About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.
A great customer experience depends on great employees. To get those great employees, you need to know what to look for in an employee you’re going to put in a customer-facing position.
The trick is to hire your customer-facing team based on the following psychological traits, even before you start thinking about the specific skill set you’re looking for. (Yes, the appropriate technical skills also matter. You can’t hire an empathetic surgeon who is also a klutz. But for most customer-facing positions, the technical skills are largely teachable, while the underlying personality traits can be much more easily hired than taught.)
WETCO: The five crucial traits of customer-facing employees
The traits I consider crucial for customer-facing work are contained in my acronym “WETCO.” My suggestion is to picture a big, wet dog at PETCO, and you’ll never forget this acronym.
Warmth: Simple human kindness. Warmth is perhaps the simplest and yet most fundamental of these five personality traits. In essence, it means enjoying our human commonality, flaws and all.
Empathy: The ability to sense what another person is feeling. Empathy is a step up from warmth; empathy moves beyond the plateau of liking other people and is more like reading hearts—the ability to sense what a customer needs or wants, whether or not this desire is even yet apparent to the customer.
Teamwork: An inclination toward ‘‘Let’s work together to make this happen’’ and against ‘‘I’d rather do it all myself.’’ On the one hand, customers do need the help of entrepreneurially minded employees who will take charge of the situation without prodding, people who are willing to fix a problem all by themselves, if necessary. But that attitude needs to be seasoned by an inclination to favor a team approach, or your organization will soon suffer from the friction created.
Conscientiousness: Detail orientation, including an ability and willingness to follow through to completion. Conscientiousness is a key trait for successfully serving customers, and unfortunately may not always be found in those who are otherwise suited to customer service work. The quintessential ‘‘people person’’ may lack conscientiousness, and this one flaw can be fatal: An employee can smile, empathize, and play well with the team, but if he can’t remember to follow through on the promises he made to customers, he’ll kill your company image.
Optimism: The ability to bounce back and to not internalize challenges. Optimism is a necessity in customer-facing positions. Employees who can’t shake off a drubbing from a customer won’t last long. Support from management is, of course, important here, but the employees themselves need a positive, optimistic self-image as well to propel themselves forward in the face of daily adversity.
How to select for WETCO
How to select such people? An ideal approach is to match candidates to the psychological profiles of existing, successful employees. You may not have gathered this data for yourself yet, in which case you’ll be dependent on an outside company to provide it. That’s okay, because some of the available external tools are excellent. But you need to use your chosen methodology consistently: on every hire, rather than as the whim hits you. If you use scientific methods only sporadically you’ll never know what worked and what didn’t. Instead, the selectiveness of your inherently biased—that is, human—memory will trick you and you’ll continue to favor unscientific, ineffective hiring patterns that will hamper your organization for years to come.
If you start with externally generated profiles, as you grow be sure to gather data specific to your company. This process isn’t that complicated. Have your best performers answer profile questions and then bank these results. Have your average performers do the same, and then bank those results. If you show a consistently measurable difference between these two categories of employee, you have a valid test.
The necessity of a trial period
Great companies tend to have a lengthy trial period before newly hired employees become ‘‘brand ambassadors’’—that is, are ready to be foisted on the public. This is important in providing consistently great service, because how your brand is perceived is only as strong as the weakest cliche´—sorry, link. There’s no truer truism than the simile of the weak link; it’s one of the unnerving truths about providing customer service. You never want those potentially weak links out there representing your brand, whether at the returns counter, the contact center, or connected via their workstations to customers.
The trial period is also important for protecting your company culture. Even in the best-handled hiring scenario, it can take ninety days to know if you have a fit. Most often, it takes that much time for the employee to know if there’s a fit. At the Ritz-Carlton, for example, the first twenty-one days are treated as crucial, and if you’re not there for the big, transitional ‘‘Day 21,’’ you’re taken out of the work schedule. They don’t cut corners here, and neither should you.
Article © 2014 Micah Solomon