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Vincent Barberger, Montreal | FRANÇAIS

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Check for a customer service candidate’s overall people skills before you make any hiring decision!

The very best people skills that candidates will ever employ are on display in the interview situation as they try to win a position with your company. If they don’t capture you there, do you really want them in front of your valuable customers?

In my hiring practice, I have a checklist for telephone interviews—my first hoop for qualifying candidates to jump through. A critical part of this phone interview is people skills. Candidates are awarded (or lose) points for how they come across on the telephone.

One question I ask is: Do they pull me in? This is a rapport-building reference that includes using my name, employing good listening skills and showing a respectful amount of familiarity, politeness, good grammar and focus. In short, I have my radar switched on to something called “manners.”

I am listening for phrases like:

  • “Thanks for taking my call, Anne.”
  • “Do you have time right now to chat?”
  • “I appreciate you taking the time to talk today.”
  • “Can I share something with you, Anne?”
  • “Anne, will I have an opportunity to meet with you at some point?”
  • “Can you help me understand the process from here?”

When I hear these kinds of responses from a candidate I write an immediate “Wow!” or “Good!” or “Schedule Interview” across the top of the telephone screen sheet.

Believe it or not, that’s a very rare occurrence. In fact, I often feel completely frustrated after completing a telephone screen. This is typically because:

  • The candidate wasn’t prepared and didn’t know the content of the job listing itself. This makes me feel like I have to hand-hold and fill in information the candidate should already know.
  • The candidate obviously wasn’t listening, as proved by an inability to answer questions I asked.
  • The candidate talked randomly about himself and wasn’t focused.
  • The candidate used poor grammar (“They wasn’t on time”) or inappropriate language (I’ll bet you can fill in your own example here without any help from me). Either problem is cause for an immediate “no” to be written on the telephone screen sheet.
  • The candidate asked self-serving questions about money, hours, breaks or vacation time. These questions are important, but the time for them is later in the process, and not in an initial qualifying conversation.

Hiring employees with an appropriate relationship focus means hiring employees who are well-suited to customer care. It means better great customer relationships, better internal motivation of frontline employees, less burnout and higher customer retention. Remember that there is little chance that the quality of your customer service can exceed the quality of the people who deliver that service. So hire the best! Hire for the capacity to support and maintain a good professional relationship. Then train the people you hire to your highest standards.

Customer care is a face-to-face, brain-to-brain activity, and it requires a certain balance. Too high a relationship focus, and the customer-care provider may waste valuable time on personal chat or frustrate the customer by not getting down to business quickly enough. Too low a relationship focus, and the customer may feel detached or neglected. A relationship focus has to be just right to ensure not only that an emotional connection is made with a customer, but that business is done and problems are solved in a timely manner.

 Find out more about Customer Service the Sandler Way here.


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