This is part of our ongoing series on Scaling Customer Service, based on our Customer Service Scaling Timeline. This month we’re covering Stage 5.

So, you’ve hired your first full-time customer service rep. You found the right candidate. Now how do you turn them into a lean, friendly, ticket-answering machine?

1. Orientation

A huge part of doing customer service is context. Make sure you’re prepared; Jess Tellford from Zibbet says that they “take note of all the common tasks [the new hire will] be required to perform and document everything.”

Don’t expect to get through it in one go. Do an initial walkthrough, then a deeper dive after they’ve had time to absorb it and play with your product. More than one perspective can be good as well; try having them sit in on a sales call or two as well.

Just as important as giving them the product context is cultural context. At some point, every customer service agent will get a question they don’t know the answer to. Culture is the compass that helps them handle any situation, even the unexpected. Make sure your representatives know what your company values are, and give some examples of how these might come into play while doing customer service.

2. Shadowing

Once your hire understands what they’re looking at, walk them through your day-to-day process and respond to some messages in front of them. There’s nothing like watching someone in action as a basis for what you’ll be doing. After a certain point this can get tedious for both parties, so consider also having your new hire go through recordings of previous customer interactions.

Either way, they should be taking notes on tone and tactics, so they can apply them in Step 3.

3. The shallow end

Time for your new hire to get their hands dirty. Start assigning them tickets, but have them draft their responses and run them by you. This way they can get rolling without the fear that they’re going to write something horribly wrong.

If you want to start even more gradually, try having them write some documentation. “It’s a great way for them to learn the product and help with your documentation needs,” says Ted Choper, Head of Customer Support at UserVoice.

the deep end of the pool4. The deep end

After you feel that your new hire’s drafted responses are hitting the right notes, it’s time to toss them in. Let them start responding to tickets on their own. Review them at the end of the day and give notes, but make sure to be encouraging – this is a stressful time for your new hire, and you want to get their momentum going…not shoot them down.

5. No lifeguard

It’s easy for a new hire to develop dependency on the one who trained them. Don’t let this happen; take a day off or just stop responding to their requests and force them to work things out on their own. It’s tough love, but this will help them realize that they’re fully capable of working on their own.

That said, don’t forget to have some rules in place about how customer service representatives should interact with developers. Your new hire will have a lot of questions, and they’re not going to make any friends if they’re constantly bugging your team.

For anyone in customer service it’s going to take a long time to get up to speed. Product knowledge isn’t something you can absorb overnight. As long as you have a hard-working, empathetic new hire, all you need to do is take the time to show them. Just keep in mind that you’ll be a little busier than normal!

Have any of your own tips to add? Leave them in the comments!

Baby photo courtesy of Paul Inkles

Pool photo courtesy of wantunn.
Computer photo courtesy of akeg