Secrets to Hiring the Best Support Staffers

For many companies tech support is an integral part of customer service--the better the support, the better the customer satisfaction. Thus it's vital to know what makes top talent outperform their peers--to try to pass on those best practices to others. According to a new report by the Service & Support Professionals Association (SSPA), it's possible to predict during the recruiting phase who the top performers might be, and hire accordingly. "Top Talent for Service & Support Industry Study" compiles the survey responses of 500 high-technology support staffers drawn from 300 SSPA member companies, including Cisco, IBM, and Nokia. The SSPA uses the phrase top talent to refer to the best-performing 10 percent of a company's staff. Though participants in the study were all in the tech-support field, they were all "external customer-contact people," says J.B. Wood, president and CEO of SSPA. "These are the people who deal with end customers in service or support capacities." The survey's findings indicate a number of recurring traits among the staffers identified as top talent. The report also includes perspectives on motivation, compensation, and workplace behavior. Not surprisingly, the survey shows that "people with a strong technical background have the highest probability of resulting in top talent," Wood says. Even so, he adds, companies can have a huge impact on who ends up becoming a top performer. "It's about what you do with those people once they're on board" that matters most, he says. Successful service reps are those who come to and stay with a single organization, rather than those who change jobs often. "The biggest differential in favor of top talent [was among] those who came to a company with little or no experience at other companies," Wood says. "To a large extent top talent is made, not purchased.... What really seemed to make a difference was the kind of training...and opportunities they had." According to the survey, 53 percent of top talent was referred for employment by a friend, while only 6 percent was hired through a recruiter. (By comparison 31 percent of "standard" employees were referred by a friend, and 36 percent though a recruiter.) Wood suggests that companies could put money to better use by "reinvesting recruiting fees in employee compensation." Another revealing trait is an inclination toward self-motivation, with 93 percent of respondents claiming to have requested additional training. "Top talent is not going to be denied the opportunity to learn more," Wood says. "Standard talent tends to catch instead of pitch." Wood says that attraction to training is a defining characteristic of top talent--it was cited as their highest nonmonetary incentive. But according to the survey, companies may not be paying enough attention. Nearly half of new hires received only two weeks or less of training, and 82 percent say they feel they received very little customer service training as new hires. "One of the survey's main findings is that [retaining and motivating] top talent doesn't involve money," Wood says, "but rather training managers to formally and informally provide recognition and respect." He contends that the responsibility for acquiring and keeping those top employees rests squarely with the hiring managers and employees' supervisors. Managers should be "making proactive the step of [offering] training," Wood says, and that "to get more top talent in the door, I'd be making sure that these attributes were something that every hiring manager knew right off the top of their head." Related articles: The Changing Role of the Contact Center Agent
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