How to Recruit Your First Customer Support Employee

We’ve looked at how to successfully scale your customer support team before. But before you can scale your team from one to five, or ten, or a whole busload, you need to start building it. What about your very first scaling operation, the one from zero to one? This article will explain how to recruit your first customer support employee.

Why you need to recruit your first customer support employee

The realization that your business needs to hire a person solely responsible for customer support might come gradually, or might hit you like a ton of bricks. As your small venture grows, you’ll find that you cannot keep growing by running a tiny team of multi-taskers ragged.

Needing to recruit your first customer support employee involves both a carrot and a stick: it’s a difficult and potentially daunting endeavor, but also one with tremendous potential your company.

The warning signs

When it comes to customer support, speed is of the essence. No matter the channel, customers expect a prompt answer from your team. This is difficult to pull off without at least one dedicated support agent.

recruit your first customer support employee

Therefore, if your customer support availability is outstripped by your customers’ needs, you’ll notice some of the following symptoms:

If your customer support model is lacking, the repercussions will affect your entire business. It’s no secret that disappointed customers are much more vocal than satisfied ones about their experiences. Failing to appropriately staff your customer support department will cause your business to stagnate and your customers to churn.

The incentive

Hiring a dedicated support representative isn’t just about avoiding disaster: it can truly benefit your business.

If you can handle more customer demands, you can satisfy a greater number of customers and improve their experience. Speedier, more qualified customer support encourages customer support through better product adoption. It can bring your brand closer to your customers, and give them an added incentive to continue their patronage.

recruit your first customer support employee

Improving the quality of your customer support directly benefits your bottom line: customers are inclined to spend an average of 13% more with a company they feel delivers excellent service.

How to draw in and recruit your first customer support employee

Once the need to bring in a support rep is clear, the process of this hire should be carefully negotiated. Even if that need is pressing, it’s crucial to resist making an impulse hire. The ideal candidate will evolve alongside your business as it grows, and participate in that growth. You’ll need a clear idea of who your business needs, and select the best person for the job.

Craft a stand-out job description

A thoughtful and outstanding ad for the position should clearly define the following:

  1. Job description and responsibilities.
  2. Purpose of the position.
  3. Skill and experience requirements.
  4. Benefits.
  5. Your company’s mission and values.

It’s important to be precise and honest, but also to try to accurately represent your company’s “personality” in order to stand out. To let your culture shine through, you could include a link to your blog, twitter feed, about page, etc. Advertize your job offer in the areas (both physical and online) where the candidates you hope to attract tend to congregate.

The vetting process

The selection process to recruit your first customer support employee should be very discerning. Small businesses need dedicated and competent staff, and the first hire is crucial to setting the bar for the future expansion of the team.

“Hard” skills

There is no hard and fast rule as to who you should hire as a very first support employee. The needs of your business and customers are unique. However, in order to be a solid candidate, the applicant should still be:

  • Methodical, able to complete tasks, remain organized, and display follow through.
  • Knowledgeable, since the applicant must be able to handle the tools your business uses for support.
  • Experienced, since your very first customer support hire will ideally know more about customer support than anyone else you employ.
  • Self-sufficient, since they will be working as a one-man band for a while.

“Soft” skills

“Soft” skills is a misnomer, since these interpersonal qualities are no less important to a candidate’s potential than tech-savviness and years of experience.

  • Empathetic, as empathy is considered the most important aspect of memorable and effective customer support.
  • Adaptable, since customer support requires flexibility and inventiveness.
  • Willing to learn, as your businesses grows, the agent should evolve alongside it.
  • Able to teach, because excellent customer support is about passing on knowledge, and helping customers better adopt your product.

These communication skills are important to customer satisfaction whenever they interact with support.

recruit your first customer support employee

The interview

The next stage is calling in potential new hires in for an interview. The interview should serve to test the mettle and skills of applicants. But asking canned questions (such as the tired old classic “what are your greatest strengths?”) won’t let applicants shine, and won’t really help you find the person most qualified for the job.

Asking about an applicant’s career, skills, and motivation is an important part of any interview. But the interview should also be an opportunity to see how the applicant would handle the challenges they will face daily.

Testing aptitude and attitude

Though displaying knowledge of the industry and prior experience is very promising for applicants, you shouldn’t expect them to know everything about your business, your product, or your process. There will be time enough to teach those things during the new hire’s onboarding process.

What’s important here is to get a feel of how the applicant would handle real customer support situations, especially tricky ones. Face applicants with test scenarios (this could be a written test, or, even more vivid, a role play scenario), such as:

  • Walking a confused customer through a complex support procedure.
  • Letting down gently a customer whose demands cannot be satisfied.
  • Dealing with a rude or unreasonable customer and defusing their anger.
  • Soothing a customer wanting to churn or asking for a refund.
  • Handling a crisis, such as a server crash or other emergency.
  • Going the extra mile to leave a customer with a memorable and positive impression.
  • Prioritizing different tasks and customer demands.

This will give you a sense of what the applicant’s work ethic, disposition, and abilities are. It also shows you exactly what the customer would be getting from them. Resumés and cover letters won’t tell you how an applicant behaves in the field, and that knowledge is crucial to making an informed hiring decision.

Finding a good fit

Especially for a fledgling company, new hires should be a good human fit. In small teams, poor cooperation and lacking accountability are tantamount to failure. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to set aside a portion of the most promising candidates’ interview aside to meet their future collaborators. Perhaps a more informal setting, such as a group lunch or coffee break, is appropriate.

This focus on compatibility serves two purposes. First, the rest of your team will be able to decide whether the applicant would be a good fit based on their personality and disposition. Second, the applicant themselves will get a better feel for your company culture and values.

recruit your first customer support employee

Especially for a small team hoping to grow smoothly, employee turnover is a huge setback. Having your first support rep leave after a short while because they don’t feel in alignment with your company’s mission and culture is essentially a waste of everyone’s time and energy. Whereas paying close attention to an applicant’s interests, personality, and priorities can avoid mutual disillusionment down the line.

Welcoming your first support hire

When you find that perfect fit, the person who makes your customer support heart flutter, you’ll want to hire them on the spot. But their arrival needs to be orchestrated to be as smooth as possible, for maximum efficiency.

Get organized

The whole point of deciding to recruit your first customer support employee is that they’ll hit the ground running and be operational right away. Plan out your new hire’s arrival, and have tasks and training ready for them immediately. Scheduling their first day, or week, is very helpful at this stage.

Give them a time to come in for the first time, and schedule meeting for them with coworkers. It’s worthwhile to program one-on-one time with every other member of the team, so the newcomer can have a holistic idea of your process and how they fit into it. Clearly define their role, priorities, and communication paths.

Training

Initial training is crucial for a new employee’s success. Teach your first customer support representative how to use their business tools (CRM, helpdesk, phone system, etc.), and bring them up to speed on how the whole team communicates and interacts.

Brief them on their daily tasks (answering customer requests, after call work, ticket treatment, etc.), and give them a chance to ask plenty of questions. The sooner kinks are ironed out, the sooner your new hire will be autonomous and empowered.

Providing ongoing support for new employees should be a manager’s priority during the onboarding period. Training a new employee, especially when everyone is overworked, customers are impatient, and it’s urgent that the new hire be effective, is a nerve-wracking investment of time. Nevertheless, without that investment, the new representative won’t be fully able to realize their potential and serve customers.

Keep growing

As you recruit your first customer support employee and they settle in and become part of the team, you’ll learn a great deal about your operation from their perspective. Use that insight to refine your process, from hiring to onboarding, for the benefit of future expansion of your team.

Training is an ongoing undertaking. Ask employees for feedback, and use it to implement a virtuous loop of continuous improvement of your methods. Before you know it, it’ll be time for your team to grow once again.

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