Should IT recruit attitude rather than skills?

Good service is a tricky thing to define. The customer experience depends on a number of elements, including getting the right resolution to a problem, good interpersonal skills and timely responses to questions.

Modern consumers are used to having options in how they interact with companies and organisations. Whether face-to-face, on the phone or via electronic channels, they have their preferred ways to interact.

For IT professionals, customer service and experience are becoming more important factors. CIOs are increasingly looking at how to move the IT department from a cost centre to a source of greater profitability and success for the business.

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Gartner found that CIOs are looking to spend only 40% of their time running their departments. The majority of time will be spent collaborating with other C-level roles, line of business teams and customers.

This change of focus for IT puts more emphasis on quality of service across all the department’s staff, and principally, the service desk. Employees within the business now interact with so many consumer services, they expect the same quality of service from internal IT as well.

Even for companies that don’t sell directly to the general public, the whole topic of ‘user experience’ is still important for servicing internal customers.

This leads to a challenge for the future: as CIOs look to improve their standing within the business, should their organisations recruit for technology knowledge on the service desk, or customer service skills instead?

Looking at industry research, help desk and service desk roles continue to be a key recruitment challenge. According to Computerworld’s 2015 Forecast, helpdesk and technical support skills will be the third biggest area of demand.

Around 30% of companies surveyed will be recruiting for this role. However, many IT professionals are also considering their current positions – the Mortimer Spinks 2015 Technology Industry report included the statistic that 50% of respondents would be looking to move roles within the next 12 months.

This potential churn is a serious concern. As CIOs roll out new projects, support for internal customers has to be a priority for implementations to succeed over time.

Often this support doesn’t involve traditional break-fix issues, but training employees on how to use new tools and continuously communicate the benefits of these new technologies and processes.

Given the competition for technology resources and the type of support required for new projects, it’s time to look beyond the traditional technology talent pool when it comes to recruitment.

One way to address this is to hire for attitude rather than skills. Companies like Porsche, ING Direct and Ritz-Carlton practice this approach to hiring, which is based more on ensuring that candidates have the right fit for the company’s existing culture rather than insisting on specific skills.

For customer support roles, this would initially include looking more at how candidates handle interpersonal relationships rather than knowledge of specific technologies. For example, this could be analysing how candidates interact with existing staff during shadowing sessions as part of the interview process, or by asking more evidence-based questions rather than looking at skills listed.

This has two benefits. Firstly, it can open up a wider talent pool for roles looking beyond the specific service desk community. However, it can also help with the changing approach that service and support can now take within the business. Rather than being just phone and email, today there are new channels that can be used for support purposes, from internal and external social media through to chat technologies.

While each of these channels will require an overall uniform approach to customer support, they all have their own requirements too. For example, the ability to deliver good support over the phone in a professional and personable way does not automatically translate over to chat. There, fluency in grammar and fast typing skills are required, while the ability to use a mix of canned scripts and individual initiative is another useful skill to have.

Taking this attitude-led approach to hiring does mean making some changes to strategy. It requires more investment in training and development around IT skills, compared to hiring established technology specialists and training them on interpersonal skills.

However, alongside opening up more opportunities for hiring, it should also help to maintain the culture of the department overall as new hires will bed in more effectively with the existing team.

This is helpful for long-term retention of staff – according to the Mortimer Spinks research, being surrounded by good people is the most important reason for remaining with a company.

Now, it’s important to state that the importance of technical skills will not diminish. IT knowledge is still necessary for the service desk, particularly for specialist level roles where in-depth skills are required.

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The increase of self-service portals and the automation of service delivery can also make staff more efficient, particularly when it comes to routing requests through to service desk professionals with the required skills. For these positions, recruiting for IT knowledge will continue to be essential.

However, the emphasis on changing the culture of IT and how IT is perceived within the business means that there will be more need for soft skills that can be harder to acquire than technical knowledge.

As CIOs look to improve the standing and perception of IT within the business, getting customer service and customer experience right can be just the ticket when it comes to making project deployments successful.  


Sourced from Stuart Facey, VP EMEA at Bomgar

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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