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Bring on the customer from hell! Personality traits that all customer service reps need

Posted by Deb Muoio

May 27, 2014 11:57:00 AM


Google “the customer from hell” and you’ll come across some rather fascinating anecdotes of actual conversations between customer service reps and clients. You’ll get a taste of what customer service reps go through on a daily basis and, more importantly, understand why hiring employees with just the right personality profile can really make a difference. Aside from being the target of angry rants, name-calling, and some rather colorful language, customer service reps need to have both the fortitude and the patience to deal with some very…let’s say “special” characters.

The truth is (and there really is no way around it), the quality of customer service greatly influences the reputation your company has with its current and potential customers. And poor customer service is what prevents customers from coming back. If you manage to enrage clients, they will make it their mission to badmouth your company with friends and family. They will invest the time and effort to warn others about your company on the oodles of social networks available now – and this badmouthing will get around.

So what is great customer service? It’s about presenting the right attitude; it’s about focusing on getting customers to want to come back because they were treated well and their problem was resolved effectively. Of course, with every product or service there are bound to be some problems, bugs or malfunctions, but the way these issues are handled is more important to customers than the fact that they came up in the first place. That's why people working in customer service are so important. They need to be properly trained, that's true, but they also need to have the right psychological make-up and the right instincts.

A study we conducted on over 1,400 people who took the CSP (Customer Service Profile) reveals that good customer service reps are quite distinct from the rest of the general population:

  • They have better communication skills
  • They are more skilled at resolving conflict
  • They have a higher level of patience
  • They maintain better control of their emotions
  • They cope better with stress
  • They have a more positive and upbeat attitude and are more self-motivated
  • They are more conscientious
  • They have a much thicker skin

Our statistics also indicate that experienced customer service reps are also more organized, have a knack for knowing how to meander through difficult and awkward social situations, and possess the crucial ability to maintain perspective – to step back from a situation (or person), and look at it objectively.

This is why the importance of personality in the hiring process is so evident in jobs like customer service. Skills, for the most part, can be developed. It’s finding someone whose personality fits the job that is crucial. Companies whose customer service is poorly rated need to take a good look not just at the speed at which they handle customer service calls, but also how. Customers may be a bit more forgiving when left on hold, for example, if the voice on the other side of the line is personable and patient, and the rep radiates a true desire to resolve the situation to the client’s satisfaction.

Whether you’ve received more than your fair share of customer complaints, a bad customer service rating, or simply want to revamp your current service, here are some tips:

  • Role play. There’s a reason why “mystery shoppers” are dreaded by retail stores. Their job is to walk into the store, act like a regular customer, and note everything that’s wrong…and I mean everything. Employees don’t greet customers with a smile? Minus one point. The store was messy? Minus one point. Too much merchandise on a rack? Minus one point. Points are also lost if the mystery shopper asks you where a certain item can be found, and you point in the general direction rather than walking the client to the location. You guessed it…minus one point for pointing.

If you want to improve your customer service, act like a customer. What annoys you about the customer service you’ve experienced from other companies, and what can you do to avoid making the same mistake? Think about the most common complaints you receive from customers. Now ask yourself if the manner in which they are resolved would make you happy…that is, if YOU were the customer?

  • Get to know your competitors. I receive notifications on my phone whenever the gas prices are expected to go up. So when I received a message that the gas would be jumping 16 cents, I put a warm coat on and headed out to fill up my tank. My regular station had run out of gas, so I drove down the street where two competing stations sit across the street from each other; I figured if one was too busy I’d head to the other, right? To my surprise one of the stations had a huge lineup of cars…the other was completely empty. Why? Because the second one had already augmented their price in anticipation of the next day’s increase. It took a full half hour (I say that because that’s how long I was waiting to gas up) for the competing gas station to realize, “Hey, we’re losing business here. Maybe we should bring the price back down again, and take some of those customers across the street for ourselves.”

This is a pretty simplistic example, but if your biggest competitor is drawing more customers than you are, you need to find out why. What do they offer that you don’t? What could you offer that will make your company stand out? And here’s a big one: Are you so focused on drawing in new customers that you forget to offer special treats to your existing ones?

  • Don’t wait for complaints in order to get feedback. If you haven’t already done so, create a feedback system that will allow customers to tell you exactly what they like and don’t like about your service. You can have them fill out a survey online or ask them questions on the phone (try to avoid automated ones, as they can be annoying; in-person surveys have the potential to provide more info). Also, offering an incentive for giving feedback, (a discount, for example), can increase the likelihood of responding.
  • Hire personality, train skills. Training, onboarding, and regular performance feedback are an important part of developing your customer service reps - but this whole process is going to be a complete waste of resources if the person you’re hiring for the job isn’t suitable to begin with. Skills can be trained…personality cannot. It doesn’t matter if a person has a good education from a noteworthy university, tons of awards, and lots of work experience; if his/her personality isn’t ideal for customer service, no amount of training will change that. Personality traits can be measured, so invest in a good pre-employment test.

If you’re interested in using CSP (Customer Service Profile)  or other tests for HR purposes, request a free trial of ARCH Profile.

Want to learn more about using psychological tests for hiring, leadership development, career development or talent retention? Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes. 


Request your free trial of ARCH Profile!

Topics: Hiring, Employee Development, Personality Assessment, Pre-employment Testing, Customer Service, Training

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