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It’s Time To Re-Think The Customer Service Hiring Process

A CCW Digital Analysis

Matt Wujciak


Many businesses around the world have been forced to trim their budgets in order to survive, oftentimes in the form of layoffs. Concurrently, changing consumer behavior trends are forcing others to rethink job requirements, necessary services and skills customers are demanding from businesses, and completely re-strategize the hiring approach - to answer the million dollar question: “what do we actually need right now?”

Given how expensive hiring is, and the fact that only around a third of U.S. companies monitor their practices, never has this concept been more imperative in the changing landscape of customer service. 

Re-thinking the questions we’re asking

What are your greatest strengths? What do you consider to be your weaknesses? Can you tell me about a time you overcame a failure? These questions have been passed down through generations and are rarely industry specific. Most hiring managers and HR teams interviewing customer service reps are still asking them, whether the interview is a phone screening, Zoom meeting, or face-to-face interview. 

Behavioral questions might be useful for testing someone’s ability to relay their personal memoir and you may even get to know your candidates fairly well. However, unless this genre of storytelling or some equivalent skill is a requirement of the position being filled, they often fail to reveal sufficient information about a candidate’s competencies that align with the role and company they're being interviewed for, whether they be technical or emotional.

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Not many would argue that the COVID-19 era has changed the customer service industry and expedited advancement in AI and automation at unprecedented rates. (If you would argue with this fact, check out some of CCW Digital’s latest content). 

Identifying savvy customer service employees

With dwindling spending budgets and an increased demand for savvy customer service agents, the skills we ask our reps should match the demand our customers require from our digitally driven business. 

When it comes to the hiring process for customer experience, we should be asking our customer service candidates a blend of technical and communicative (hard skill and soft skill) questions such as:

“Can you choose a software you are familiar with and demo it to us? 

“Can you take control of the keyboard to demo the software on a large monitor while we watch?” 

“Pretending I’m a customer, can you tell me how the product can bring me value via Zoom or chat?”

According to our research, only 27% consider voice of the customer “very substantially” when it comes to hiring decisions, meaning the vast majority of CX leaders are not looking to hire customer service agents that can genuinely understand the emotions or intent of the customer, a frightening concept. 

However, when we asked respondents how they’re dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, 13.6% are focusing on re-establishing SLAs while 50% are focusing on increasing human factors like empathy during interactions and training. 

Simulating the customer experience

As former customer experience leader at Charles Schwab and bestselling author who has trained over 3,000 customer service agents, Scotty Werner once told me: 

“When I’m interviewing people for potential jobs.. tell me a time where you went above and beyond to take care of a client… You can start hearing that emotion in there when they’re taking that phone call and instead of reaching that SLA for one minute, they’re on a phone call for an hour because that person might have lost their house and had some challenges. That’s what I look for in a good interview process.” 

Never has genuine empathy and personalization been more important in B2C interactions. It’s also important to put candidates in a particular scenario or simulation where a product, service, or difficult situation didn’t go as expected and they may need to empathize with a customer. 

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That can be an emotional phone call or perhaps the most common customer service complaint your contact center or customer service department experiences. 

Instead of asking them to think of a personal failure they did handle that has nothing to do with the job they’re interviewing for, ask them “how did you or would you handle this particular situation as it pertains to our way of doing business?” 

The customer service department is a high pressure department in which a customer satisfaction and customer-lifetime-value (CLV) is at stake every time a customer calls your brand (i.e. the person you’re considering hiring). Our front-line employees need to be able to work under these complicated scenarios to deliver best-in-class customer experiences in order to retain customers during harsh economic circumstances. 

It’s time for our hiring processes to shift from questions such as “tell us what you know about our company via a google search 15 minutes before you walked in” to “teach us about something that you know a lot about or consider yourself to be an expert in — and teach us as if we know nothing about it.” Isn’t that what customer experience is all about? – being able to educate someone about the value we can bring them, and then follow up through execution (i.e. our product can do x for you. If you experience y problem, I can provide z solution”). 

Especially in a remote era where less of the process is handled in-person, follow up with a take-home test for candidates. For example, consider giving a specific sample email of a hypothetical angry client, as well as an example email response that reflects your ideal company tone. This can give you a more elaborate understanding of the customer service candidate’s processual skills and knowledge of the business. Getting to know a candidate’s personal life or story-telling ability more than their capability of job functionality is a missed mark for many. 

Finding cultural fits

Lastly, consider testing for cultural fits. 

“Company culture is imperative… everybody’s rallying around the same cause. When you’re bringing in new people, it’s important that they understand the culture. Because not everybody gets along in specific cultures. You can have the best sales or customer service rep in the world. But if they don’t fit the culture, it’s time for them to go.” - Scotty Werner

Testing candidates for company culture is where you really get to know your candidates and understand how well they work with others, rather than asking potential employees what they have recited to previous employers about their life lessons. 

Consider putting them in group activities with current employees in a gamified scenario to work together as a team. After all, customer service should not be a segregated or siloed department, nor should the hiring process be. The concept is to simulate job functionalities in the hiring process to the best of our abilities through a carefully planned science of getting to understand future employees. 

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It may be tempting for hiring managers to accept that hiring is not a science and stick with outdated interview process managers had previously experienced when they were in the candidate’s shoes. But in trying times and an increased universal recognition on the importance of customer service and retention (especially in remote or digital working conditions), most businesses can’t afford to take a chance on lost customers, or employees.