How Freshdesk Finds and Keeps Stellar Customer Service Reps


Marketing Communications Manager at Freshdesk Inc.,

Freshdesk is an online customer service software company. But that’s not how we define ourselves. We are a customer support company.

Great support is our differentiation, positioning, and very identity. Our service reps are arguably the most important resources we have. They are the face and voice of our company.

I know that, for many companies, finding and keeping quality support agents is a challenge. Our support team has been the same since Freshdesk started in October 2010, and our support quality is consistently acclaimed. So what’s our secret?

Here’s a sneak peak into our customer service hiring and retention strategy.

Test Their Culture Fit

Every company has a slightly different way of doing business. At Freshdesk, we frown upon bureaucracy and hierarchy.

The atmosphere is pretty laid back. But when a customer asks for something, that becomes the number one priority. This is much more than company policy. This is culture.

We put our customer service candidates in situations where they have to interact with a few senior employees of the company. These interactions, usually spontaneous and casual, help the team evaluate the candidate’s personality and fit with our customer service-centered culture.

Our questions generally focus on identifying two core skills that make a great support rep and fit in with our working style: the ability to gauge when an issue is a problem, and mitigating frustrations proactively. Sometimes our questions might be as subliminal as rephrasing the same question repeatedly and watching the candidate’s body language.

A company culture of superior support is hard to build. Just one person who doesn’t share the same drive and motivation can bring down the morale of the whole team. The message sent out will be warped and inconsistent.

Evaluate and Value Writing Skills

Jason Fried and David Hansson of 37signals and the authors of "Rework" talk about the value of writing all the time. And we believe they are very, very right.

“That's because being a good writer is about more than words. Good writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else's shoes. They know what to omit. They think clearly. And those are the qualities you need,” Fried wrote in Rework.

Nowhere is this more important than a support scenario, where lucidity and clarity in communication are paramount.

At Freshdesk, candidates have to write at least one page about something which will then be evaluated for grammar, consistency and clarity. When I was recruited into Freshdesk, our CEO asked me to draft a marketing campaign for the upcoming Indian Premier League.

Assess Their Listening Threshold

There’s a short line in Sarah Dessen’s book "Just Listen" that says, “Don’t think or judge, just listen.” Nowhere is this more appropriate than in customer service.

A support rep needs to do less talking and more listening. That’s why many–including Psychology Today–believe introverts actually make better agents. Only after understanding the issue can he or she even jump into replying and resolving it for the customer.

Good listeners are very rare. A lot of people pretend to listen, but do not actually understand (or even want to understand) what the communicator wants to convey. In corollary, a bad listener will jump with a solution before understanding the customer’s specific pain point, and that’s the worst way to kill support quality.

In our interviews, we test the candidate’s listening skills in several ways. Sometimes we give them complicated problems and “tough nuts” to crack. A good listener would ask questions and try to understand the problem before throwing out solutions.

Again, body language is really important in assessing a candidate’s listening skills. Watch for a candidate slouching or leaning toward the nearest exit. This might indicate disinterest. A candidate sitting up, looking straight at the interviewer’s eyes and able to answer questions from multiple interviewers as well is definitely a good prospect.

Look for Quiet Confidence

A support agent needs a calm head–you never know when a small issue might blow up, or a customer will get really irritated. To mitigate heated confrontations, you need support reps with confidence. These agents also have a greater propensity to put the customer at ease by providing decisive, assured answers.

Our candidates are required to take a mock customer call, where they must note the customer’s query and assure him that he will be called back immediately. The best candidates will handle this with aplomb. They articulate clearly, speak confidently and, most importantly, don’t get flustered.

Value Empathy–It Can’t Be Taught

This is the last and the most important of the qualities needed for a support agent. Some of the other qualities like writing and listening can be taught and confidence can be instilled, but empathy is innate.

This is an indispensable quality for a support agent. A rep should identify with the customer and want to solve his or her issue.

It is very difficult to interview for empathy. It isn’t something you can measure or estimate. Let your candidates talk about themselves, perhaps, or about their former employers, and you might figure out if someone is a future colleague or just another candidate.

Someone who indulges in long, winding negative takedowns of their former employers are immediate no-no’s. On the other hand, a candidate from a company who outlines his former employers’ troubles, or is able to look at the positive aspects of a potentially bad situation, is a likely hire.

Gamify Your Support Desk

Once a candidate gets through, you face an entirely different challenge: how do you make them stay?

Let’s face it–support can get boring.a Answering customer queries all day long is tedious. It is our belief that support reps need something to make what they are doing a bit more fun.

This is where we use the Freshdesk Arcade, our own gamification platform. The Arcade tracks our support agents’ activity and puts up scoreboards including:

  • Who has answered the most support queries
  • Who has the most first-call resolutions
  • Who has garnered the most customer appreciation via surveys
  • Who has written the most knowledge base articles (among others)

This scoring system encourages healthy and transparent competition among support agents and is a very popular topic of conversation at work, building the team and permeating a general sense of having fun.

The Arcade awards the support agents at the top of the scoreboards with virtual trophies and badges, like “Sharpshooter” for most first call resolution and “Most Valuable Player” for the agent with the best overall score. Administrators can also set up goal-driven “quests” for short-term projects, such as getting a knowledge base filled up before release of a new feature, or getting all support requests finished before the Christmas holidays, and so on.

This gamification element also influences performance. All Freshdesk emails include an optional satisfaction survey. These scores are coupled along with the Arcade tallies to further evaluate service staff. Managers can more easily pinpoint agents with room for improvement, while high-performers are rewarded with recognition on the leaderboard.

While gamification is important for keeping agents engaged in their work, retention really starts in the hiring process. It’s easy to find a support rep that can do the job, but it takes attention to detail to find the really exceptional ones. If you hire awesome people and groom that talent, retention will become a non-issue. It worked for Freshdesk.

Who do you foster customer service retention? Chime into the conversation by commenting here.

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