Contact Center Trends

WFH edition: 5 traits to look for when hiring customer support agents

By Shauna Geraghty

0 min read

Working From Home

Customer relationships are now more important than ever. In the midst of a global public health crisis, customers are relying on companies to answer their pressing questions. They want to feel assured they’re in good hands. Handling this requires not only that you staff the right number of agents, but also that those agents are well-suited and up to the task.

Hiring excellent customer support agents involves selecting candidates who can effectively address customer needs, work well with a team and build up company culture. The right agents will increase customer satisfaction (CSAT), enhance customer loyalty and bring added value to your business.

To find the best fit for the role, below are five things you should keep in mind when hiring customer support agents.

1. Personality affects job performance

Organizational psychologists have found that personality accounts for unique variances in job performance, after removing the effect of cognitive abilities. While choosing candidates that have the cognitive capacity to perform their job well is essential, keep in mind that product and/or service knowledge can be taught and fostered.

Personality traits should, therefore, come first when screening potential applicants as it is an important factor in determining their ability to succeed.

2. The Big Five matter

The Big Five Personality Traits (the Big Five) are major personality characteristics that exist on a continuum and are strongly correlated with long-term job success. A recent meta-analysis examined the relationship between the Big Five and job performance in individuals employed in the customer service sector. Below is an ordered list of personality traits that are correlated with customer service job performance.

  • Openness to experience: Receptive to new experiences and thoughts, imaginative, artistically sensitive, intellectually curious and creative
  • Conscientiousness: Achievement-oriented, responsible, self-disciplined, organized, persistent, competent, methodical, deliberate and dependable
  • Extraversion: Gregarious, assertive, energetic, social, talkative and ambitious
  • Agreeableness: Good-natured, compassionate, cooperative, compliant, modest, sympathetic and trusting
  • Emotional stability: Calm, secure, non-anxious, good impulse control and accommodating of aversive events

Results indicate that all of the Big Five predict customer service job performance and that conscientiousness is the single best predictor of how well a customer service agent performs at work. Thus, selecting candidates who are considered higher on the conscientious continuum should be the priority when making hiring decisions. Equip your hiring team with this information and train them to recognize the Big Five personality traits in each candidate.

3. Eagerness to learn translates to long-term success

Looking at a candidate’s responsibilities on paper can be a good way to quickly gauge whether their current and past experience is aligned with the job description. However, it’s the initial conversation with the candidate that will help you understand the level of enthusiasm about the job and how they’ve stepped up to grow their careers on their own initiative. For example, candidates that have invested in learning and development by taking coursework to expand their skill set exhibit conscientiousness and are likely to put more effort into their work. This will show up in the quality of service they’re providing customers, which ultimately helps your business achieve excellence in customer experience (CX).

4. Collaboration makes for a positive team environment

When hiring, consider how well a potential employee will work within a team setting. Finding the right candidates will facilitate collaboration, boost team morale and enhance team culture. Extraversion, conscientiousness and emotional stability are the main personality constructs from the Big Five strongly manifested in team-players. Thus, when considering a potential candidate’s fit within a team, assessing these three dimensions is an effective tool.

5. Thinking big can turn routine interactions into memorable ones

Many people consider customer support to be transactional. The customer has a problem, they reach out to your business, and your support agent solves it. While that’s an efficient way of doing things, it doesn’t make the customer feel “wowed.” Candidates that show they can think beyond the scope of a traditional support agent exhibit agreeableness and openness; they genuinely care about customers and want to use innovative ways of thinking to help customers feel like the company has their back.

In times like these, when CX is of critical importance, look past the resume and traditional skills and add some of these key personality traits to your hiring criteria. You’ll easily filter out the candidates that just want to get the job done over the candidates that want to get the job done right. Investing in this hiring methodology will greatly benefit your business and your customers, as carefully chosen team members will increase retention rates and reduce employee turnover (and the costs associated with it). It will also increase CSAT, boost team morale and positively influence your team’s and company culture.

Selecting talented customer support agents with personality traits that set them on the path to success should be made a priority as they may be your most valuable resource to your company.

This is an updated edition. To read the original, go here.


Shauna Geraghty

As the first U.S. employee, Shauna helped to scale Talkdesk to over 1,000 employees in 7 offices globally. During her tenure, she has built Talkdesk's Marketing, Talent and HR functions from the ground up. Shauna has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has applied foundational knowledge from the field of psychology to help propel Talkdesk along its hyper-growth trajectory.