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CUSTOMER SERVICE

You Can’t Make Unfriendly People Friendly

Customer service is a tough job. Don't make it more difficult by hiring the wrong people.

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We have all experienced it. The surly checkout cashier, the uncaring customer service operator or the lethargic Department of Motor Vehicles clerk. Now, it could be that they are beaten down by bad process or have the responsibility of listening to upset customers with no authority to fix the problem. It's more likely that they are unfriendly to begin with.

Years ago while in retail we decided that the people doing the hiring must be using the "mirror" test. In our warped sense of humor we described this as having an applicant sit in a chair while a cold mirror is held under their nose. If the mirror fogged up they were hired. While this was a joke, those of us that had to deal with the aftermath weren't laughing. So what's the answer? Well, to start with, hire friendly people.

When we have made a mistake and hired an unfriendly person, how do we respond? A good example of this is Undercover Boss. I enjoy watching and sometimes sympathize or agree with the decisions, but frequently see these CEO's misjudge a person and think that by mentoring or training they can change someone's personality. You can spend a lifetime trying and it won't happen.

On the day of an interview a candidate is showing you their best. But there are telltale signs of unfriendly characteristics. Do their activities and interests involve people or things? Do they look you in the eye and speak with conviction? Are they prepared for the interview? Occasionally they can snow a single interviewer. So, if it is a customer service position have others talk with them. Get more than one person in the room during the interview and see how they respond.

I once read that Southwest Airlines has a waiting room where potential applicants wait for their interview. While they are waiting sometimes a conversation among the applicants will start up. Now, what's interesting here is that some of the people in the room are actually Southwest employees and the interview has already started. Genius!

The bottom line is that some people are not cut out for the emotional rigors of customer service work. That doesn't make them bad people. As an example I once had a customer service clerk that was unfriendly. No matter what I did he would not change. So I transferred him to stock. Within a few months we promoted him to stock manager. He was efficient and while not chummy with his employees, the job was pretty straight forward. Conversely, very friendly people had a tendency to make lousy stock clerks. They wanted to be around other people and talk a lot. So, they should have been in customer service.

Next time you receive poor service, stop and think about the individual and their approach. If you are like most people you just don't go back. The fact is we are likely to be more tolerant if they are understaffed but have friendly people who are doing their best to help.

So my advice is simple. If you are hiring for a customer facing position, don't hire unfriendly people.

IMAGE: shuttterstock
Last updated: Apr 19, 2012

GLEN BLICKENSTAFF is the CEO of The Iron Door company, which makes high-end doors and windows. Glen has a track record of turning around and managing retail, building and financial companies.
@glenblickenstaf




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