Customer Service teams often hire and fire based on vocational skills. Why? Because vocational skills are easier to measure than soft skills.

Think about this for a moment. You can easily hire someone who meets the essential job requirements – e.g. must be computer literate and have experience – yet they may not have a positive attitude. Also, you can quickly fire an agent who isn’t meeting their call quota versus someone who doesn’t know how to “read” a customer. That skill is equally vital yet it is difficult to measure.

While hiring for vocational skills is important, the overall success of your customer service team depends on much more of the soft skills. Hiring the right talent, and developing those employees through effective training, can have a dramatic impact on your company’s bottom line.

However, the issue is that many customer service leaders don’t place enough importance on hiring talent with soft skills, and enhancing their soft skills after they have been hired. For by the name itself, soft skills are viewed as non-essential, optional, or a nice-to-have rather than a must-have.

Stop Calling Them Soft Skills!

This is what the venerable Seth Godin argues for in one of his recent articles.

“But we give too little respect to the other skills when we call them ‘soft’ and imply that they’re optional… Let’s call them real skills, not soft”

“Real skills can’t replace vocational skills, of course not. What they can do is amplify the things you’ve already been measuring.

Imagine a team member with all the traditional vocational skills: productive, skilled, and experienced. A resume that can prove it.

That’s fine, it’s the baseline.

Now, add to that: Perceptive, charismatic, driven, focused, goal-setting, inspiring and motivated. A deep listener, with patience.

What happens to your organization when someone like that joins your team?”

Vocational skills are taught, and real skills can be too. If you’ve hired someone who embraces change and has a good work ethic – real skills – then you will have a much easier time molding this agent to become a customer service star. In return, this will help the customer service agent develop a better skill set to improve their conversations with customers. This leads to better customer interactions and greater customer retention rates, which has a direct impact on your company’s bottom line.

What Real Skills Should You Train and Hire For?

Creating an encyclopedia of the real skills you want to train your customer service agents on is a good first step.

Here are five categories Godin shares that are not definitive yet are things your team may want to consider as part of your encyclopedia of real skills:

  • Self-control
  • Productivity
  • Wisdom
  • Perception
  • Influence

Your encyclopedia list can also be used to help you hire talent who meet (and fire talent that has no interest in developing) your high-priority real skills. For instance, if one of your real skills is a collaborative mindset, then you can screen for this during the face-to-face interview.

How to Vet and Develop Real Skills

Resumes are typically nothing more than a list of vocational skills and it’s easy to tell an interviewer what they want to hear over the phone. This is why face-to-face interviews are the best way to vet for the real skills you are looking for.

However, the challenge is that call centers everywhere are going virtual. And many large companies, such as Capital One, allow their customer service representatives to work from home.

When it comes to hiring for these remote working positions, it doesn’t make sense to have candidates travel far for the face-to-face interview. You can use a quality, enterprise-grade video conferencing solution to communicate face-to-face instead. Based on the verbal and non-verbal cues you can pick up over video conferencing, you can better determine if the candidate has the reals skills you’re looking for, shortening the time to hire, and decreasing the odds of bringing the wrong candidate in, only to have to start the search process over.

Once you have hired the right talent, then you will need to spend time developing their real skills from your encyclopedia list. Video conferencing is again a powerful tool for you to leverage as you can bring everyone together into the same virtual room for collaborative training.

Godin asks, “Can you put in place programs and insights that will lead to progress in all these areas?”

Absolutely! When you are in a team meeting via video conference, you can publicly recognize your real skill ambassadors for their growth in front of the whole room. You can also give these ambassadors the floor to tell their stories. This can go a long way in helping to foster the growth of your team, which can then lead to better-skilled agents who are ready to handle difficult client interactions.

Customer service leaders need to stop relying on vocational skills when building a team. Give up the term “soft skills,” and instead hire and fire based on real skills. Build your team of customer service rock stars by hiring people with the real skills from your encyclopedia list, then continue to develop and nurture their growth within your company. Using video conferencing will help you screen the right candidates to hire for your virtual team, and video should also be the collaboration platform used to develop your team of customer agents, regardless of their location.