It all starts with the right hiring decisions. Most of us try to find people who have a particular skill set for the positions we have open, which is important much of the time—but not always. Sometimes, you have a position available at your company with teachable job duties. When you have such positions open, focus on the kind of person you want to hire; don’t worry about whether the applicant has previous experience in a similar capacity.
I realize that this is not always going to be possible. After all, if you need a skilled technician at your body shop, then that’s what you need. But many jobs are composed of teachable, trainable tasks, and these types of positions allow you to focus on the applicant’s attitude and ability to empathize. You can do that by creating open-ended dialogue that draws the candidate out, such as, “Describe the approach you’d take in working with a new customer (or someone who just walked into the store). How would you determine the best way to help him or her?” That kind of revealing conversation lets you maneuver to ask more probing questions, such as, “How would you modify that approach if the customer were speaking another language?” (or “if the customer was older?” “of a different race or ethnicity?” or “a mom with two kids?”)
When talking with potential employees, you’re looking for their ability to put themselves in the customer’s shoes.