How we hired our first customer advocate

In 2010 LessAccounting had grown to a size that we needed to hire a person to help with customer support. We’d never hired customer support before and didn’t know how to hire the right person. We did know that judging applicants on resumes is stupid. We didn’t want to hire a “customer support guru” or just outsource to the cheapest people in the globe we could find.

We started by outlining the qualities of a good customer advocate.

  • Organized. Cliche, right? But they need to be obsessive about organizing support questions, dev tickets, and feature requests.
  • Self-Motivated, which is also a cliche, but this position is a remote one and I don’t have time to tell them what to do.
  • Sympathetic to customers.
  • Can clearly write instructions.
  • Conversational they’ll need to speak with customers, give product demos over screensharing etc.
  • Sense of humor and able to handle the bad jokes Steve and I tell.
  • Optional: Accounting knowledge? Added bonus but not required.

The Application Process

We started with a blog post that linked to a Wufoo form as the application. We wanted someone in our network, our reach, and we needed the person to want to work for us. If you have people that “want” to work with you, they’ll work harder and be more emotionally invested in the success of the project.

After 24 hours, 25 people had filled out the wufoo initial application form. The applicants had skills ranging from ruby devs to existing customer advocates to bookkeepers/accountants. But how did we choose the right person? Well my first review of the applicants I narrowed the field in half. Half of them were ruby devs that wanted more money than we could afford or didn’t fill out the application form completely.

Explained Instruction Test

I emailed ten of these people a link to another Wufoo form with one question: “Tell me how to buy your favorite thing online for you.”

Why did I ask this?

  • I wanted to learn what their favorite thing online was (insight into their personality).
  • I like people that come to work and share things about themselves.
  • More importantly, I needed the person we hired to be able to clearly explain instructions via typed communication. Someone who could give me the exact steps on how to perform a task.

Surprisingly, only a handful of people were able to pass that test which was to clearly explain the process of what to buy them and how to buy it. I wanted well written instructions with some personal touches. Clearly writing instructions to a simple task is job of tech support. So I narrowed the field down to five people, and then I emailed and asked to Skype with them.

Skype Call Test

Over the next week I talked with each one of these applicants on Skype. As applicants, they expected me interview them, but I didn’t. I sat there, I wanted to see what they’d do. As expected, only a couple responded by pushing the conversation, and they interviewed me instead. The conversational applicants asked me questions about the company, the job, ideas they had, and stuff like that. I needed our customer advocate to be conversational and friendly. Being able to keep a conversation rolling is a required skill for this position.

Street Smarts Test

After hanging up, I didn’t email any of them and waited to see what would happen. Only two people emailed me back, and one was Annette, who had given me well written instructions on test #1 also was very conversational via skype.

This final test filtered the remaining applicants to:

  • See who wanted the job.
  • Who had their life and inbox organized enough to email me back.
  • Who was smart/clever/professional enough to realize they should email me back.

Do I really want to hire someone who isn’t smart enough to follow-up with me? No, this final test filtered the remaining applicants.

I render this hiring method/test a success. Annette got the job, and she’s the greatest customer advocate you could ever hope for. She has been around for over two years, and I’ve never received a single complaint from customers about her. She runs the support on LessAccounting, and she’s the best. But I was smart enough to find and hire her, so that makes me the coolest, right?

I don’t think this is only right way to hire a tech support person but it worked well for us.

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