When you have an opening on your customer support team, you can take all the right steps and still not know whether a prospective hire is going to be the right fit.
Even when you’ve gone through resume reviewing, phone screening, and first round interviews, you may still be left with a handful of great candidates. Although this is a good problem to have, it can be stressful for any hiring manager.
One of the hardest parts about hiring is knowing those on the job skills that are so important in customer service. You want to know if your candidate has the ability to:
- Grow customer loyalty
- Nurture a close-knit customer community
- Win new customers by removing barriers and reassuring potential buyers
But just based on candidate’s interviews and resumes, you’ll never really know whether he or she is going to meet your customer support team’s needs.
Before you extend any offers, consider the customer service skills test first.
How not to write a skills test
A quick search online yields many examples of basic customer service skills tests. Although free, they don’t deeply evaluate or uncover a candidate’s true support potential. Some common denominators across poor tests include:
- Multiple choice questions: This format may be what you think of when you hear the word test, but they fail to show you how a contender thinks through problems.
- Obvious questions and answers: Questions like, “What does CRM stand for?” and “Who is always right?” don’t dig deep. Any candidate who has worked in customer service could answer this question, you’re not going to weed out the excellent applicants from the mediocre ones.
- Don’t reflect your company’s culture: If you’re asking questions that don’t relate to your specific customer service needs, you’re wasting your time. Or if you word them in a formal tone and you want a support agent on your team who communicates in a causal tone, you’re going to fail at finding an ideal candidate that can communicate with your customers.
The aim of take-home exercises is not to ask about customer service tropes, but to get candidates to think critically, and allow managers to identify weak spots and see how an applicant would respond to certain scenarios.
Introducing the take home test
When it comes to hiring, common knowledge and online resources stress that managers should look for empathy and patience as essential customer service skills. While these are crucial, it’s often difficult to determine whether someone will truly be empathetic and patient in a formal interview.
A take home test is a framework that can be used to actually measure these qualities and skills once an applicant has passed your interview process.
Hire for Excellence every time, download our Essential Guide to Hiring Customer Support Excellence
Use actual customer questions to test customer service skills
Ideally, such exercises take no longer than 60 minutes to complete, and managers and VPs doing the hiring should communicate this to the candidate before he or she starts. You’ll want to write a skills test that is concise but still evaluates core competencies that are most important for the position.
To start, it may be helpful to include a brief customer background section that introduces the candidate to:
- Who the company is and what they do
- Where are they based versus where they have their customer support team
- How they structure their service level agreements
- Any other necessary background information
Then, you’ll want to write two to three assignments that fully evaluate an applicant’s skill set.
For example, a test could include a sample email from a frustrated customer looking to troubleshoot a problem they are experiencing. Provide the candidate with some service documentation and ask that they draft a response to the customer outlining how the client could fix the issue.
Similarly, the test could include a sample email from another unsatisfied customer and ask that the candidate not only write a sample response – using service documentation or online help resources – but that he or she also answer the following questions:
- How would you describe the client’s tone? Why do you think he feels this way?
- What tactics or strategies would you use in answering this email?
- What would you do internally with a ticket like this?
An interviewee’s answers to these questions might shed some light on how that person handles conflict, whether he or she is patient and a natural customer service representative, and whether his or her response is similar to how your team already responds to problems.
The added benefits of screening job seekers
Poor hiring decisions can cost employers many times the bad hire’s base salary in expenses and shortfalls, not to mention the time and money wasted when you have to start yet another job search.
By screening candidates before you train and onboard them, you know that your new hires have the skills and experience to be successful, thus saving you money, time and energy, and resources in the long run.
Just as you call references and check that someone’s employment history is correct, take home exercises also verify that the applicant has the skills and experience he or she says she does, thus mitigating risk. If you extend an offer, you know that person will have a better chance of succeeding.
Add take home testing to your search
Finding the right person for a job is hard enough. Even when you’ve narrowed your search down to a few people, sometimes there’s no way to know who will be the right fit for your team based on resumes and interviews alone.
Adding a take home customer service skills test will help you filter your talent pool, save money and time, and ensure you find the most excellent candidate for your team.
Get your own customer service skills test. Download our Essential Guide to Hiring Customer Support Excellence to see an example of Kayako’s take home test and adapt it for your company’s needs.