5 Keys to Hiring Customer Service Frontline Reps During COVID-19

This is a guest post from Niraj Ranjan, CEO & CO-founder of Hiver – a Gmail-centric customer service solution. At Hiver, Niraj is responsible for defining the vision and strategy of the business. With over 1500 customers across 30 countries. Niraj’s focus with Hiver has been to empower companies to provide customer experiences that are more human and empathetic. 

By Niraj Ranjan

By now, we are all well aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impacted customer experience. Companies have had to dedicate a lot more effort in ensuring the experiences they deliver are human, empathetic, and safe.

And a good part of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of your frontline support staff – who talk to and help out customers day in day out. They need to not only possess the right soft skills that come in handy during customer interactions, but also be able to take on more workload and handle the pressure that comes with a global pandemic like this.

Which is why hiring support reps in a post pandemic world requires you to apply a more discerning assessment process. This post takes a look at everything you need to look for while recruiting for your support team amidst this new normal.

1. Identify Those With High EQ

When you’re on the frontline, you’re dealing with various types of customers. Some might be angry. Some are frustrated. Some might even be confused.

While this is true on any given day, the pandemic has resulted in customers becoming more sensitive and self-conscious about the choices they make. This is where service reps with a high EQ can be an invaluable asset to your company.

High EQ support staff are adept at handling even the most tricky/difficult customer situations. That’s because they are extremely aware of themselves as well as the other person’s feelings. This level of empathy is evident in how they ‘actively’ listen to customers and interact with them — they know what to say and how to say it, helping the customer feel at ease.

How do you look for this quality? Pay close attention to how self aware your candidates are. Are they embracing their weaknesses as much as they talk about their strengths? Are they completely listening to you while you speak or are they interrupting often?

Another thing you could do is conduct role plays by putting forward difficult customer situations. See how they go about resolving them, what their demeanour is like, and so on. For a more quantitative assessment, you can also get them to take one of these EQ tests.

2. Assess Their Tech Skills

One of the most prominent shifts in customer behaviour has been the heavy reliance on digital touchpoints to interact with brands. And this trend is only going to go north in the near future.

So, with more and more customer interactions happening online, being tech-savvy is an essential quality for customer service reps to possess. When you’re comfortable with tech, it becomes easier to work with different tools (email support software, internal collaboration tool, etc), keep track of daily workload, escalate issues and collaborate virtually with other teams. Tech-savvy support reps also hold an edge over others as they relatively require less training and can quickly adapt to new softwares and tools.

How do you look for this quality? Look out for candidates who have prior experience in using a wide range of tech – email support, live chat, call centre experience, for instance. You could also create a small assessment about the tools/technical knowledge they’ll need on the job.

3. Look For Direct Communicators

The way your support staff communicate with customers has a direct impact on the service experience. They need to put things across in a simple and direct manner. This is especially important in these uncertain times where customers don’t have the mental bandwidth for complexity or to read between the lines.

Support reps need to write and talk in a way the customer understands. Ambiguous, vague, and jargon-filled responses would only lead to more back and forth with the customer, further stressing them out in the process.

How do you look for this quality? Do a mock up phone call or chat conversation. Pay attention to how candidates articulate their points. Are they using complicated phrases or idioms? Are they beating around the bush too much? Moreover, ask candidates to talk about instances where they had to convey a negative response to the customer. How did they go about communicating this?

4. Pay Attention To Positive Attitudes

The pandemic has had a huge impact on our mental health. Employees are having to deal with a lot of stress and anxiety surrounding their professional and personal lives.

In times like these, bringing the right attitude to work can be extremely uplifting. Customer-facing employees who are innately passionate and approach work with a positive mindset are in a better position to delight customers. Even more importantly, their attitude rubs off on everyone on the team, leading to a healthier atmosphere at work.

They also deal with negative feedback/criticism in a better manner, and are always looking to learn and improve.

How do you look for this quality? One of the things you can do to know more about the attitude of your candidates is purposefully provide some negative feedback and see how they respond. Alternatively, you could ask them to talk about:

→ Past interactions with customers that they didn’t handle so well and what they learned from it.
→ How they maintain self-motivation after experiencing a setback on the way to achieve a goal
→ If they’re working with a team that is not motivated, how do they keep themselves uplifted and inspire others?

5. Seek Doers Who Get The Big Picture

Oftentimes, support reps look at customer queries as mere ticket numbers. They’re instructed to close ‘X’ number of tickets on a day, and so – they channel all their focus and energy into hitting these numbers.

While it’s certainly important to have everyday targets, it shouldn’t be at the cost of how you make the customer ‘feel’. Given the fact that the pandemic has impacted our lives to an extent that we’ve become more conscious about our choices, companies need to provide genuinely empathetic experiences. And being on the frontline, support reps can really show how much your company is willing to help customers and truly care for them.

Imagine a customer raises a request to cancel an order. Instead of merely following through with the request, reps should have the ability to take a step back and look at the larger picture. Why is he cancelling? Is it because he expected a faster delivery? If yes, is there a way to expedite delivery on this product?

How do you look for this quality? Present hypothetical situations and see how the candidate approaches them. Pay particular attention to whether they’re asking more questions to get to know and understand the context around the query. Does their resolution path involve both a tactical as well as a strategic line of thinking?


Making your hiring process for support staff more diligent and extensive will automatically improve the quality of service you deliver. When you have the right kind of support personnel who are well-equipped on a skill level and approach work in the right way, it becomes a lot easier to ‘walk the talk’ and show customers that you really care about them.

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