbuilding a shortlist of people to initiate contact with. 1 Leadership Series: Hiring For Great Service - How to Screen, Attract & Retain Top Talent
  2. 2. The First ContactHow do most support agents interact with your customers? Remotely. Which makes simple phone screening greatway to get a quick overview of candidates, as customers would experience them.You have three goals in doing a phone screen. First is exchanging information: you can probe a candidate’sexperience, attitude, and “war stories” in a setting that is often much more comfortable than a formal interview.Second is building a case for the “gut test” – chances are that you will often know if a candidate is worth pursuingfurther or not, right there in the first few minutes of the interview. Finally, based on how things are proceeding,you have an opportunity to “sell” yourself as an employer.Building a Team Interview ProcessMany support centers let managers do all of the interviewing and hiring for new team members. I would stronglyurge you to think beyond this approach, for a number of reasons: First, your “boss radar” is likely to be very different from someone else’s “peer radar.” When someone has to work alongside a new employee every day, they will generally have a keen eye for things like peer relationships, team skills, and problem solving. Second, diversity is critically important in a support operation. Left to your own devices, you are at great risk of hiring people who are just like you – when in reality, you serve many different personalities across a wide range of issues. Third, many hands make light work. When you assign different roles in the interview process to different team members, such as intake, aptitude, or customer skills testing, you make them important, while giving them a real say in who gets to join “the club.” Just be sure to coach everyone on how best to represent your culture – for example, no "stress interviewing" – and preferably have them meet the candidate in pairs or groups, so people can share impressions.Trust, But VerifyThis phrase, made famous during the Cold War by former US President Ronald Reagan, also applies to supporthiring. There are frankly many people who can talk a good game of support, but fall flat when it comes to problemsolving. Conversely, many people have intuitive technical skills that are not always obvious from speaking withthem. Aptitude testing is one of the most critical ways to maximize your “hit rate” in making good support hires.Some companies test abstract problem-solving skills, such as Microsoft’s famous question of “how many barbersare there in Chicago?” Others guide people through live demos of their product or service, or a remote supportsession of someone elses screen, and see how well the candidate “drives.” Still others may use formal skillstesting or assessment. Whatever you choose, you should emerge from the process with a quantitative as well as aqualitative feel for how successful your candidate will be on the job. 2 Leadership Series: Hiring For Great Service - How to Screen, Attract & Retain Top Talent
  3. 3. Summing It UpAbove all, good hiring is a process. When executed well, this process will lead you to hire people who want to dosupport, have the skills and competencies to do the job well, and buy in to the culture of your team. By using thesame skills that make your team successful – such as intuition, assessment, and connecting with people – you canleverage your hiring and recruiting process as an engine for the growth and success of your team. This Thought Leadership Series is Sponsored by:About the AuthorRich Gallagher is a communications skills expert and former customer support executive who heads the Point ofContact Group, a training and development firm based in Ithaca, NY. His book What to Say to a Porcupine: 20Humorous Tales that Get to the Heart of Excellent Customer Service (AMACOM, 2008) was a national #1 customerservice bestseller and finalist for the 800-CEO-READs 2008 Business Book of the Year, and his latest book How toTell Anyone Anything (AMACOM, 2009) explores the mechanics of difficult workplace conversations. Visit Richonline at provides senior-level service and support professionals with direct access to information oncustomer support, including enterprise strategies, people issues, technology, trends and research. This dataenables support professionals to benchmark and improve their customer support operation. Members areresponsible for the help desk and customer support operation of their company. More information can be foundat Citrix GoToAssist CorporateCitrix GoToAssist Corporate is a secure, comprehensive remote support solution for multi-agent supportorganizations. Instantly view and control customer and employee desktops to resolve technical issues fast. WithGoToAssist Corporate, managers can streamline internal operations and manage support teams to maximizeefficiency, improve first-time call resolution and boost customer satisfaction. 3 Leadership Series: Hiring For Great Service - How to Screen, Attract & Retain Top Talent