MSPs must avoid this mistake when hiring a level 1 engineer

MSPs often make one major mistake when hiring a level 1 frontline engineer. 

That is they prioritize a prospective employee’s technical knowledge or experience over their customer service abilities. 

Frontline engineers are the face of your company as they are the first point of contact for your clients.

They’re the difference between receiving positive or negative reviews on Google.

So you cannot underestimate this. 

As an MSP staffing company, we have seen a lot of MSPs hire frontline engineers over the years. There’s a slew of reasons why some MSPs are just doing it better and scaling faster. 

So if you want to do it better too, here’s everything you need to know about hiring a 5-star worthy level 1 engineer. 

The most important thing to look for when hiring a a level 1 engineer

Many MSPs make the mistake of focusing on the extent of a support engineer’s technical knowledge when hiring a level 1 technician. In reality, the personality of the prospective tech  is more important than their level of knowledge because:

  1. They act as customer service for clients, not just just technicians.
  2. They must possess the people skills to communicate well with clients. 
  3. They represent the business and how well, or not, a client is satisfied with their support experience. 

For those reasons, you must greatly take into account how strongly someone can handle the above responsibilities. The best types of people to hire who can behave accordingly are those who are:

  • Personable
  • Eager to learn
  • Excited about the job
  • Agile in way they adapt to new technologies and learning

The frontline technician that you hire needs to provide excellent customer service, while also being competent in resolving the support issues. 

A level 1 engineer needs to be personable and pleasant to be around

We also find it is important that the engineer fits into the culture of your company and jives with your customers. 

We often encounter MSPs who hired staff through us after having outsourced to the Philippines or India.

Despite the cheaper labor costs, they ended up hating that kind of outsourced support because the cultural fit between the support agents and the MSP’s clients was such a mismatch. 

It ended up making the clients feel disconnected from their service provider

You can get a sense of a prospective engineer’s compatibility by:

  1. Discussing the lifestyles of everyone on the team and seeing if the engineer relates to it.  
  2. Sharing details about the company culture and observing whether or not they are excited about it. 
  3. Explaining the company’s values and seeing if some of them emotionally speak to the prospect. 
  4. Understanding the engineer’s long term goals in their career and whether or not those  makes sense for your company.

We highly advise you to never sleep on the importance of an engineer’s cultural compatibility. 

Level 1 technicians you hire must have empathy

As stated previously, frontline tech support is predicated on providing exceptional customer service. Naturally, when clients call with tech issues, they may often be frustrated or angry. They are dealing with high pressure situations and deadlines at work. If an email inbox is not loading or their login credentials aren’t being recognized, they will no doubt panic. A great front line tech will understand this. You must hire level 1 techs who are able to do the following: 

  1. Be patient while the customer is panicking or projecting their stress on to the frontline tech.
  2. Set realistic expectations for when their issue will be resolved.
  3. Make the client feel understood and validated in their stress response.
  4. Reassure the client that the issue will be taken care of.
  5. Not over-promise on a result or a deadline to fix an issue. 

The frontline tech is the bridge between technology and the people using it. It’s so important that they have good bedside manners with your clients. 

For many support engineers, it is of course understandable that they might feel frustrated when dealing with a frantic phone call. But as long as they have compassion for people suffering with computer issues, they should be able to thrive providing support. 

Role playing helps when hiring a level 1 engineer

So how do you actually interview potential level 1 engineers during the hiring process

A great technique to use is role playing

This allows you to create mock situations of what the frontline tech will deal with, and get a feel for how they would handle the situation.

For example, one of our go to scenarios is this: 

The frontline tech receives a phone call from the CEO of one of the companies we provide support for. This CEO says they are going into a meeting in 10 minutes, but can’t print out some papers needed for the meeting. They are freaking out. 

What do you do?

When your interviewee frontline prospects in role playing scenarios, you need to observe the following:

  • What clever or competent work arounds do they come up with?
  • What is their level of composure in coming up with an answer?
  • Is their response swift and confident?
  • Is their response rushed and lacking in proper judgment?
  • Are they able to acknowledge the customer’s experience and emotions in their response?

The last thing you want to do is rush to hire someone, only to discover they clam up or completely bungle phone calls. It’s best that you get to the bottom of this during the interview with role playing. 

With level 1 engineers, you must role play situations that will occur in the office environment.

The most important technical skill is being able to figure things out

We don’t want it to seem like personality is the only criteria for hiring a level 1 engineer. Technical skills are absolutely relevant for frontliners. 

But please remember this: you don’t just have to rely on a talent pool of those with a technical background. 

The most useful technical skill is actually being good at figuring things out. 

People can have this ability from various backgrounds. We have hired people who developed the ability to figure things out well from event management, teaching and  various other coordination roles. 

Ironically, many of them performed better as front liners than the extremely tech savvy people with a plethora of certificates because

  • They had experience working in high pressure situations with customers. 
  • They could think fast in terms of how to resolve a sudden problem. 
  • They knew the right things to say to calm down stressed out clients. 
  • They were personable, friendly and accommodating. 
  • They had experience multitasking in multiple high-stakes situations. 
  • They had experience remaining calm while dealing with big personalities. 

It’s necessary that the level 1 technician that you hire is capable of thinking on their feet to bring great customer service.

If almost all of your clients are using Office 365 in the office, is it really so mandatory to hire the most experienced techs?

We don’t think so. 

It’s better to hire an extremely personable and professional support agent who is adept at figuring out software. 

Frontline techs must also get with the times of what software and applications are relevant

Level 1 engineers you are thinking of hiring should also display an awareness of what is current in technology.

If they are not quite up-to-date with things, they must demonstrate that they are a go-getter in being able to research to provide solutions.

For example, one we test this by asking the questions

  1. What is the difference between POP and IMAP email protocols?
  2. Which is used more frequently and why?
  3. Does Gmail use POP or IMAP?

This kind of questioning helps reveal the people who are familiar with what is current versus what is a bit outdated. 

Test potential level 1 engineer candidates to see how up-to-speed they are with industry standard software and applications.

We also use this as an opportunity to observe the prospect’s approach to learning new information and adequately relaying. 

If they don’t know the difference between POP and IMAP, we allow them to Google the answer and present it to us as if we were a client. This gives us ability to test the following:

  1. How fast-acting their research ability is and whether or not it takes them too long.
  2. How well they can consume and summarize information they just learned.
  3. How elegantly and diplomatically they explain the answer.

We highly suggest you do this too as it quickly reveals whether or not they can retrieve answers on the fly, improvise and and make sensible customer service decisions as a result. 

You also want to ask engineers during the interview about their ability to learn new things. See how they describeto you in their own words their process of doing that. You can do this by simply asking them how they learned new things in previous positions, whether in tech or not.

This is so important because there will always be technologies engineers have never heard of before, and suddenly they are thrust into a situation where they have to troubleshoot it.  So their ability to act swiftly and competently in these types of situations is crucial to the customer service experience of your clients.

Test for strength in following procedures

We are big sticklers for using documentation and making sure employees follow it. It just makes everything run so smoothly. 

It’s in your best interest to test frontliners for how well they can follow procedures.

We like to make sure that support techs can follow specific instructions for taking ticket notes–an essential element for an MSP running smoothly and scaling.

We do this by giving them an Office 365 test to set up by scratch, which you can do too.

If they don’t already have that experience, they can go to the Microsoft website and do an enterprise version of the set-up. We do this to observe

  • How well they take notes for the set-up.
  • How well they follow instructions.
  • How good they are at figuring out something they have never done if they are new to this. 
  • How well they finish the job.

We also do this because it is a chance to drive home the importance of note taking notes in their role as a team member. This brings us to our next, very important point. 

Hire level 1 technicians who are strong team players

You must emphasize to prospective level 1 engineers that they will work on a team. This is not a position for the lone wolf personality who doesn’t like communicating and collaborating. 

But you also don’t want techs who are constantly on the team chat asking questions to seem engaged.  

You can think of things like the chart below. You don’t want someone who is too green in support situations nor too self-interested. You want a team player who is right in the middle. 

Too-Green Team MemberTeam PlayerSelfish team member
Constantly asks for help. Can mostly work on their own, but asks for help in emergency situations or when they are confronted with a new situation. Feels weak or uncomfortable asking for help. 
Always wants to escalate and often feels insecure in trusting their abilities. Can confidently accomplish tasks on their own, and also knows when something should be escalated to someone with more experience.Never trusts other techs with tasks and wants all the glory for themself.
Only feels comfortable doing tasks that are the lowest hanging fruit. Can perform some advanced tasks, but also doesn’t mind the low hanging fruit.Thinks they are too good to perform the easiest tasks and doesn’t ever help with them.
Constantly needs validation that they are taking notes correctly and regularly forgets to include next steps.Can be trusted to take thorough notes with next steps included. Hates taking notes and doesn’t see the point. 

You should hire a level 1 engineer that is a healthy balance of an independent mind who takes responsibility on their own, but also thinks of the team in their actions. 

This person should:

  1. Have a willingness to be mentored. 
  2. Want to mentor others. 
  3. Be a reliable participant in the teamwork ecosystem where everyone is contributing to the smooth sailing of things.
  4. Understand what makes a good escalation and bad escalation.
  5. Always be alert to when they must escalate in a timely fashion. 
  6. Understand what makes good notes and how to link tickets so that the person picking up the ticket is up-to-speed.

You need to hire people that fit into your structure which allows them and the MSP. This works when they know the documentation, perform good note taking, and thoroughly understand the tasks of their role.  

You must nurture the level 1 engineers you hire to be team players

Hiring level 1 engineers is not just about recruiting the best talent, as you have a role to play too. You need to step up as a manager and create an environment of team unity. 

Unfortunately, we often see MSPs that make the mistake of creating a toxic environment for their level 1 engineers. They hire someone who does not have the most technical experience, only to look down on them and berate them when they make a mistake for lack of knowing everything. 

Hiring level 1 engineers is not just about recruiting the best talent, as you have a role to play too.

What MSPs should be doing is making sure that everyone feels like they are integral players all on the same team. It’s okay for a new frontliner to not know everything a senior tech does as long as they are playing a specific part you need them to play.

You can easily create this vibe by instilling the use of documentation and role sheets with your engineers. 

This will enforce clear expectations for your engineers, such as:

  1. How to escalate tickets.
  2. How tickets get assigned to a particular engineer.
  3. How to take notes.
  4. The specific “next steps” for resolution that must be included in notes. 
  5. Tasks the engineers must perform at the beginning and end of their shift. 

When your employees know what is required of them every single day, you don’t have to remind them a million times. 

Now of course, if after all of this, you still have to tell any of your engineers to do something again and again, that is grounds for dismissal. But we rarely see that this is the case once you have handed them a precise list of things they know they must do. 

Trust us. They will do it!

Up the frontline ante by hiring a dispatcher!

If you really want to take your frontline customer service to the next level, we highly encourage you to hire a dispatcher. 

Dispatchers help to establish order and regularity in your system because they will handle the following responsibilities: 

  1. Assigning tickets to engineers.
  2. unassign tickets to engineers. 
  3. Escalating tickets that junior techs can’t resolve.
  4. Checking in on deadlines and schedules and shifting them around when necessary. 
  5. Checking in on the ticket statuses and overseeing the progress of their completion. 
  6. Following up with clients for pending tickets. 
  7. Following up with vendors involved with pending tickets. 

As you can see, a dispatcher is kind of like the conductor of an orchestra. They’re there to make sure all of the players are in sync, performing their role on time and keeping everything in balance. 

If the dispatcher is part of your front line strategy, it only increases your level of excellence in customer service.

As we stated above for level 1 engineers, it is also important that dispatchers have empathy and good communication skills as well. 

Frontliners and dispatchers are the ones getting on the phone with clients everyday. So the dispatcher also has to communicate with charisma, trust and understanding. 

Some ideal traits you should look for when hiring a dispatcher are:

  • Someone who is detail-oriented.
  • Someone who is a go-getter.
  • Someone who works in a very methodical manner.
  • Someone who follows procedure well. 
  • Someone who can multitask and is not easily distracted from creating order and prioritizing tasks for the whole team.
  • Someone who is effective as a leader in giving others directions according to the structure that is set up.
  • Someone who can stay focused in a rapid moving environment. 
  • Someone who can understand the system of your company as a whole and make sure every matter is in the right hands.
  • Someone who has good communication skills.
  • Someone who is personable and is comfortable talking with others. 
  • Someone who thrives under pressure from both the internal and external issues that arise for the support desk.

Having a dispatcher will immediately reduce the amount of chaos in your MSP, especially if your frontliners and other engineers are adhering to documentation. 

All of your engineers should get in the habit of writing correct ticket notes and routine working as laid out by the system procedures.

That all helps the dispatcher to be successful in maintaining stability and continuity in the system. 

Just like your frontliners must be good at following procedure, your dispatcher should be good at enforcing it. It is the job of the dispatcher to check in with engineers and ask them questions like:

  • Have you done this task yet?
  • Can you complete the notes more clearly so we can see where this ticket is at? 
  • Does this ticket have the proper status?
  • Are there any tickets that you can’t complete on your own?
  • Are all tickets scheduled for a future action?

They essentially take off your hands the responsibility of checking in all the time.

You can think of a dispatcher as a mother prodding a child to make sure they brushed their teeth. It might be annoying at first for the child.

But the more the behavior is enforced, the brighter their white teeth will be. So it’s all worth it!

Now you know how to hire a level 1 engineer the right way!

You should be fully equipped now to understand how NOT to hire your next level 1 engineer. 

If you find yourself in the recruitment process focusing more on certificates and technical knowledge, please remember to check yourselves. 

Those are not the things that create the best customer service experience. 

And if you ever forget this, please stop and remember your best customer service experiences at restaurants, the bank, clothing stores, calling a support line for a refund, etc. 

We bet your favorite customer service experiences weren’t down to how intelligent someone was or how much they could regurgitate information. 

We bet your favorite experiences are instead when people were just really nice to you… when they went above and beyond to resolve an issue… when they reassured you immediately that they understand your frustration and have no problem issuing your refund. 

That’s what makes customer service so great. So whenever you get lost in a sea of CVs with great technical knowledge, let the ones who have excellent communication and service experience speak to you more.

With experience finding positions for over 200 remote technicians and other help desk professionals, while helping 100+ MSPs hire remote staff, we are confident in our ability to meet your staffing needs. For more details or to become a client, please visit our MSP Staffing services page.

1 Comment

Which strategies can you implement NOW to be a premium MSP? - Support Adventure · March 8, 2023 at 6:26 pm

[…] an MSP should hire front line technicians with personality, strong social skills, intelligence, and a positive attitude. These techs should not be hired based […]

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