From the September 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

There's not an entrepreneur in business who'd say customer service isn't important, but how many of them back up their words with good hiring techniques? The fact is, entrepreneurs, like most other businesspeople, usually don't put enough thought into hiring customer service reps. In fact, they often think of their customer service reps as clerks or sales trainees--not realizing good customer service people have unique qualities, and finding the right person for the job could mean the difference between keeping and losing customers.

"There's often some overlap between sales and customer service," says Harold Weinstein, COO of Caliper Corp., a Princeton, New Jersey, human resources assessment and consulting firm. "But in most cases, you're really looking for two different types of people."

For example, says Weinstein, customer service reps should be very empathetic individuals, even more so than salespeople. They should like problem-solving and get job satisfaction from helping others. In fact, while most salespeople live to get the order, a customer service rep lives to hear a client say "Thank you."

In addition, says Weinstein, good customer service reps are well-organized. They have to be able to keep track of an array of products and services, as well as possible difficulties with their applications. They must know where to turn to find answers, and be able to do it with the added pressure of an irate customer on the other end of the phone.

Also, unlike most people who work in sales, customer service reps typically enjoy working by the book. They don't feel stifled by rules and regulations and like to have standards set for them. "They love to operate within the system," says Weinstein. "They like that discipline. That's not always the case with salespeople."

Customer service reps tend to avoid risk, something their sales peers frequently embrace. They don't mind getting creative to solve a problem, but they're very company-oriented and won't typically venture far outside set parameters. Similarly, says Weinstein, they're very conscientious and usually want to be liked. "They know if they come up with a solution, the client will be happy with them," he says. "That's their motivation."

Patience is also a plus for customer service employees. They should be able to control their impulses better than salespeople have to because their job is to keep customers happy and not offend them, thus losing an order a salesperson worked hard to get.


Bill Kelley is an Arcadia, California, business writer and former editor of Sales and Marketing Management magazine.

Perfect Match

How do you determine whether potential employees have those special qualities? Weinstein says entrepreneurs should ask candidates to describe a difficult problem they once faced and how they solved it. Did they come up with multiple solutions? In addition, inquire whether they've ever had to help solve problems within a company or had to organize people. As a rule, people good at these tasks would also be good at customer service. "Like salespeople, these individuals will have ego drives," says Weinstein. "Salespeople, however, have the need to persuade, whereas customer service people have the need to help."

Finally, Weinstein says, remember that all customer service jobs are not the same. Many involve cross-selling, while others are like account management positions, which often include some sales. In the case of cross-selling, entrepreneurs should look for more of a mix. Still, no matter how much selling the customer service rep does, he or she is still servicing existing accounts, and that should remain the focus of the job. Change the focus to selling, and you've changed the position--and more than likely the type of person you want to fill it.

Contact Source

Caliper Corp., 741 Mt. Lucas Rd., Princeton, NJ 08543-2050, (609)924-3800