Are you hiring customer support champs?

Last year, sales on Cyber Monday topped two billion dollars. That was an 8.5 percent increase from 2013 as Cyber Monday was, again, the busiest day of the year for online shopping. We saw it on our network too. Chats for Olark customers went up 40 percent on the Monday after Thanksgiving, and those numbers stayed high for the week following Cyber Monday.

November and December - the holiday shopping season - will account for 20 to 40 percent of annual sales for small and mid-size businesses. 

How are you getting ready? 

Many retailers are preparing for the holiday shopping rush by bringing on extra help for live chat, either by hiring 100,000 new employees, enlisting the help of current employees not already on customer support; or maybe even asking family or bribing friends.

Whichever route you choose, picking the right people is vital. Remember, over 90 percent of customers trust recommendations from friends and family more than any other type of marketing. The customer support team is the face of your business: the first touch point for customers with questions, and the positive or negative experience they remember when talking to friends and family.

How then do you pick the right people for live chat? 

It would be foolish to downplay live chat as the technical maneuver of reading a question and typing a response. More than any other channel, live chat requires patience, empathy and the ability to ask the right questions. The immediacy of having to talk to an upset customer in real-time can often compound the situation, so operators must know how to effectively handle customer complaints.

It takes a certain kind of person to excel at support on live chat. Here at Olark, when we think about bringing on new help, we take guidance from our core values, CHAMPS:

6 tips for hiring the right people - C.H.A.M.P.S.

C - Chill out - This might seem counterintuitive, especially considering you're going into the busiest day of the year, but it's imperative that the people you bring on know how to relax when things get crazy. They should be able to understand when it's time to work and when it's time to relax, and they shouldn't let an inundation of customer requests get them hot under the collar.

H - Help each other - "Many hands make light work" is the name of the game here. When you're looking for holiday help, you'll want someone who is willing to help ship orders when there's a lull in chat instead of kicking back. Nothing helps bring a team together like feeling like you're all helping the company be successful.

A - Assume good faith - This is the key to finding employees who will improve the collaboration of your team. When looking for potential teammates, you'll want to evaluate how well they'll work with a group of relative strangers in the beginning. Finding colleagues who will make the time to understand rather than misconstrue communications will be a large part of how smoothly your team works this holiday season.

M - Make it happen - If your new employee sees someone else on your team doing something in a novel way to improve efficiency or especially delight your customers, would you rather they compliment their teammate and try to see how it works for themselves, or just ignore it? Looking for doers will help you find someone who will lean toward the first two options, helping your team be constantly improving. 

P - Practice empathy - Unfortunately, an imperfect order may leave your shop and result in an unhappy customer. Your customer-facing personnel must be able to empathize with the customer's frustration and work with them to find a resolution.

As Michael Borohovski at Tinfoil Security said, "Even when a customer is being annoying or frustrating, it's actually your fault for not having made the product and/or documentation clear enough for them to to understand it." Any potential new hire should never be quick to blame the customer first.

Drew Cohee, director of customer relations at Benzinga offers some advice on who he looks for: "While there are plenty of people willing to take on the role, being able to find someone who is truly passionate about working with customers and solving problems in a friendly and patient way is the hard part. I've noticed over time that people who have worked in retail or food service before, tend to be the stronger and more dedicated candidates for customer support - so that is something I look for when hiring a new teammate." 

S - Speak your mind - Every new employee brings a fresh set of eyes to your business. Use that to your advantage by hiring the kind of people whose opinions you'll value. When they see ways you can improve, you'll be glad you hired someone who is willing to tell you what you need to know. Then you just need to make sure they know that you're open to their feedback.

I'm a huge fan of hiring for attitude and training for skill. By following these simple guidelines, you'll have some outstanding champs on your team just in time for the big day! 

October is for Onboarding -- do you do something creative or unique to find the best candidates for your company? Tell us about it:

  • Leave a comment!
  • Tweet with the hashtag #October4Onboarding
  • Email them to:

Check out relevant topics on: Sales and Conversions, Customer Support, Olark Essentials

Nick Oliverio

Read more posts by Nick Oliverio

A transfer from the support team, Nick O now works with the marketing team to help users best understand how to use Olark in the most beneficial way for their organization. He uses his time away from work to organize local events and practice martial arts.