What You Need to Look for When Hiring Customer Service Staff

Call center employees talking on their headsets and typing on their computers

The quality of your service staff has a significant impact on your employer branding, image, and sales. As a result, hiring the best customer service staff and providing an excellent customer experience can help boost your revenue. According to McKinsey, improving the customer experience can increase sales by anywhere from 2 to 7% and shareholder returns by 7 to 10%.

Excellent customer service also plays a significant role in building brand loyalty and retaining existing customers. Seven in ten Americans (70%) say they are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies that deliver excellent customer service. With this in mind, businesses simply cannot afford to provide subpar services to their clients, and the first step to ensuring this is hiring professional reps with the right skills and enthusiasm for the job.

Customer Service Soft Skills and Traits to Look For

Businesses can no longer view customer service as an optional investment. Instead, this is now a core business process that allows brands to differentiate themselves and successfully compete in today’s environment. Despite numerous technological advancements, customer service is still largely the domain of human interactions. However, vague and generic traits like ‘being friendly’ are insufficient when discussing customer service skills. While such personality traits are important, many more skills should be considered.

We have compiled some specific skills and traits businesses, and professional staffing agencies should look for when hiring customer service staff.

Emotional intelligence

The job of a CSR requires constant interaction with countless people and personality types. Each interaction is riddled with different emotional wavelengths and frequencies. EI determines how employees manage their behavior and social interaction and the personal decisions they will make along the way.

Research has consistently posited EQ as the secret weapon for success in business and life. In fact, according to TalentSmart, 58% of success in all types of jobs is the direct result of emotional intelligence.

According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence includes three skills:

  • Emotional awareness (the ability to identify emotions – yours and others’)
  • Emotional regulation (the ability to regulate emotions – yours and others’ – this is particularly useful when trying to calm a disgruntled customer)
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving

All these skills are crucial in service staff and explain why EI is predicted to be one of the top 10 job skills in 2024.

According to People Metrics, an emotionally intelligent service professional understands the customer’s emotional needs – and, as such, tries to make appropriate suggestions assertively (instead of aggressively).

Communication skills

A candidate must have effective communication skills. Some people think this is simply the ability to speak clearly and be understood – however, there are other equally important facets, such as the ability to listen and empathize. Research has shown that active listening can make both participants in a conversation feel better. Applying this to customer service, a good rep needs to be a good listener and understand the customer’s needs, wants, and concerns – particularly when dealing with impatient and short-tempered clients.

Another critical point to note here is that service reps must effectively communicate information about the business’s products and services. Research has shown that 62% of customers claim that the representative’s knowledge and ability to communicate clearly helped them find viable solutions to their problems.

Time management skills

Nearly half of all consumers expect a company to respond to their emails in four hours or less, and 90% view a swift response as either crucial or very important to their customer experience. And yet, only some companies actually provide this level of responsiveness.  This means businesses need to rethink how they approach great service and how their CSRs prioritize customer responses. Efficient time management skills can solve these challenges. An ideal candidate should display good organizational and multitasking skills to ensure efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Hence, it really goes without saying that the best customer service representative needs to display excellent time management skills – and juggle multiple roles at the same time, from attending meetings, gathering information about the business’s products and services, making phone calls, and reaching out to leads and existing clients. All of these activities require resourcefulness and some serious organizational skills.

Conflict resolution

Dealing with customers daily can be hard, especially since they can be highly unpredictable.  This is why professional customer service representatives need to be creative in conflict resolution; research also shows that such skills can help them increase consumer satisfaction and loyalty. Moreover, 85% of employees admit that such skills help them become more proactive and confident – thereby, leading to better service and customer experience.

In the long run, evidence suggests that these skills also have many benefits for the employees, such as:

  •  Successful stress management
  •  Regulating emotions
  •  Effective communication


Dealing with consumers is demanding, and service reps must be adaptable and flexible enough to meet their demands. Adaptability means adjusting to changing circumstances and customer requests and handling several interactions simultaneously.

An easily adaptable representative will be comfortable with an unpredictable work schedule and willing to learn new processes and technologies. The best candidate is tech-savvy and can adapt to the changing nature of excellent customer service technology, especially since the introduction of real-time messaging, chatbots, and artificial intelligence has brought about significant changes in client relations. For instance, businesses are now becoming more mobile, so the best candidates are those who can prove their ability to provide services on the go. This also explains why adaptability can help companies achieve a competitive advantage, as professionals integrate with and adjust quickly to new approaches and technologies.

Work ethic

Customer support also plays a vital role in building robust relationships, as customer service representatives are usually the first point of contact between a business and clients. A long-lasting relationship can only be built by service staff professionals with a strong work ethic: in the long run, candidates must have relevant work experience, or they won’t be an asset to your company until they can demonstrate diligence and strong determination. This also explains why research has drawn positive correlations between work ethic and employee performance.

According to the Glossary of Human Resource Terms, dedication, commitment, and motivation are all key indicators of a good work ethic. In other words, businesses need individuals who respond positively to constructive feedback, don’t take discouragement seriously, and can bounce back quickly from setbacks. With 33% of Americans instantly switching companies after a single instance of poor customer service, a strong work ethic is the most valuable trait to look out for when hiring customer service employees.


Empathy is the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes and analyze a problem from their perspective. In customer service professionals, empathy allows individuals to interact with each other with increased compassion and understanding. Being empathetic doesn’t always mean that you are in complete agreement; it simply refers to the ability to view the same situation from different perspectives. It is a crucial trait for service reps to be able to talk to clients effectively and provide viable solutions. Research has shown, for instance, that empathy can mitigate conflicts and engender positive responses from consumers.

Similarly, empathetic communication, such as actively listening to customers and identifying with their feelings, can increase consumer satisfaction and perceived service quality.

This is particularly beneficial since most adults (66%) feel that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do when providing an online customer experience.

Customer Service Hard Skills to Look For

Help desk software

Service representatives who help customers troubleshoot problems spend most of their day working within a help desk or ticketing system. These systems allow representatives to prioritize customer inquiries, keep track of support conversations, and work on multiple tickets simultaneously over various channels like voice and chat. If a candidate is already proficient with the system you use or a similar one, it will save a lot of training time. Look for resumes demonstrating experience with help desk software like HelpScout or Zendesk. 

CRM experience

A CRM, or customer relationship manager, stores the entire history of a customer’s relationship with your company and helps you manage that relationship effectively. It’s key to achieving all the benefits of a positive customer experience we’ve discussed thus far. A strong customer service candidate will have experience using one or more CRMs like Salesforce or Hubspot to track and manage customer data. 

POS experience

Knowledge of POS systems is essential for customer service staff who handle point-of-sale transactions, like cashiers. POS systems allow your business to accept payments, manage cash, and provide receipts. Look for candidates comfortable using various modern POS applications, including mobile, touchscreen, and cloud-based systems.

Product knowledge

Even the strongest communicator or the most engaged listener won’t get very far as a customer service rep without a thorough understanding of the company’s product or products. Product knowledge empowers the CSR to provide effective technical support and enables them to empathize with the customer’s pain points and know where to turn if additional support is required. While not every candidate will come in with preexisting knowledge of your product suite, anyone who does will have an automatic leg up. At the minimum, they should be eager and ready to learn quickly. 

Cross-selling and upselling

Some of the most highly skilled CSRs are also excellent salespeople. But these aren’t the pushy, aggressive sellers found in outbound call centers; rather, they’re clever and subtle enough to work tailored product and service suggestions seamlessly into their support conversations. Candidates with experience in cross-selling and upselling can increase customer satisfaction while driving revenue. 

How to Assess the Right Fit for Your Customer Service Role

The best customer service representatives have a “special something” that goes beyond the hard and soft skills we outlined above. What is it, exactly, and is it something you can identify in the hiring customer service employees process?

First, be sure to consider cultural fit. Sometimes, we’re so focused on how a customer service candidate will interact with our customers that we can neglect to consider how they’ll fit in on the internal team. So, ask questions to help you identify whether your culture will promote their satisfaction, like ‘what type of work environment do you prefer’ and ‘how would you describe your ideal coworkers?’  

Next, consider a candidate’s potential. At the end of the day, customer service is about relationships, which supersedes any technical experience a candidate may or may not have. If you find someone with a winning personality and a strong work ethic, you can always train them on a specific piece of software or expand their communication skills with sales scripts. You can’t manufacture a completely different personality. So, balance experience with potential when assessing candidates

The Final Word

A fundamental way that all companies, irrespective of size, can stand out is by ensuring a personal one-on-one connection with the customer – which hinges on good quality service.

Companies must dedicate their resources to elevating your employer brand and robust customer experience. Even a moderate service quality increase can generate an average revenue increase of $823 million over three years for a company with $1 billion in annual revenues.

Not all businesses, however, have the resources or the tools to find the right candidates. In this case, they should seek the help of professional staffing agencies to identify and shortlist candidates. A professional staffing agency can help businesses overcome common recruitment challenges and inefficiencies in the hiring process.

As Kristin Smaby highlighted in Being Human is Good Business, “In an era when companies see online support as a way to shield themselves from ‘costly’ interactions with their customers, it’s time to consider an entirely different approach: building human-centric customer service through great people and clever technology. So, get to know your customers. Humanize them. Humanize yourself. It’s worth it.”

Need Help Hiring Customer Service Employees? Our Recruiters Can Help!

Hiring customer service staff professionals is one of our specialties. A customer service representative should embody the skills and characteristics that allow them to form excellent customer relationships. If you have difficulty identifying candidates with these qualities, consider partnering with a customer service staffing agency.

We find the best-fit candidate for your hiring needs. Our services include direct-hire heading, contract-to-hire recruiting, and contract staffing. We know exactly what to look for when recruiting a new customer service employee. Our job is to present you with qualified candidates and a culture fit. Therefore, our services can eliminate your sourcing process. You can then proceed to the next step- interviewing.

To learn more about what we do, contact one of our recruiting experts today!

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn