What Customer Service Experts Say About First Impressions

In Hiring Customer Support Agents, Does First Impression Really Matter?
The customer support is at the frontline of any business. In many cases, a brand’s reputation rises and falls because of excellent or terrible customer service. That’s why, as we have established last week, it’s an important business decision to hire the right people to frontline your company.
In the same way that a single phone call can be the first impression and most likely the only perception a customer makes on a company, a job interview is also the one moment where an applicant makes his first impression. The recruitment process is long and tedious, and the process could end right on the first job interview.
Hiring Customer Support Agents, First Impressions
We’ve interviewed some experts in the field and here are some of their answers:

First impression as the “moment of truth”

Shep Hyken, customer service expert, bestselling author, and professional speaker who works with companies who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees, responded to our email with a quick, straight-to-the-point answer on first impressions. He said:

“The first impression sets the tone for whatever interaction is to follow. It is an important “moment of truth”, one that should always be managed to be positive.”

And this applies to customer service as well as job applications. You can only have one first time. No matter how good an applicant has made himself look in his resume, he has to come ready to make a good first impression.
This is true even more when an applicant is a fresh graduate or new to the customer support industry. His resume may not have too much credentials, but when he makes a good impression in his job interview, he can come a long way in this industry—or any industry for that matter.

First impression as an early indicator of determination

MJ Miller, transcosmos Global Recruitment Manager based in the Philippines, believes that first impressions matter in recruiting customer support agents. Dozens of applicants send in their resumes, and many of them look really good on paper. But the first real test to know if an applicant is the right person for the job happens in the first interview.

“Did they come prepared? Did they dress up for the position? Can they look at me straight in the eye and answer my questions confidently? For me the way they present themselves in their first interview is an indication of how important the application is for them. We’re looking for passion and determination more than anything, and I want to see some effort exerted. If they don’t come prepared for the first interview, it’s a deciding point whether or not the applicant moves on in the hiring process.”

The first interview is a major filter in hiring customer support agents. As MJ has experienced firsthand, many applicants get eliminated from the race very early on.

First impression matters, but it’s not enough

Micah Solomon, customer service consultant, resource speaker, and author of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service, generously responded to our email with his thoughts on the hiring process and first impressions:

“A hiring process should have the goal of uncovering the true traits of a prospective employee as they relate to the position in question. In a sense, your systems should be set up to guard against human shortcut of trusting first impressions. That someone answers interviews flashily has little to do with true job performance.”

Micah made a good point in looking at the hiring process as a whole, and not just on the basis of the first interview. This is why the hiring process is called, well, a process. It’s a system that involves different criteria and varying levels of testing, which, when tied together, should be able to give a correct assessment of an applicant.

The dangers of first impressions

We have established that an applicant who doesn’t take his first interview seriously may not have a chance to move on in the hiring process. But an applicant who’s actually very impressive in the first interview does not necessarily become your best hire either.
In dealing with first impressions, be warned of the following:

  • Great starters, early quitters.  In Filipino, we call this ningas kugon. (I know that sounds like “ninja”, but the phrase actually means quite the opposite). Sometimes, a person exerts too much effort in the beginning, sets the bar too high, but ends up falling short. In the end, he fails to carry on what he started.
  • Smokes and mirrors. Too good to be true? Don’t be too impressed. They might wow you from the get-go, but, as Micah very aptly said, “That someone answers interviews flashily has little to do with true job performance.” Sometimes, impressive applicants just know their way with words, but actually lack true character.
  • Cold feet. So maybe an applicant stuttered his way in his first interview, but sometimes it might be worth giving the person a second chance. Don’t dismiss an applicant just because he’s nervous or he couldn’t look at you in the eye. Maybe he just needs a little warming up!

To summarize, in hiring customer support representatives, the first impression matters because it determines whether an applicant continues in the hiring process or not. But the first impression is far from being the only criteria to assess an applicant. First impressions may be wrong, they may be right. But what’s even more important is how far an applicant is willing to go from that first step.
This is the second installment to a series of blog posts tackling about The Challenges and Solutions in Hiring Great Customer Support Representatives. Read all the posts in this series here. Subscribe to our feed or by email to get updates from transcosmos blog.

Adel Zsurzsan

Adel Zsurzsan started as a Service Desk Analyst at transcosmos Information System. Currently based in transcosmos Hungary office, she now serves as the company's Business Development Advisor, helping the company grow and explore partnerships and opportunities. She speaks fluent English, Dutch, Romanian, Hungarian, German, French and Spanish.