You know what a good customer-service person looks like: friendly but not overly talkative, attentive, follows the system, knows when to bend and when to hold firm, and manages workflow in an organized, quality-minded way. You also know what a good salesperson looks like: competitive, results focused, persistent, and resilient.
Those are two different people. As much as hiring managers would love to cherry-pick personality traits in their applicants, that isn’t how human beings are wired. Many personality traits are negatively correlated, especially ones that support service motivation vs. ones that support sales motivation.
If you work in the insurance business, you know how hard it is to find an Account Manager who can fulfill service and upselling duties with equal aplomb. Or maybe you work in another field where service-sales hybrid roles are a cornerstone. Veteran recruiters and hiring managers understand that you have to aim for balance when filling such positions. But how do you find the right balance?
Fortunately, science has come to the rescue. Based on psychometric research and advances in job-performance analytics, we now know the six qualities that are most important for success in the service-sales hybrid role. For consistency, we’ll refer to such workers as Account Service Professionals throughout the remainder of this post.
1) A focus on customer service
An eagerness to help other people is a no-brainer when looking at Account Service Professional candidates. But there’s more to customer service than simply offering assistance. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, a good ASP strives to understand the needs of individual clients and customize responses. It’s also important to make sure the client receives undivided attention and is never made to feel like a burden. At the same time, the ASP has to balance the requirements of the customer with those of the company or agency.
2) The ability to persuade
As stated above, a big challenge for companies is hiring Account Service Professionals who are both service and sales oriented (the aggressive/persistent personality type associated with sales success is the inverse of the helpful/conscientious dynamic that typically drives service performance). Top ASPs are service oriented but not to the extent that they give things away simply to win approval from customers, and they are persuasive enough to promote the benefits of additional coverage without being so aggressive they make customers feel overly pressured. What they do best is use verbal and nonverbal cues from their clients to subtly transition the conversation from service to sales.
3) The ability to build relationships
Hiring managers sometimes mistake an outgoing nature for relationship-building skill. Gregariousness is effective for breaking the ice, but real relationship building flows from understanding clients’ needs, showing them undivided attention, and following through. Account Managers who position themselves as trusted advisors and partners are the ones who achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction and retention.
4) Professional poise
Because Account Service Professionals are often caught between the conflicting agendas of salespeople, management, and customers/business partners, it is especially important that they maintain their composure and professionalism and avoid personalizing criticism that, in many instances, should be directed elsewhere. If you’ve ever managed a service function, you’ve probably dealt with staff members who suffer hurt feelings and eventual burnout. Excessive eagerness to please isn’t necessarily desirable when looking at ASP candidates. Sometimes the ability to stand firm and deliver a confident “no” is a valuable attribute.
5) An attentive listening style
The attentive listener is one who puts the focus on the client, asks meaningful questions, and adapts to input in an open-minded manner. Many problems can be solved and even turned into productive exchanges through listening, encouraging the speaker to elaborate, showing empathy, and fostering collaboration on solutions. A good Account Service Professional avoids letting his or her own preconceptions and assumptions get in the way of a positive outcome.
6) Strong time management
If you’re a manager or supervisor, you’ve undoubtedly had a staff member who struggles with time management. In service roles like Account Service Professional, which require the worker to juggle ongoing administrative/project work with intermittent client interaction, this issue can be prevalent. Working on protracted assignments calls for someone with extended task focus who can avoid distractions, while client interactions are unpredictable in terms of duration and response, sometimes requiring adaptability and a willingness to shift direction.
In reality, finding applicants who shine in all six areas won’t be easy, and sometimes you’ll have to compromise in your hiring decisions. The good news is that, using the breakdown above as a guide, you can develop targeted interview questions to gain an understanding of your job candidate’s relative strengths and limitations. And when it comes to people already in position, this list can serve as the foundation for coaching and development.
Employment assessments are a valuable tool in helping you dig deeply into people’s intrinsic strengths and limitations and get around scripted interview answers. Just make sure you’re using an assessment instrument that has been scientifically validated for candidate selection. Happy hiring!