It’s an industry fact that 60 to 70percent of expenses for call center operations are associated directly with labor. Furthermore, the recruitment and retention of quality agents is the number one challenge facing call centers employers. It’s no surprise that the best call centers hire the most qualified agents, avoid turnover and improve their employees’ performances by staffing the work environment with other highly qualified employees.
Great call center agents cannot only do a good job for you, but also serve as role models for others and help train them to perform better. Fortunately, hiring the best doesn’t have to be hit or miss. With careful planning, your call center can be staffed with the finest agent personnel available. Following are a few tips on improving agent selection and performance:
Develop a hiring plan. Your plan doesn’t have to be electronic or Web-based, but it does need to be documented so you can track and measure results and modify your processes as needed.
Source applicants carefully. When candidates contact a recruiting agency directly, in response to employment advertising, one plan of action is to capture the advertising source, track the frequency response rate, measure the response quality and use these results as the basis for future ad placement.
Tracking all sources, from traditional paid advertisements to referrals, is essential for accurate results. This strategy simplifies the question of where to place recruitment ads. You can also use software to help create, source, research past results, design, budget, place and track employment advertisement.
Screen candidates in person and over the phone. Effective screening and selection tools can reduce turnover by more than ten percent. These tools need to assess both the skill and the will to do the job. Skill-based assessment tools can evaluate customer service orientation while a live screening process can evaluate motivational fit by providing a realistic job preview. A preferable process would include a preliminary Web-based screening, a voice interview to evaluate “soft skills” and behavioral assessments.
Screen for both communication and keyboarding skills. A voice interview will assess communication skills, which is paramount for a call center position, as most call center jobs are phone jobs. Your company needs to determine how a potential hire presents himself or herself over the phone and how they would react in certain situations — for example, during a call from an angry customer. Keyboarding skills are also an important part of the position; the potential employee needs to be able to access records, remember information and key in phone or credit card numbers, if required.
Have an objective, consistent interview process. Be as objective and consistent as possible during the interview process to reduce or eliminate variables — and stay within equal opportunity hiring guidelines. It’s important to use scripts to develop a quantitative scoring mechanism to determine an applicant’s presentation skills, confidence and other important “soft skills” necessary to be a good call center employee.
In addition, a consistent process can be replicated, allowing more employees to interview potential candidates. In any hiring situation the responsibility for hiring and processing all candidates shouldn’t fall on one person — in fact, existing call center employees are often a part of the process.
Study your best performers. Interviewing and studying the best existing call center employees, to ascertain how they perform their jobs and what characterizes an ideal hire, offers a hiring method based on proven results. In general every call center is different and every company is different, so you need to develop your ideal hire based on your company’s unique culture.
Experience trumps education One challenge of a call center job is its repetitive nature — a person is talking to people all day, perhaps in a cubicle or similar environment. The best way to determine if someone will be happy in a call center is to know if they have held the job before. It’s a unique job and not every person is cut out for it — which is why experience is more important than education in determining job happiness and success.
Hire an extrovert. The employee needs to be someone who enjoys talking to people.
Be realistic about the job. It is important to prepare your applicant and explain the good, the bad and the ugly to candidates about call center jobs. Applicants should not enter a call center with rose-colored glasses, only to quit days later out of frustration. Qualified candidates are allowed to come into our call center and shadow employees to see what atypical workday is like so they will know what their job entails and what is expected of them.
Hire quickly. Studies show that an hourly worker is on the market for no more than five days, so if you are hiring hourly employees your process needs to be shorter than that time window. In addition, a typical candidate might have more than one job opportunity. By having a quick but efficient hiring process in place, your company will gain the best employees and eliminate it from being the second choice. It also keeps your costs down because you aren’t engaged in “sweetening the pot” to encourage potential candidates to work for your company versus another.
Know the job. The rule of thumb across industries is that your interviewer should be someone who has done the job, knows what it entails and is a good employee. If your company adheres to these general rules, you will greatly enhance your chances of improving your agent selection, performance and retention.
— Denise Foy is president of PeopleScout ,a Chicago-based candidate processing firm that specializes in high-volume recruitment for major companies in the transportation, retail, telecommunications and finance industries.