Some new hires look great on paper, even better in interviews. Then they’re disasters down the road. Here are seven signs service and sales reps won’t work out – and how they’ll ruin the customer experience if you don’t act fast.
Normally, new — and even veteran — customer service and sales employees who fail to reach goals, or don’t catch on to your processes quickly are easy to spot. Then, when they outwardly don’t succeed at the job, they either eliminate themselves from it, or you tactfully do.
Either way, it’s usually done before too much damage from inexperience and poor performance is done to customer relationships and department morale.
Then there’s the other kind of performance issues that aren’t so obvious, but are just as, if not more, damaging. If employees who act inappropriately are left on the front line too long, they can hurt customer experience and satisfaction, and destroy employee morale. They may meet performance criteria and goals, but their back office behavior is corrosive.
Here’s what to look for — and the trouble these behaviors will cause in your sales and service operations:
1. Speaks ill about customers
We all know customers can be tough. Some seem off their rockers certain days. Some are rude. Others expect too much or fail to demand what they deserve. But derogatory comments about customers out loud and to colleagues, bosses or, God forbid, other customers is disrespectful. When service or sales pros make ill comments about customers, it’s a sign that they really don’t care — and it’s only a matter of time before that disrespectful behavior spills over into direct conversations with customers. That will turn off scores of customers.
2. Constantly talks about the ‘glory days’
A new or veteran rep who talks about how great a former job or boss was is stuck in time and probably a fantasy world. You have to wonder: If the other place was so great why did he or she leave?
It’s OK to share constructive comments and suggestions based on successes from other organizations. But when a service or sales rep goes on and on, it’s a sign he won’t ever be happy — and should move on.
3. Fails to follow the rules
Even bad apples can get the required results — i.e., meet sales goals, quality expectations or customer satisfaction levels. But they do it by blatantly disregarding established good practices or ignoring processes that must be followed for safety, consistency or harmony among departments.
It’s usually OK for reps to make subtle customized tweaks to the process — you may even encourage it in hopes that better ways can be found. But any employee who thinks she is above following the rules will cause problems with colleagues and that will ultimately affect customer relationships.
4. Makes excuses for everything
When reps blame customers, colleagues, the industry, another department, your system, the full moon, etc., something much bigger is wrong — and it’s probably the employee.
Another sign of an employee who wants to get by on excuses is that he or she complains without offering any suggestions for solutions or alternatives to the situation.
5. Works banker’s hours
Reps who meet goals in just the nick of time, punch in and out like clockwork, or say they’re “just there to collect a paycheck” don’t care about much more than themselves. Yes, it’s reasonable to have a large interest in yourself. But sales and service pros need to still care about customers.
That natural care drives them to stay a little later once in a while, do something extra for customers when they need it and stay alert so they can adapt to customers’ changing needs. Customers don’t need extra attention all the time, but they need to know that the people on the front line are willing to step it up for them when necessary.
6. Fails to show interest in the company and industry
The best customer service and sales reps are passionate about three things professionally — customers, company and industry. They want to learn more, grow in their roles and be involved in company, department and individual success.
Reps who probably won’t work out don’t ask questions about the industry, where the company is headed or how customers are changing. Knowing those things could help them build their expertise, service and sales skills, and ability to improve the customer experience.
7. Sucks up
Many reps who try to chum it up with the CEO or anyone in the C-suite — perhaps by skipping direct managers with their “great ideas” or taking credit for things that aren’t theirs to take — aren’t in sales and service for the right reasons.
They’re most interested in advancing themselves, not doing what’s best for the company and customers. They don’t understand or respect a corporate hierarchy and their place in it – and they likely never will.
Hire for attitude and skills
You probably can’t full-proof your customer service and sales operations from hiring people who won’t work out. But you can take steps to hire smarter and catch problems before they interfere with the customer experience.
One key: Don’t follow the old adage “Hire for attitude, train for skills.” Attitudes aren’t always what they seem through the interview process. Yes, you can ask questions that will prompt candidates to open up about themselves, but they probably won’t reveal everything — such as a six-cups-of-coffee-a-day addiction to maintain a perky attitude or an inclination to get stressed and lash out when deadlines get close.
So yes, keep a keener eye on proven skills. If they have a history of learning more skills and trying new challenges, it’s a key indicator that the right attitude is there, too.
What you can do now
Other ways to ensure you hire and keep great service and sales reps:
- Establish goals. No, we aren’t suggesting you jump right into setting sales or quality goals during the hiring process. What you want to do is determine that candidates actually have professional goals — beyond what you need them to do. It’s a sign that they’re willing to learn, grow and extend themselves (likely for the good of customers, the company and their careers). Narrow your questioning, though. Broad career ambitions — “I want to own a software company someday” — may not figure into your operations right now. So ask questions to uncover specific, doable career goals. For instance, “If you weren’t hired into my department, which department would interest you and what skills would you want to learn within a year?”
- Seek value. Most applicants will talk themselves up, telling you about the glory of accomplishments and the details of day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. That’s good information to know, but it’s important that candidates can correlate what they bring to the table and what you need at the table. You want to help them uncover the value they’ll have to the team and if it’s something that both of you need. Explain the job, how people have tackled it in the past and what those people have gone on to do. Then ask them, “What do you bring that’s unique to this position?” You want to hear some compliance for your established practices and some enthusiasm for improving on them — so the company, department and customers benefit.
- See them in action. Give candidates opportunities to meet and mingle with people at all levels within your company. Even better, give them opportunities to interact with customers. Do they treat the CEO differently than the shipping clerk? Do they respond to off-the-cuff questions that often result from casual conversations with the same ease or confidence they do with interview questions that they probably prepared for? Check that their sincerity, enthusiasm and curiosity run through conversations with everyone.
- Monitor more than training progress. Many organizations move new hires through training as long as they pass the tests, pick up the skills or accomplish the set goals. But it’s also important to make sure new hires embrace company culture, expected and accepted behaviors, staff harmony and even some of the setbacks that arise in the workplace. Give them opportunities to work with as many people in your organization as possible so they are exposed to all the quirks that will always be part of the workplace. Then see how they respond.
- Review expectations. Each performance review should be a time to see how new employees are handling the workload, achieving — or not achieving — set goals and fitting into the company. Every organization has formal and informal standards of behavior. When employees don’t follow those at least somewhat, it’s likely they’re displaying one of the seven signs that they won’t work out.
- Cut your losses early. When you see new employees — or perhaps veteran employees who’ve become bitter or tainted by something — start to display any of the seven signs, take your first steps toward improvement or termination. The worst thing any service or sales leader can do is allow poor behavior to continue. It will hurt the morale of others, and it’ll negatively affect customer satisfaction.