For many of your customers, interacting with your support team is one of the most significant touchpoints they ever have with your business. That being the case, you cannot overestimate the importance of your support agents as the “face and voice” of your brand. Are your agents great communicators? How do they make your customers feel? And most importantly, can they effectively fix your customers’ problems?

The answers to these questions can make or break a customer’s experience, significantly shift the perception of your brand, and impact customer retention rate (whether or not a customer comes back to you for a second, third, and fourth purchase).

If that’s the case, how do you hire a great customer support agent? How do you find an individual who makes customers feel like they’ve just spoken with a friend who was able to fix all their problems with zero hassle or frustration?

When hiring support agents, you’ll want to look for a combination of hard and soft skills. After all, your team should be good with people and great at resolving more technical issues and balancing a heavy workload.

We’ve nailed down five qualities to look for while you interview prospective agents–helping you to build a killer support team that serves your customers and boosts your reputation.

Quality #1: A Great Communicator

Think of your college professor who was super smart, but wasn’t that great of a teacher because she just couldn’t communicate her knowledge in a way that made sense. It’s the same for your customer support agents.

Your agents need to have excellent knowledge of your product or service, as well as technical know-how. But if they don’t have the ability to clearly communicate this knowledge to a total layperson in conversation and in writing, they won’t be of much help to your customers.

Even if your product or service doesn’t involve technical knowledge, your agents need to have the ability to describe processes and policies. They need to be able to explain to customers how things work and give them clear directives if necessary.

Here are some specific qualities to look for in a candidate:

  • Gets to the point quickly
  • Speaks clearly and confidently
  • Uses simple terms to explain complex processes
  • Provides a clear solution

Candidates who are able to do all of the above are most likely to clearly communicate with customers and resolve problems quickly and efficiently.

How to Test for Great Communication Skills

If you conduct a video, phone, or in-person interview with your candidate, you’ll be able to pick up on their basic communication skills right away. But being a great communicator in a conversation doesn’t always equate to having quality writing skills. To ensure your candidate can write as well as they speak, provide a form with detailed questions–giving them a chance to show you how well they can articulate solutions in writing.

Quality #2: Highly Organized

Your support agents are responsible for juggling a lot of moving pieces. They’ll need to quickly respond to new support requests, track and manage existing help tickets, and close the loop on any outstanding requests–not to mention, reporting to and communicating with management.

Most experienced support agents will be familiar with help desk software or similar customer service solutions they use to stay organized. If they’ve already used them they’ll get up to speed quickly with yours and if you don’t already use a tool for support management then that becomes expertise they can bring into your organization.

How to Gauge Organizational Skills

Ask your candidate to describe a process or system they have developed in the past to manage an overwhelming workload. Their response is indicative of how they think, manage, and organize different types of information.

Quality #3: A Proactive Self-starter

What is a self-starter? Generally, it’s someone who takes initiative to undertake their own projects or ventures. And while you probably won’t be asking your support agents to start a new arm of your business, you will be relying on them to work independently without hand-holding.

A support agent who is a self-starter can confidently handle a wide range of requests without asking for unnecessary help. They also are resourceful enough to come up with creative solutions for customers and have a forward-thinking mentality that contributes to your company. A self-starter may make suggestions, or develop new processes for your support. Ultimately, they’ll become a significant asset to your team.

How to Spot a Self-Starter

Asking your candidate a “What would you do”-style question should give you insight into how they think, function, and operate. Are they confident in their ability to resolve a situation independently? If so, you’ve found a self-starter.

Quality #4: Calm & Cool-headed

Providing customer support can be enormously stressful. On top of the task of juggling multiple support tickets, agents must also deal with annoyed, frustrated, or even angry customers. Depending on your product or service, your agents may also be faced with the difficult task of resolving complex technical problems.

A great support agent has the ability to remain cool-headed under pressure, continuing to provide organized, efficient, and effective support. If they do get anxious, they know how to use healthy strategies to cope.

How to Look for Cool-headed Candidates

Ask your candidate to describe a situation in which they faced an exceptionally stressful situation. What kinds of strategies did they use to manage the stress and resolve any problems? Their response should show you how they operate under fire.

Quality #5: A “People Person”

Lastly, your agents should be “people people.” In other words, they need to be able to communicate with total strangers in a warm, personable manner. Your customers remember an agent who was exceptionally friendly or genuine, who asked how their day was going and actually seemed to care about the response.

A personable agent not only leaves a great impression on customers, but they also help build a customer experience that improves your brand reputation. As mentioned above, your support agents are the “face and voice” of your brand. Don’t underestimate a great personality!

How to Find a “People Person”

A candidate with strong people skills is likable from the start. Your only catch is falling for a “people person” who doesn’t have the other skills to get the job done. Look for someone who is personable and technically knowledgeable.

A Final Note on Getting Creative During Interviews

It may be the case that you’re interviewing prospective support agents over the phone, by video call, or in person. In any case, be creative with how you build the interview process. Here are a few ideas for conducting interviews that give you rich, accurate insight into how your candidates perform:

  • Incorporate a product/service test-run into the process. If you run an ecommerce site, send them some merchandise and ask them to review the shipping process. If you run a technical service–such as a SaaS product–give them a free trial and ask them to review specific features.
  • Simulate a support exchange. Give candidates a problem (along with general guidelines for a solution), and ask them to respond.
  • Get creative with the questions you ask candidates. Give them hypothetical situations to see how they think on their feet, or ask about non-related job history to get an idea of general character and personality.

At the end of the day, your support agent doesn’t need to be perfect–but they do need to be somebody that has a combination of qualities that make your company stronger, improve your reputation, and be enjoyable to work with. Good luck!

Read more: Mix It Up: Rotating Customer Support Jobs