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Don’t hire just because they

  1. Talk well
  2. Have prior experience in international support teams
  3. Have or don’t have the technical knowledge
  4. Are ready to take a pay cut

Most successful teams are so because they have the right combination of product, team, distribution, and differentiation.

Here the buzz word is team. Like your product or engineering team, your customer service team can make or break your business. But most tech founders rarely, if they ever do, put their time and effort into hiring the right customer service team members.

Most people I know of usually hire an experienced support lead, pay him a pretty penny and ask him to do the deed.

This might have worked if you were a multi-billion dollar conglomerate but when you are a startup running on cashflows, this strategy may not work well for you.

The new guy might or might not understand your culture, the way you work. He would hire based on his experience and expectations. People who get hired might be able to mold themselves into your culture or might destroy it completely trying to mold it according to what they feel is right.

This is what makes it so important to hire the right team.

I was once told by someone whom I greatly respect

“The biggest problem one can hope solve in his lifetime is the people problem. No one has ever come close, but if you can, there is nothing like it!”

Hiring, educating and retaining a good team is the greatest challenge that one can face as someone trying to lead an organization.

But the problem with hiring people using people is the subjectivity related to it.

You could hire a mathematician or developer by giving him a problem to solve, if they solve it they are in. If they don’t, they are not!

Objectivity

Objectivity is whats lacking in today’s hiring process.

And that is what I would try to bring to hiring.

Objectivity in Hiring for Operations

Hiring a developer or mathematician is much easier than hiring an operations team member. How do you know if he/she would be able to sell your product without teaching them about the product first?

Hiring in these cases happens from what the interviewers Feel about the interviewee in question.

Which is basically subjectivity.

Adding Objectivity to Hiring

Following is a table that I have used while interviewing team members for operations (sales, support, and customer success):

Hiring Scoreboard

Data in blue depicts the Max score one can get for a particular quality in the Value column. Aggregated Importance defines the importance of each of these qualities out of 60. While Percentage column defines the percentage score earned by each candidate.

In my experience, anyone above 70% is usually a right fit for your team, provided Cultural fit has a score higher than 70% too.

Of course, needless to say, this particular candidate didn’t get through.

Most people do this without intending too.

Though the qualities I listed above can change from company to company and role to role, for operations and for SAAS, I believe the following once make sense in general

Cultural fit

Every culture is different that has been true for countries, states, cities & communities and remains true for companies. To begin with, the culture of an organization is determined by the people in it and for every new individual that comes in, she might adopt the culture or might change it for better or worse. Usually worse. I’ve seen this from experience but have no data backing this up so take this with a grain of salt.

Ideally, you would want someone who is not uncomfortable with how employees work and behave i.e. the culture.

The best way would be to ask the person in question to spend a day with the team and then ask if she would be able to adjust.
Ideally to check cultural fit, get various members of the teams to interact with the interviewee and let them score form 1 for bad and 10 for fit.

Ability to learn and absorb

Every new person that joins your organization doesn’t know how your company runs for all matters concerning your company he is the college kid. It is absolutely important for the new guy to learn everything from scratch about your organization.

Her ability to absorb things that might or might not contradict with what she already knows is essential. This will also affect your company’s culture.

The best way to test this would be to give a problem specific to your organization and industry, a problem which cannot be solved without knowing the industry themselves or asking someone who is in the industry.

If she solves it or accepts that she doesn’t know, she is open to learning.
P.S. Just don’t make this task to be solving the Rubik’s cube in 1 minute.

Improvisation and Truth

Customer facing roles requires one to be calm even when facing a rowdy customer. And more than a few times it requires one to improvise a solution over a call, which is not only possible with the current offering but also satisfies a customer needs.

Both of these are essential for a good sales, support or customer success team member and for anyone talking to the customer.

Best way to test this would be to use the legendary 5 why’s method. Start with their last project and ask 5 why’s. It not only makes them improvise but more than half the candidates would lie about what they did. Though I want my team to improvise so as the customer doesn’t go back disappointed, I don’t want them to lie.

Apart from these, communication is something I always check for, usually obvious after some conversation.

These qualities might differ from organization to organization but a single sheet would make your decision making the process a lot easier even though there is still subjectivity that remains.

Hiring is hard though it shouldn’t be, here is the excel sheet I usually use. Feel free to download, modify and use as you deem fit.

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