Off Center
The big thing these days is to become the sort of company where job applicants would step on their best friend to get a foot in the door. There’s even a formal label for such organizations – "Employer of Choice®" – a label that can only be acquired by completing a grueling certification process established by Employer of Choice, Inc.

Don't worry, I'm not here to make you think that your contact center is inadequate because it isn’t EOC certified. After all, I'm sure that there are plenty of other reasons why you think your contact center is inadequate. I'm here to help you realize that attaining the official EOC stamp of approval isn't nearly as important as stealing the blueprints for success that the EOC's governing body created to enable organizations to continuously attract, acquire and retain the highest caliber employees.

Fortunately for you, I recently got my hands on said blueprints, and have summarized them below. Follow them, and your center will become just as attractive an employer as an official EOC organization. And with the money you'll be saving by forgoing the certification process, you'll be able to help bail me out of prison for copyright infringement.

1) Create the image that your company is well respected and forward-thinking.
While your contact center doesn't have total control over how the public perceives your company as a whole—there is one thing you as a manager or supervisor can do to promote your center’s and organization's strength and identity to capture the attention of applicants: Hire an outside advertising agency.

Be sure to contract with an ad agency that specializes in making corporations somehow seem hip and progressive. Specifically, you want to look for agencies with expertise in creating company mascots that ride a skateboard. This will help to attract youthful and exuberant Gen-Nexters and Gen-Yers, as well as emotionally stunted but possibly skilled Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. Attracting and retaining agents is all about marketing.

2) Create and sustain a positive contact center environment.
Talented applicants seek employment in companies with a positive, healthy environment. Therefore, you have a ton of work to do. First, you will need to make sure that all current agents get along with one another, as any hints of dissension or division among the employee ranks will certainly frighten off prospective candidates. Top contact centers ensure employee harmony by creating strict policies prescribing mandatory group hugs and forbidding any agent to express his or her honest opinion about any peers or supervisors. Some of the more innovative centers also provide top-grade anti-depressants in each restroom.

3) Focus on effective leadership.
Studies have shown that employees want to work for leaders who are accessible, communicative and sensitive to factors influencing success; however, other studies have shown that studies about what employees want are worthless. What employees really want in a leader is just enough insanity to make the leader fun to be around and work for, but not so much insanity that he or she could be mistaken for an IT director.

Thus, in order to attract and retain the highest quality agents, have the contact center director do playfully crazy things like shave his/her head after staff meet a critical performance objective, or perform an impromptu rap about how he/she values the frontline nearly as much as his/her golf clubs.

4) Care for and nurture agents. Employees want to work for organizations that respect a healthy work/life balance, emphasize wellness for employees (and their families), and that have flexible policies regarding where, when and how people work. Thus, employees are in for a lot of disappointment.

It’s important to politely explain to agents that there is no way that your company could exhibit all those caring qualities and still make a huge profit. After you explain this, give each agent a lollipop and a hug and tell them everything is going to be okay, as long as they get back to their workstation immediately and start handling calls.

5) Show agents the meaning and value of their work.
Employees want not only to be cared for and nurtured; they also want to feel a strong sense of purpose in their jobs. Get creative to help show candidates and new-hires just how meaningful the agent position is. Point out that, without agents, headsets would merely sit on desks and acquire dust and possibly mold that could be dangerous to the environment. Also inform candidates that, if it weren’t for contact centers and agents, incidents of Carpal Tunnel syndrome would drop drastically and, thus, have a severely negative impact on the salaries of orthopedic surgeons and their ability to pay their kid’s boarding school tuition.

6) Provide opportunities for agent growth and development.
Employees want to know that there is ample room for advancement in their contact center career. That's why leading centers have made a concerted effort to create and publicize career and skill paths featuring numerous cool job titles that distract agents from the fact that they still must work in a cramped cubicle far from any windows or proper ventilation.

Top centers are experts at recognizing whenever an entry-level agent is burning out, and remedy this by changing his or her title to “Elite Customer Care Specialist Extraordinaire” and then featuring a photo of him or her wearing a suit and carrying a leather briefcase in the weekly newsletter.

7) Get creative with compensation. There isn't as much room for innovation in this area as there is in many of the others, but employers of choice find ways to get creative with compensating staff. These centers go beyond merely adhering to compensation benchmark studies and/or paying agents exactly what nearby and competing centers pay theirs. Instead, they give agents what they are worth to their particular organization – often paying a compelling premium for agents who:

·      Don’t report OSHA infractions, such as faulty headsets that administer electric shocks, or cubicles made out of asbestos.
·      Can handle all contact channels (phone, email, Web/chat, social media) with only minimal medication.
·      Are dedicated and flexible enough to work six weekends a month.

Of course, many centers are restricted by lean budgets, and thus can’t pay agents a very large premium for such special skills and attributes. The most forward-thinking among these organizations make up for this by making compensation itself fun. Some centers, for example, place agents’ paychecks at the bottom of a giant vat of melted chocolate, then have agents dive in and search for theirs. Other centers give agents the choice of either having their paycheck electronically deposited into their bank account or used to help pay for a case of domestic light beer.

8) Focus on making a difference.
Employees want to feel that they are a part of something much larger than themselves or their cubicles. Some of your employees may already find that being a contributing member of a successful customer care enterprise already fully satisfies that need, especially if your recruiting and hiring efforts target people who have recently banged their head.

Most employees seek to contribute to much more than just the organization’s bottom line or customer satisfaction rate; they want to work for organizations that strive to make a real difference in the local community and the world at large. A prime example is an employer of choice contact center I know of in Miami that donated money to a non-profit organization that provides clothes to underprivileged locals. Then, once the center realized that the underprivileged locals in Miami were way over-dressed, management decided to start donating the previously mentioned funds to an non-profit organization whose aim it is to take clothing away from underprivileged locals in Miami and give it to underprivileged people in Minsk.

Agent recruiting is hardly a hot topic these days. With so many people out of work and in need of jobs, most companies feel the contact center won’t have any trouble filling seats if needed. But customer satisfaction and advocacy – the ultimate goal of nearly all contact centers – is not about merely filling seats; it’s about filling seats with people who have the skills, knowledge, adaptability and commitment to make customers not want to strike them.  

True, some such sought-after people will be among the glut of applicants who come knocking on your center’s door in search of a job. But why not be proactive and target such qualified individuals as part of a focused, strategic recruiting program? The best contact centers I’ve seen do just that, and consequently save themselves a lot of time and urine-testing in the initial hiring phase.

Five Elements of a Successful Agent Recruiting Program

Incorporate the following elements into your agent recruitment efforts, and I guarantee that you will endure far fewer resumes written in crayon or applicants who incessantly drool.

1) “Ideal agent” profiles. Before beginning the actual agent hunt, leading contact centers take the time to document exactly what they are hunting for. They do this by creating an “ideal agent” profile for each position (customer service, tech-support, sales, e-support, social media, etc.) they are seeking to fill. This entails listing the key attributes of their top-performing existing agents, realizing that all those agents just applied for jobs in Marketing, and then panicking that you’ll never find reps as good as them.

When creating your ideal agent profile, be sure to seek input from supervisors and experienced agents. Doing so not only results in a more comprehensive profile, it shows staff that the company truly values them despite damaging their wrists, eyes and spine on a daily basis.

Keep in mind that it isn’t necessary for all applicants to match every attribute on the ideal agent profile; it’s great if they do, but it’s also unlikely. Be happy if you can attract applicants who match even just a few of the key attributes, who show the potential to learn/obtain some of the others, and who don’t smell like onions.

2) Employee referrals – with results-based incentives. It may be a traditional and old-school method, but it’s still around for a reason. According to contact center professionals in various studies, employee referrals are the most effective, reliable and affordable recruiting method at their disposal. This is not all that surprising; after all, misery loves company. Thus it’s only natural for over-stressed agents to want to drag their best friends down into their personal occupational hell along with them.

To help pare down the number of unqualified referrals submitted by staff, forward-thinking contact centers offer small cash incentives (or other alluring perk) to agents whose referrals end up being offered and accepting a job. In some centers, additional incentives are often provided when the person the agent referred performs at a high level, stays with the job for a predetermined minimum amount of time (more than three days), and never once sobs on the phone with a customer.

3) E-cruiting. No recruiting program in these digital days is complete without the use of web-based methods. “E-cruiting” is essential, not only because it reaches more candidates than traditional recruiting practices and saves time and trees, but also because most people worth attracting and hiring today ONLY seek jobs online. The most talented younger members of the workforce eat, drink and sleep the web and social media, and they want a company that embraces the same cool communication methods and channels that they have grown up on. Therefore, top contact centers today post alluring job listings on their company's Twitter and Facebook pages, in various contact center and customer service groups on Linked In, as well as on their own corporate website and renowned job search sites like CareerBuilder, Monster and Simply Hired.

In addition to getting more reach for your recruiting buck, e-cruiting is very helpful in screening candidates early on for email and chat writing skills as well as for their ability to analyze online content and instructions. Any candidate who, during the application process, demonstrates the inability to spell or use proper grammar, or who uses “LOL” even just once in a text-based interaction, should be immediately eliminated from the running for work in the contact center and instead passed on to the manager in charge of hiring public relations personnel.

4) IVR-based recruiting. Many contact centers use their IVR system for more than just annoying and alienating customers; they use it to promote job openings, too. Yes, typically the goal is to get customers in and out of the IVR as quickly as possible (unless they are making an automated transaction that makes the company money); however, hold-times are inevitable – so why not make it up to waiting customers by offering them a job? In this economy, half of them probably need one. “Press 1 to access your account; press 2 to speak to a live agent; press 3 if you are unemployed or hate your boss.” 

5) “Stealing” staff from local contact centers. Some centers take a “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” approach when it comes to competing with other local contact centers for talent. Targeting other centers’ agents may seem a bit cutthroat, but let’s face it – individuals with ample customer care experience are at a premium, thus it’s worth at least trying to lure local agents over to your side of the street.

Leading contact centers do this in as subtle and as graceful a manner as possible. Drugging and/or kidnapping are used merely as a last resort.

Effective agent-luring approaches that won’t land anyone in jail include:
  • Offering a work-at-home opportunity to talented agents in the region.  
  • Encouraging your existing agents to talk-up your center and brag about how spectacular the carpeting and lighting is.
  • Advertising how your contact center uses the most humane methods whenever an agent needs to be put down.
  • Regularly spraying the outside of your contact center with the scent of fresh donuts.

Plenty more information on best practices in agent recruiting and assessment are covered in my book, Full Contact. You can check it out here: