In the early days of running your start-up, the founders don multiple hats. Customer support is inevitably one of them. This is for good reason. Besides the fact that you do not have the money to fund a customer support rep, taking over this role also allows founders to directly work with customers in understanding their frustrations and resolving them. This is valuable feedback that helps start-ups build their future strategy.
As your start-up grows, there does come a time when the volume of requests is high enough to warrant a full-time hire. But here’s the thing: A customer support rep is the face of the company to a large chunk of your customers. A 2017 Blackhawk Network report found that nearly three-fourths of customers are loyal to a brand that offers good customer service. The right person for the job must demonstrate not just great skills in the role but also a high emotional quotient (EQ).
These challenges become more complicated in a remote start-up role. If finding a good fit for this role is not hard enough, it is further complicated by the potential inability to meet your hire face-to-face. Here are a few tips that can come in handy while hiring your first support person in a remote working start-up.
Factors That Matter
Advertising a customer support position routinely invites hundreds of job applications. This makes the task of shortlisting candidates hard. One popular way to do this is to start shortlisting candidates with past experience in your industry and finding a good fit from among them.
However, this may not be ideal when choosing your first customer support hire. The first hire sets the tone for the culture of his or her team, and picking someone solely based on industry experience may not always work out.
As a founder, it is important to ask what can be taught and what attributes are innate. Your customer support hire must be naturally empathetic, self-motivated, and process-driven. Training your customer support rep to carry these attributes can be difficult in a regular office setup, let alone while working remotely.
It is a good idea to ask applicants to take psychometric tests and use the results to build your first shortlist. You may look for candidates with exceptional communication skills and industry experience from within this list.
In addition to this, there might be other factors to take into consideration while picking your first hire. As a general rule of thumb, your hire must come from the same time zone as 80% of your customers.
This improves communication turnaround and ensures you are hiring someone for the long term. While candidates may express their openness to working in a different time zone during the application process, this is not sustainable, especially when you are looking for the first hire to drive the success of customer support in the long term.
Not all countries in your time zone are equal, though. Language of communication definitely matters. In addition to this, some countries are better suited for the remote work lifestyle than others. A recent study from Expert Market found countries like South Korea, Denmark, Sweden, Singapore, and Norway are the most suited locations for hiring remote work. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia are all part of the top 10 in the list.
Equipping Your Team with the Right Infrastructure
One reason to hire people from the remote work-friendly places listed above is their fast Internet. This is by far the most important infrastructural need for a remote working start-up.
In addition to this, it is also important to provide your customer support hire with all the necessary tools to operate in his or her role. It is highly recommended that you invest in a toll-free number for your majority market so customers can reach you hassle-free.
Most virtual phone providers make it possible to redirect the call to your support’s personal number so he or she can handle the request from anywhere in the world. Redirecting the call to a landline or VoIP line is preferred for two reasons: First, the line is much clearer than a mobile phone, and second, you can avoid situations in which your staff is picking calls on the move. Customers find this unprofessional.
A lot of our recommendations so far are basically hygiene factors when it comes to customer support. However, a truly forward-looking customer support strategy should also involve the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and technology from an early stage. This would mean the use of tools like chatbots to process orders or handle return requests; this can automate a large part of your customer support and streamline your processes.
Investing in technology from an early stage would also help you create documentation that will help you scale your operations efficiently.
Your support hire is not simply another addition to your team. Like the sales team, this person is part of the next phase of your business when you get ready to let someone else take over as the face of your business. Getting it right the first time is thus important in building a scalable, process-driven support setup for your organization.
Anand Srinivasan is the founder of Hubbion, a suite of free business apps and resources.