hiring remote support

5 Tips for Hiring Remote Customer Support Agents

Everything we've learned about hiring remote support from our experience as a fully distributed customer support company.

Find and hire the best for your remote customer support team.

Groove is a distributed team—one of the thousands of companies out there using the power of the web to grow a business without being in the same room.

Remote work is on the rise, and there’s research out there that makes some pretty compelling points about the benefits of it.

A Stanford study found that remote employees work, on average, 9.5% longer than those who work in an office, and are also 13% more productive.

But working remotely doesn’t come without its cons alongside the pros.

We’ve talked about how to hire customer service employees, but hiring remote customer service employees adds a whole new challenging layer to think about.

The fact is that working remotely is a skill in itself, and it’s an important one to look for when going through potential candidates.

Today, we’re going to discuss five things to keep in mind that will help you find customer support rock stars that’ll still be rock stars without the benefits of being in the same room.

Let’s get started.

Write a Killer Job Description

Yes, your customer service job description needs to include the tasks that the agent will be performing, and the specific skills you’re looking for.

But if you want to hire the best remote support out there, then that’s not enough.

There are three key things to do to make sure your support job description is outstanding:

1. Do the job yourself

We’re a big fan of cultivating an “everyone does support” culture.

Not only does this mindset improve unity within your team, increase trust towards your company and improve the general quality of your support experience—it will also help you a lot when communicating an open position to prospective candidates.

Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp, recently explained why they use this practice in a Reddit AMA:

By doing the job you are hiring for, you’ll be able to write a way more accurate job description and be better able to define how the role relates to the company and its success.

2. Make your culture shine through

Your (remote team) culture comes through in everything you do, from your product to your marketing to your customer support.

There’s a good chance, especially if you’re a smaller business, that your culture is a big reason that your customers are choosing to do business with you.

That’s why it’s so important to preserve and maintain that culture, and to make sure that it comes through clearly in your job postings.

We like to include links to our blogs—where we share a lot about our culture—to ensure that applicants have a great understanding of how we work and live.

3. Emphasize the “remote” part

…and that it’s not easy.

As much as remote work has become increasingly common and popular, there are tons of people out there who have no experience with working remotely—and not everyone is suited for it.

This does not necessarily have to be a dealbreaker, but either way it’s super important to very clearly communicate that this is a remote position with extra emphasis on extremely high-level personal management skills.

Here’s a snippet from one of our latest job ads:

Doing this will (hopefully) immediately eliminate people who have no experience with remote work whatsoever and/or who think they wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Ask the Right Interview Questions

There’s no shortage of customer service job interview questions on the internet. We’ve talked about it, too.

“Why do you want to work here?”

“What’s your greatest weakness?”

“Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer.”

Those questions are totally fine to ask, and can certainly give you a brief glimpse into a candidate’s preparation for the interview.

But they don’t tell you a whole lot about how they think on their feet, how they perform under fire, and in this case, how they deal with working remotely.

Remember, you’re not just hiring a customer support rep, you’re hiring a remote one. This means that your interview questions should be pretty much 50/50 focused on customer support skills—and then remote work skills on top.

When it comes to customer support skills, the best customer onboarding interviewers use role-play scenarios to separate the stars—those who have what it takes to deliver amazing customer experiences—from the rest of the pack.

Here’s why:

  • It’s the only way to truly test for the essential customer service skills
  • It shows you how the candidate handles uncomfortable situations
  • You’ll see exactly what your customers are getting

For remote working skills, the main points to discuss with a potential candidate include a ton of things, but mainly connects to:

  • Previous remote working experience and how they’ve managed it
  • Self-discipline and work ethics
  • Task management and organization skills
  • Communication and collaboration behaviors

Pay Extra Attention to Communication Skills

Clarity isn’t just important for making your customer feel good—it can also make a big impact on your bottom line.

What if you could send one less email per support interaction because you didn’t have to clarify anything that your customer didn’t understand the first time?

If you field 300 requests a week (on the low side of an average Groove customer), that’s 15,600 fewer emails sent in a year.

While that example might be a bit extreme, even if you could send 0.25 less emails, on average⁠—a very reasonable expectation⁠—you’d still send 3,900 fewer emails in a year.

That’s not insignificant, and it’s a great argument for practicing crystal-clear communication. When communicating with your candidates, pay attention to:

  • How they format their text
  • How they arrange workflows in example customer service situation
  • Which language and tone they use

Looking outside just customer service skills and what it can do for your company, clear communication is also an absolutely crucial skill to have when working in a remote team.

With both calls and written communication, pay attention to these things:

  • General clarity and conciseness—do they get to the point straight away, without surrounding useful or relevant information with a bunch of noise?
  • Scheduling—do they handle scheduling well between timezones and locations (this is a good thing to look at when scheduling an interview)?
  • Do they respond to important messages/information/questions in a timely manner?

Great communication skills are 100% necessary for success at both being a customer support rep as well as thriving in a remote team—if you notice any red flags about how well your candidate deals with this, steer away from them.

Talk About Productivity

In our experience, we’ve found that the three keys to remote productivity are communication, task management and focus.

We mentioned communication before, which is more of a team level thing, but task management and focus are tackled at the individual level.

Without anyone looking over your shoulder, it’s easy to get distracted by Facebook, Twitter, cat videos and every other “shiny object” that’s out there competing for your attention, and also fairly easy to lose track of your tasks and deadlines.

In your hiring process, prioritize people who have a history of managing themselves. Look for the following:

  • Freelancing experience
  • Previous remote work experience
  • Hobbies or interests that require substantial time investment (like mountain climbing or running a successful YouTube channel)
  • Entrepreneurial experience

Ask how they stay productive and focused. Ask them what they would do first thing in the morning to make sure their day is in check and they get everything done.

On the flipside, it’s also important to see how they wind down after being super productive.

Chill skills are especially important in a remote team, because when there are no restrictions to work time (such as a nine to five), it can be hard to stop working.

  • Do they take regular breaks during the work day to help keep their focus?
  • Do they have the ability to “switch off” after work and wind down? Or are they the kind of person who keeps going endlessly?

This will let you know how they deal with stress and how good they are at giving themselves a break—something we all need to do to stay sane.

With open communication, thorough task management and the right tools for focus, your support team can be just as productive working from home as they would be in an office (if not even more productive).

Put Top Candidates to the Test

As much fun as scanning resumes and cover letters might (or might not) be, these documents tell you little about what a potential hire will actually be like in an interaction with your customers.

That’s why screening applicants with small “test projects” is so valuable: it shows you what they’ll actually be like in the field.

And—perhaps just as important—asking for them to do a bit of work will weed out the “résumé blasters” who apply to any and every job posting without concern for whether or not they (or the job) are the right fit.

When it comes to remote work, doing test projects will also confirm their fit for working remotely—more often than not, test tasks require at least some interaction with other people on your team.

This will give you a good sense of how your candidate communicates and collaborates with people in various parts of the world.

Boost Your Bottom Line With Outstanding Remote Support

Position-specific skills are important in every area of your business, but customer support is a part of your company that can seriously damage your bottom line if you do a bad job at hiring the right people for it.

Furthermore, hiring remote agents adds a whole new layer of skills on top of being able to offer exceptional customer service—and you shouldn’t take scoping out the skills needed for that aspect lightly.

With the right strategies and tools, you can build and grow a productive and effective customer service team that helps your customers—and your business—succeed—no matter where in the world they’re located.

What do you pay extra attention to when hiring remote customer support agents? Let us know in the comments!

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