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5 Tips on Building an Epic Customer-Support Team

When every move your company makes can be easily amplified to thousands over the social web, you need to make every interaction with your customers exceptional. Here are a few secrets on creating a rock-star customer-service team.
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Let’s face it: When every move your company makes can be easily amplified to thousands over the social web, you need to make every interaction with your customers exceptional. And to deliver awesome service, you need an awesome service team at your back.

While your “call center” may actually be your startup’s garage, you still need to put as much effort as a giant enterprise into hiring the right people to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. But building your support dream team isn’t always easy, so here are five tips to help you hire an epic customer service team for your startup.

1. Know what you want. Don’t automatically assume that prior experience with your startup’s products or industry is the No. 1 hiring criteria. You should instead think about your primary support channel and look for complimentary skills. If it’s phone, you might want to prioritize a person's phone voice or conversational skills. If most of your inquiries come in via email, you should look closely at a candidate’s writing skills and responsiveness. And if your support agents need skills that can’t be taught in a reasonable amount of time (like walking customers through complex coding) those need to be prioritized too. No matter which skills top the priority list, it’s always important to be sure candidates can express your brand personality -- whether it’s friendly, hip or serious. Ultimately, you want to hire people with the skills that map to your support processes, as well as your brand.


2. Be transparent about the job. Being up front with candidates about both the great and the not-­so-­great aspects of the position can help you find people that are truly a match for your needs.

“We make every facet of the job known to those who apply: both the good and the

challenging," Patrick Cheeseman, head of customer experience at HotelTonight, told" By being so transparent, we’re able to build respect among our team.”

Talking about the challenges of the job is also an excellent opportunity to find out if candidates have ideas to mitigate them. Not only can you get some fresh ideas to solve ongoing business issues, but you can also show candidates that they have the ability to influence the company’s direction, which is appealing to a lot of people considering working at startups.

3. Let a candidate's resume do the talking. You can tell a lot about candidates from their resumes, so save time in your interview process by screening them carefully. For instance, if writing skills are important to you, look for resumes that are well written -- and without typos.

You can also get a good idea from their resume if a candidate has the other qualities that you are looking for. Not only is their prior experience important, but their other interests and activities can show if they have the right personality for the job.

Related: 5 Ways to Provide Personalized Service to Small Companies -- Profitably

4. Look for people that are passionate and empathetic. The best customer-support agents have a certain kind of drive and a desire to help that can’t be manufactured. Do your candidates like to solve problems? Do they have passions outside of work? Do they regularly engage in volunteer activities?

Walk candidates through some of the challenges that they would face on the job -- not necessarily issues from customers, since they may not know the product well enough -- but how they would solve things like having too much work on their plate and then being asked by their manager to pitch in on something else. It's not necessarily about getting an answer right, but you’ll learn a lot about their approach to problem solving, and if they will go the extra mile to help a customer, because they enjoy helping others find the right solution to a problem.

5. Carefully craft your interview questions. When you write your interview questions, think about what you will be listening for when they answer.

For example, you don’t just want to hear about what products they supported in the past. You also want to learn how they solve problems, if they are creative, do they work well on a team, whether they can think strategically, if they have a good work/life balance and more.

Here are some suggestions for effective questions:

  • Can you tell me about a problems that you identified that other people couldn’t see?
  • What makes you feel successful and balanced at the end of the day?
  • What was your most stressful support­-related situation and how were you able to turn it from a problem to a solution?
  • What are you are passionate about outside of work and why?

Hiring the right team doesn’t happen overnight -- and you wouldn’t want it to. Having the right people in place takes the same patience and deep understanding of your goals that you want your support team to show in their approach to helping customers.

Related: The Secret to Outstanding Customer Service