How to Hire the Perfect CSR
Fifteen years ago Gerry Frank, co-founder of Repair Shop Coach and owner of Auto Repair Technology in Brook Park, Ohio, took a leap of faith and hired a team member that most repair shops don’t invest in—a customer service representative.
In any small business, the nature of a small team means that employees tend to take on multiple roles; and although every staff member should be great with customers—a designated customer service representative can help increase sales and customer retention.
Frank took the risk in hiring a full-time, what he calls a “director of wow” to help answer the phones and drive his shop’s shuttle. “Director of wow” is the nickname Frank jokingly gave his customer service representative (CSR), who he now says was their first key hire.
Frank’s CSR does things that his shop was unable to do before. Auto Repair Technology sends a handwritten thank you card to every single customer, instead of an email that can sometimes come across as impersonal. The shop also now takes the time to personally call each customer to thank them, and talk to them while they wait for their vehicle.
“You never know what the customer is dealing with, so taking the time to be kind to them can make all of the difference in the world,” Frank says.
They also started giving out car care gifts, their CSR began stepping away from the counter and handing each customer a red rose before walking them to their car.
“Our business changed from being in the car repair business, to being in the people business,” he says.
Frank details how owners can identify if a customer service representative is an advantageous investment for their shop, as well as the process of hiring and assessing a successful CSR.
“A customer service rep is a cornerstone in your business. It’s probably, in my opinion, the most important position,” Frank says.
Identify the need.
Frank says that the first sign that he needed to invest in a CSR was the ample amount of extra hours he worked each week.
“As most typical shop owners, I was doing everything. I was working 50 to 60-plus hours per week wearing all of the hats, and I was having trouble keeping up,” he says. “Things were slipping through the cracks.”
And then there were the phones. Each time they rang, Frank says he would see it as an inconvenience.
“That’s a bad place to be. If you think about it, that phone is directly attached to your bank account,” he says.
This sparked Frank to begin the search for a CSR to help take on some of the customer-focused roles, as well as answer those constantly ringing phones.
Identify the ideal candidate.
“First, you need to clearly know what you are looking for,” Frank explains, “If you don’t know, you will hire someone for all the wrong reasons.”
Early on in the search for his shop’s “director of wow” Frank knew exactly who he wanted in the role.
“I really needed a ‘people person,’ somebody that had a customer service background was important,” he says.
He also knew that he was interested in hiring a woman for the position. Frank explains that a large majority of customers are women, and he thought that hiring someone they could easily relate to would help build customer relationships.
Weed out the poor listeners.
Frank explains that the process of hiring a CSR completely differs from the process of hiring a technician. The job posting, selection process, and interview are all unique to the position. This is partly due to the excess of interested candidates.
“When you are hiring a technician, they are very scarce,” says Frank. “When you place an ad for a customer service representative, you are going to be overwhelmed with responses. Hundreds of people will apply.”
A large number of applicants means a larger pool of talented individuals to choose from, but the high number of applications can quickly make sorting through them a daunting task. Frank makes this step less overwhelming with one simple trick: He gives a very specific instruction in his ad postings.
After briefly describing the CSR position, and a few general requirements, a bold statement at the end reads, “DO NOT reply to this posting, it will not be seen. Rather, call … ” followed by his phone number. Any respondent that sends his or her resume and doesn’t call is quickly eliminated.
“If they aren't good at following directions, they aren't going to be good at following directions with you,” Frank says.
He says this process has eliminated 75 percent of the applicants who fail to follow instructions.
Listen and evaluate.
Once the applicant calls Frank, he or she is met with a voicemail detailing more about the job, before asking to leave message if he or she feels it’s a good fit.
“There is no better way to find out if somebody is a ‘people person’ or not, than to be able to listen to them,” he says.
Frank says that he listens for a few things in the voice recordings. He is able to distinguish if the applicant has a good voice, and isn’t short or impatient sounding. He also wants to hear him or her fight for the position.
“If they can’t sell themselves to you on the phone when they want the job, they aren't going to be able to ask that customer for the appointment,” says Frank.
If the candidate is charismatic and can form a relationship with you in the message, you know they will be able to build relationships with customers.
Frank then narrows down the candidates and asks him or her to come in for an in-person interview. There, he asks more general questions about past customer service interactions and experience. Most questions revolve around Frank getting to know how the applicant deals with people in tough situations, and otherwise.
He also looks at how the individual represents themselves through attire and professionalism.
“This person is going to be representing your business,” he explains.
Frank says you then trust your gut and follow your instincts in hiring the best “people person.”
Check in and assess.
Once a candidate has been hired, Frank then frequently checks in to evaluate how he or she is performing. He listens to how he or she interacts with customers and looks into Google reviews. Are reviewers talking about their customer service experiences or mentioning the CSR by name?
“You’ll know really quickly if you got the right person or not,” he explains.
Frank also does something quite unique. Every Wednesday, he chooses a handful of incoming and outgoing calls to sit down with his CSR and evaluate together. They spend roughly an hour going through and listening to the recent phone calls, while the CSR self-evaluates:
“Was the phone call answered in less than three rings?”
“Am I asking the customer for his or her name?”
“Am I building relationships or simply taking orders?”
And an informal question, that might actually not be on the report card, “Is that how I would want my mother to be treated?”
The importance of a CSR is apparent, Frank says.
“When you look at reviews, barely will you get one that says, ‘I go back there because they have the best technicians,’ or, ‘They fixed the car right the first time,’ because they expect that—it’s all about the experience,” he says.