Call Me, Maybe? How to Hire Friendly, Unflappable Reps for Your Phone Support Jobs

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Tales of amazing customer service support calls can live in infamy.

I had lunch with some store owners a couple years ago and the topic of Uline’s amazing customer service came up. One of the guys at the table gushed at how quickly they pick up the phone. He promptly dialed their customer service number with his speaker on, and within seconds someone picked up.

We all marveled.

Earlier this week, my husband was on the phone with someone at Discover Card to talk about a few odd transactions he noticed on his account. When the call ended, he was grinning from ear to ear. “I love calling them for help. They’re so nice to me!” He was practically beaming.

Imagine filling your open phone support jobs with a team that can impact your customers like that!

I’ll be the first to admit that hopping off a call with a bad phone agent can forever affect the way I feel about the brand. And I’m not alone. In a study from Forrester, 66% of adults feel that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with a good customer experience. In an ROI report from Temkin Group, they found that after having a positive experience with a company, 77% of customers would recommend it to a friend

But what exactly makes a great phone support agent? Is it being super friendly? Is it solving a problem as fast as possible? Is it a quaint British accent? I decided to run a few of my own experiments to find out what I liked (and didn’t like) about the phone support that’s out there.

Here are my biggest takeaways and tips on how to come out on top in the game of phones.

Making Calls, Solving Problems

I had a few companies I needed to contact, so rather than open an email support ticket or tap the live chat icon for help (my preferred method of choice), I decided to battle the wait times and see how companies I regularly shop for handle help on the phones.

Here’s what happened.

The Company: J.Crew
Wait Time: 2 minutes
Rep: Katie
Inquiry: Sandals I wanted were out of stock in my size. I wanted to know if they’d be back.
Solution: Katie let me know that she couldn’t give an exact date, but assured me they wouldn’t be out of stock for good. When I expressed worry about a promo ending, she took a minute to look up the end date. It was clear that the information she needed was there, but she didn’t have an answer right away. Other than that, she was super friendly and I got the answers I called for.
Additional Notes: Surprisingly enjoyable wait music!

The Company: West Elm
Wait Time: 7 minutes, 30 seconds – and then I hung up.
Rep: N/A
Inquiry: My couch is less than one year old and pilling badly. I wanted some solutions or help into the matter.
Solution: No one picked up and there was no update for when I’d get a real person. I hung up.
Additional Notes: “Longer than normal wait times” was the first thing I heard. The only voice I ever heard was automated and alerted me that “All agents are currently busy” again and again. No actual wait time was given, which was annoying. The prompt kept pushing me to resolve issues on the website. A very frustrating experience overall.

66% of adults feel that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with a good customer experience.

The Company: Target
Wait Time: Less than 1 minute
Rep: Deb
Inquiry: I messed up the address for an order.
Solution: Order was canceled, part of the order was already shipped so I was refunded for that immediately. I was asked if I wanted to re-order the rest of it to the right address but I declined.
Additional Notes: Very friendly, quick and responsive. This is why I shop at Target.

The Company: Joybird
Wait Time: Less than 1 minute
Rep: Sofinas? I probably spelled that wrong. Sorry, Sofinas!
Inquiry: The Sotto chair I own needs an ottoman and I needed help finding one that matches.
Solution: Sofinas saved the day. She quickly looked up my order from years ago and corrected the fact that I thought I had a different style chair than my original order. Had I not spoken to her, I would have ordered the wrong ottoman.
Additional Notes: The chair I previously ordered no longer comes in a fabric they carry, so she said she’d send me a selection of all the current swatches without my even having to ask. Two thumbs up! This is how you get a customer to order again.

Three Major Takeaways

Going into these calls as a customer, there’s a few things that immediately resonated with me.

Long Wait Times Are Brutal
If you have longer than usual wait times, a customer should either have an idea of how long they’ll have to wait, or be given the option to leave a call back number. I felt like I wasted seven minutes of my life that I’ll never get back thanks to West Elm. And my couch dilemma still isn’t solved.

A Friendly Attitude Is Key
Even though I didn’t get an ideal outcome in every scenario, each rep I spoke to was kind and friendly. This goes a long way if you have to end up disappointing a customer, so starting off each call with an amiable demeanor is important.

Going Out Of The Way Helps
I appreciated how the Joybird rep anticipated questions I’d have and helped me accordingly. I can tell their support team is set up correctly because she was able to look things up instantly and respond to my inquiries quickly.

How To Put These Lessons Into Practice

If you find yourself mulling over how to find solid phone support agents for your business, I get why you might be unsure of how to proceed. Every customer interaction is a direct reflection of your brand and can affect whether or not a customer will remain one. The pressure is on!

Here are some things to consider as you grow hire for phone support jobs.

Find Someone That Likes Talking on the Phone

I’d like to think that this is an obvious one, but maybe it isn’t. When you’re writing your job description or scanning resumes, is this key characteristic evident? Are you asking that question in enough places?

The applicants you end up hiring should already have made their enjoyment of phone support clear. If I were hiring a phone agent I’d want to read a cover letter that said, “My parents had to get me my own landline in high school because I love talking on the phone so much.”

Be clear in your job posting that phone skills and time on the phone with customers is the job. You want to find someone that will be excited about tackling problems on the phone, speaking to people from all different walks of life and who will enjoy being responsible for making someone’s day better. Make sure that’s in your job description.

Consider The Voice

When a customer hears someone on the other end of the line, they immediately form an image in their mind. Do you want them to envision someone with their feet up on a desk, tossing popcorn in their mouth? Or do you want them to see someone upright, smiley and ready to resolve their issues?

Make sure your phone agent can stay compassionate in demeanor and upbeat in tone even at the end of a long shift. A lot of this will be perfected with lots of practice and training (more on that below), but it’s still something you need to test for as you’re interviewing candidates.

Here’s a few ways you can test for this:

-Ask applicants to submit an audio clip of a rehearsed speech you include in the job description.

-Conduct an hour-long test between your top candidates and team members to see how they maintain themselves for the entire shift.

-Make former phone support work a requirement to apply. Finding someone that already has experience will help weed out top candidates.

Look For The Right Traits

A superstar on the phones should be confident, efficient, detail-oriented and creative. You can find someone that has all of these qualities with these hiring tricks.

You want an agent that naturally carries themselves with authority. Ask them to cite instances where they had to make an informed decision to solve a customer dilemma that was lacking the right documentation.

During the application process, ask for some hard statistics that candidates can deliver. For example, an average amount of outbound calls per week or examples of customer ratings from their last position.

A great tip from Aircall is to ask candidates to explain their favorite hobby to a twelve year-old. The language used should be simple but not dumbed down or demeaning – a great approach to interactions with customers where an agent needs to be informative in a simplified way.

It doesn’t matter how brilliant your templates or SOPs are because eventually, a situation will come up that has yet to be documented. Toss out a crazy scenario to your potential hire and tell them they can be the judge on how it should be handled. Giving them this autonomy will be crucial in helping customers when a situation like this would arise in real life.

Toss out a crazy scenario to your potential hire and tell them they can be the judge on how it should be handled.

Train Harder Than Mickey Goldmill

It takes practice to grow your phone skills. Even the most seasoned support team member can get the jitters when a real person is on the other end of the line. The best thing you can do for your phone agent is to train them to be the next Rocky Balboa of phone support.

Run Practice Calls
Don’t just unleash your agent on live calls. Instead, conduct a series of fake calls between you and your new agent or pair them on calls with any current and established support team members. Consider these calls the dress rehearsal before the big opening night. They should be taken seriously before curtain call!

Hand Off All Important Documentation
Since you alone are the biggest expert on your customers, only you can hand off the documentation that your phone agent needs to succeed. Make sure everything from shipping details to promo codes to product details are written down and easy to find. A solid support agent should only need to escalate a call that you’ve never received before.

Make Sure They Know The Software Inside and Out
Your phone system and ticketing system should be second nature by the time your new hire is handling the phones solo. Learning new systems can take time, so make sure that as they are taking calls, you are close by in case they encounter a problem.

How To Keep a Trained Staff At The Top Of Their Game

Listen In On Calls
Carve time out of your busy week to occasionally let your support agent know that you’ll be listening in on calls, mostly to hear what’s bugging customers, but also to listen to how your trained staffer is doing. Offer feedback and praise each time they hang up.

Have Support Agents Affect Change
Create a system of notes that your phone agent can use to write down issues that come up. Since they are the first line of defense in customer support issues, make sure they have a place where they can track problems and make suggestions for improvement. Pretty soon they’ll be running that department without you!

Let Them Use Their Personality
You don’t want a phone agent to sound like they’re reading a script. If your agent naturally likes to say, “Holy moly! Let me look into this!” then by all means, allow them to. There’s nothing more memorable than an agent with a great personality. Encourage them to flaunt theirs.

Give Out Gold Stars
When your team performs well, reward them for it. Offer cash incentives or vacation days and be generous with your praise in weekly reviews or team meetings. If you let your talented team member know how much you appreciate them, they’ll continue to outperform for you time and time again.

Ready to hire? Post Your Job Here.

Now that you’ve mastered the basics of phone support jobs and how to hire for them, you should post your position to our job boards. It’s where you’ll find established and savvy phone agents looking for support based roles. Between our podcast, email list and website we reach over 80,000 people a month.  Post your position right here today.

Posted on: August 30th, 2018

Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000 vetted 6 and 7-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

Double Your eCommerce Business in the Next Year requesting the most effective growth and profitability strategies we've unearthed from 5+ years of studying successful stores.
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