Five Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring Your First Customer Service Representative

Many young start-ups face a quandary: They are eager to onboard more customers, but too swamped to support to them in a timely fashion. Many founding teams also say they are great technical people, but often not good people people. What to do?

The logical solution would be to add a Customer Service Representative (CSR) to your team. But where do you start? Do you need to hire a Support Rep with technical help desk experience? Or will a super-friendly-but-less-experienced person do?

The answer might surprise you: Either option can work out splendidly, if you lay the groundwork within your operations first. The person you hire is incredibly important, but it’s more important to have the right processes in place before you hire anyone. This is an exciting and critical point in your company’s growth: where internal process can make it or break it with your new customers.

Here are five common mistakes that emerging companies make when hiring their first Customer Service Representative:

1. You don’t yet have a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system in place.

It’s okay, admit it: your customer conversations are currently stored in someone’s email inbox. But what happens when you want to hand over your customers to the new Support Rep? How can she view a customer’s history if it’s trapped in an inbox?

A functioning CRM is vital to successful customer service. It allows you to track and organize customer interactions throughout their lifecycle with your company, and empowers your Support Rep with the knowledge she needs to provide superior service. Today’s cloud solutions keep all of your customer information stored in one place and accessible by many, enabling seamless customer support.

Think about it: what if you called your credit card company and the person on the other end had no idea how long you’d been a customer, or that you just called a week ago with a similar complaint? Hello, frustration. Is “hopelessly disorganized” the impression you want to give your customers?

2. You haven’t figured out exactly what your Customer Support Desk will do.

There’s a lot more to Customer Support than answering calls and emails. Before hiring your first Support Rep, think about the other roles a true Customer Support Desk will play:

  • Rapid and educated responses to customer concerns

  • Proactive, outbound communications (i.e. to alert customers of potential problems with your product or service)

  • Track customer interactions and lifecycle history

  • Collect and share Customer Feedback (see #3)

  • Liaison between customers and operational teams (sales, marketing, engineering and development)

  • Make lasting impressions on your customers

Those are just a few examples of how multi-dimensional a true Support Desk can be. What roles do you need your Support Team to play?

3. You aren’t sure how to share customer feedback with the rest of the team.

Feedback grows in proportion to the number of customers you have, but it helps no one if it’s locked in a CRM somewhere. Customer feedback is a treasure chest that will help you learn what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and quite possibly some innovative ideas for what you could do in the future. Specify a process for transparently sharing these jewels regularly with your team, or they will sink to the bottom of the sea.

4. You aren’t sure how to handle a really irate customer.

Every once in a while, a customer comes along that really shakes things up. Your Support Rep might be educated and personable (and doing everything right!), but sometimes a customer needs to be carefully transitioned to a senior manager. Before building your Support Desk team, specify what your escalation path will be. Who on your team will reliably handle escalated issues? Where does the buck stop, and is that person prepared to handle conflict with grace?

5. Your team members (especially senior execs) aren’t on the same page about your customer service principles.

Quiz: What’s the fastest way to get your new Support Rep to quit? Answer: Put him in an environment with conflicting directives about the level of service he should provide.

Customer service is a tough role to begin with: it takes compassion, empathy, quick thinking and a healthy sense of humor. But when a Support Rep receives inconsistent guidance on how an issue should be handled, he’ll feel powerless to do his job. Before hiring your Customer Service team, take the time to identify your company’s values and principles as they relate to your customers – and ensure everyone is on the same page.

There are other considerations when building a new Customer Support Team, but taking a close look at your operational infrastructure is a good place to start. The right tools, processes and training can empower any qualified Customer Support Representative to cultivate happy, loyal customers.

Julia Felts is an independent consultant based in San Francisco who helps start-ups and small businesses align vision, people and process.