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Chris Powderly, Support & Services Manager, Allens
Recruitment & Sourcing
supportworld , service management , Staff recruitment , interviewing techniques
Winning the War for Talent , Using Talent Management to Drive Service Excellence , Staffing Studies: Salaries, Stats, and Skills—Oh My! , Rebranding Desktop Support: HR Considerations , Job Titles Aren't That Important
Have you ever hired a service desk analyst who aced the interview, but when it came down to supporting your customers, they didn't have what it took?
If you were a baseball coach looking to recruit a pitcher, would you ask him to tell you about a time when he threw a fastball to strike out a hitter, or snapped a 12 to 6 curveball perfectly? No! You would hand the guy a baseball and say, "Show me what you’ve got!"
When searching for the right service desk analyst or technician to support your customers, the best advice I can give is to have them show you. Remember, you are making an investment. We service desk managers are already at a disadvantage. According to Jeff Rumburg:
The average annual turnover rate for a service desk is 40%
The average lifespan of a service desk analyst/technician is 2.5 years
You are not just looking for someone to keep a seat warm or pick up calls to take messages. You are looking for someone who can deliver strikingly impressive customer service, troubleshoot, have confidence in their work, fit into your culture, and grow.
When you finally get that resume across your desk and it's time to start interviewing, it's time to go to work and look for the candidate that can beat the odds. Chances are, if you run a service desk, the candidate is going to be working on the phones, so there is no better option than to start with a phone interview.
My colleagues and I have faced these challenged at multiple service desks we worked for. In some years our turnover percentages were on or above industry average. At one service desk, we faced a 41% turnover rate back in 2015. Something needed to be done, so we put our heads together and created an interview process that would change the game and become our standard.
Are you looking to build bench strength? Want to grow your team? Are you looking for additional responsibilities for your top analyst? It's time to have that senior analyst or someone you are looking at, for a future management position, conduct the first interview (with some interview training, of course). Remember, this next person you hire will most likely be sitting next to or helped by your top analysts, so why not give them a chance to see if the candidate can do the basics. Fifteen minutes is all it takes and goes something like this:
Why a role play? This separates the good analysts from the great ones, and this is where we go from "Tell me about a time" to "Show me what you can do." By conducting role plays, you will get an idea about how this candidate will support your customers. How do they treat you over the phone? Are they taking the role play seriously? Do they say any trigger words? Do they have empathy? How's their tone? You are looking for only a short five-minute role play; and YES, you can determine if they are the right fit.
Take them through a scenario. Simulate a live phone call where the interviewer is the caller and the candidate is the analyst (e.g., My PC won't turn on, My Acme program is frozen, Outlook won't send or receive an email, etc.)
As an interviewer you are looking for basic knowledge of technology, in addition to determining if the analyst can get to the heart of the matter; however, the most important items to look out for are the five Ws:
Inform the candidate that you will conduct a role play. Let them know what you are looking for before the role play. You are not trying to trick them; you are trying to see if they can listen, learn, and apply what they learn.
A good first level analyst can determine the five Ws, in less than 90 seconds, before troubleshooting. For the role play, you are looking for the candidate to gather the information and then start their troubleshooting.
The role play only needs to last about five minutes. Inform the candidate you have a problem, hopefully they will collect the five Ws, begin troubleshooting, and lead you down a good path of understanding. Once you get to a good spot and it looks like they are getting it, stop the role play.
Now review the role play. Ask the candidate:
It's as simple as that. You handed them everything you wanted on a silver platter. Did they listen, learn, and apply? If they did, let's set them up for a second interview. Did they forget to ask three of the questions? Did they start troubleshooting once you told them your issue? If so, maybe they are not the right candidate for you.
Your second interview is going to be very similar to the first one, except it will be conducted by a team lead or supervisor, someone in management. You will start off with about five minutes of questions, like the previous interview, so the management team member can get a feel for the candidate.
Next, you move right into a role play. Before starting the role play, you should ask the candidate if they remember their first role play and have them give you a little summary of it. Ask them if they received feedback from the interviewer and to apply those learnings and feedback to this role play.
Conduct the role play, give them feedback, and finish up the interview. Once again, if the candidate impressed you, learned, applied, and did a good job, schedule them for an in-person panel interview.
The final part of the process usually entails bringing the candidate down to the company for an in-person interview. Again, I would suggest stepping away from the normal interview process by staying away from three separate interviews, with three different people, asking the same questions.
Why not interview the candidate separately? Let’s say you have one candidate and three people interviewing. Each interviewee gets 20 minutes alone with the candidate to interview.
The candidate has now been at their interview for over an hour, had three interviews, and has repeated the same thing three times. As you compare notes, you start kicking yourself because one of you forgot to ask a pertinent question since you thought the other interviewer was going to ask it.
This is where you ask yourself if this is the best use of the candidate’s time, or if there is a better way. There is a better way! Try a panel interview.
The panel interview is your final interview. If the candidate reaches this step, you are confident of their skills over the phone and you want to sit down with them, have a conversation, and see if they will be a good fit for your organization, culture, environment, and team. The panel interview is designed for multiple levels of leadership; three or four people should be good. A panel interview allows for all the interviewers to ask questions, listen to the candidate, learn about the candidate, and receive the same message at the same time.
Make sure you have a brief meeting beforehand to discuss the candidate's prior interviews. Determine your strategy for the panel interview and some questions for each interviewer to ask. The objective is to come out of the panel interview with all questions answered and an easy yes or no decision to hire the candidate.
Just because the candidate is now in front of you, doesn't mean it's time to have them "Tell you about a time." We are still looking for the best candidate and the best candidate is one who can show you.
The final role play needs to be short, sweet, and to the point. Here is the challenging part. You need to leave the room. If you want to put the candidate in an uncomfortable situation, do the role play face to face, or have them face the wall; I've done both, and it's not effective. If the room has a phone, let them use it; if the room doesn’t have a phone, give them a cell phone.
Inform the candidate you will be stepping out of the room for a few minutes. You will then call them on the phone you provided to conduct one final role play. Leave the room and go next door, to an open area, outside, or another conference room. Call them and do a final role play.
What you are looking for is whether they learned from the first two role plays, and if they were able to apply the feedback to the last role play. After the role play is complete, as a bonus, have them write a ticket on the board. Chances are, if they have experience, then they have used a ticketing system before. Ask them to document the who, what, when, where, and why on the board. After the candidate is finished, review it. This will help you, as an interviewer, see their documentation process.
Give the candidate feedback on the role play, make sure they have enough time to ask their questions, and then finish up the interview.
After implementing the new interview process, our team has conducted quite a few more interviews; the quality of talent we have hired has been astonishing. Not only can the staff we hire answer phone calls, chats, and emails to service our customers, but they also fit into the culture of the team, have positive attitudes, and have the aptitude to grow within the service desk and other parts of the organization.
Over the past four years, we have significantly decreased our bad turnover percentage, because our management staff has learned to use the “Show me” interview process.
Finding an analyst or technician for your service desk is never an easy task. To be most effective in finding the right candidate the next time you decide to interview and hire someone, don't have them tell you how to support your customers, have them show you.
Brad Biagi is a highly accomplished and enthusiastic management professional with a strong technical background and customer focus, as well as a relentless passion for innovative training management, project implementation, process improvement, and customer value. Brad is currently the manager of a large IT service desk, where he leads, manages, and directs technical support across the enterprise in a follow-the-sun, worldwide operation. Brad also focuses on process improvement, training, and implementation to deliver strikingly impressive customer service. Follow Brad on Twitter @biagitec2.
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