Off Center
 
Managers today realize no contact center can succeed without highly skilled, engaged and (mostly) sober agents manning the frontline. In the best centers, the hiring program is handled less like an agent acquisition process and more like an agent retention tool. After all, taking the time to recruit and select the most qualified and committed candidates is one of the best ways to reduce costly negative attrition among the agent ranks. Rushing through the hiring process may enable you to quickly get bodies in seats to meet the center’s staffing requirements, but those bodies aren’t likely to stick around for long or perform well if you don’t first take the time to ensure that they are attached to heads that are filled with what it takes to succeed in a customer care environment.

I’ve worked with many contact center managers who boast about how their “positive corporate culture” and “powerful brand” results in job candidates lining up outside the door at all times. These managers don’t fear agent turnover too much because they know they have an endless supply of applicants itching to fill the void whenever a space opens up on the frontline. But what some of the managers fail to realize is that just because the line for jobs is long doesn’t mean it’s teeming with talent worthy of interacting with the organization’s valued customers.

Having a large pool of applicants to pick from provides an advantage only when the contact center has the tools in place to separate the real reps from the replicas. These tools include: a focused recruiting process that doesn’t miss alternative yet viable labor pools; proven screening and assessment techniques and technologies that identify which candidates possess the aptitude and attitude to succeed in the dynamic inbound contact center environment; and realistic job previews that show candidates exactly what the job entails so they can make an informed employment decision.  

In this economy, having swarms of a job applicants buzzing around at all times isn’t anything to brag about, and it certainly doesn’t indicate there’s anything special about your organization. If your agents are quitting despite the poor job market, then you definitely don’t have anything to brag about. And yes, agents will leave – regardless of the economic outlook – if they feel like they aren’t cut out for the job, can’t keep up with the persistent demands of customers, and/or discover that what the organization “sold” them during the recruiting and interviewing process isn’t at all reflective of the reality of the agent position.

What does give you bragging rights is having an entire team of agents who are committed to the mission and vision of the contact center and the larger enterprise, who are dedicated to resolving issues and delivering exceptional customer experiences, and who are eager to help bring others like them into the organization.

In my 18 years covering the contact center industry, I’ve seen those kinds of agent teams. I’ve seen them time and again, but only inside of organizations that view their hiring program as, first and foremost, a powerful retention tool.       

 
_ Agents are a contact center’s most vital resource. A recent landmark study revealed that if it weren’t for contact center agents, there would be nothing to keep headsets from simply falling to the floor and breaking. Another key role agents play is providing quality service that keeps customers coming back and buying stuff.

With agents playing such a critical role in the success of your contact center and organization as a whole, it’s paramount that you take the time to hire the right people to cram into your cubicles. Too many contact center managers – pressed to fill seats and cover the phones – rush through the agent assessment and selection process. These managers then act surprised to find that the candidate they hired is unqualified, unreliable and/or unconscious.

To help ensure that the frontline folks you hire are top-notch, I’ve come up with two key multiple choice questions that you need to ask every applicant, along with focused analysis of what each answer option indicates. I guarantee that incorporating these two questions into your assessment process (and heeding my advice based on the answers selected) will lead to a big improvement in the caliber of agents you bring on board. If, by chance, you are not completely satisfied with the results, let me know and I’ll gladly send you a list of all the things you probably did wrong on your end.

Now, on to the aforementioned multiple choice interview questions:

1) What is the primary reason you want to work as an agent in our contact center?

a) I’m looking for a challenging yet rewarding opportunity to utilize my strong customer service and problem-solving skills to drive loyalty and revenue.

b) I have always wanted to work for your fine organization and believe that starting out in a customer-facing role would be a great way to begin.

c) The voices in my head keep telling me it’s the right thing to do.

Be weary of applicants who choose “a”, as they are obviously very arrogant and egotistical. “Oh, I’m great. Look at me I’ve got strong skills.” How obnoxious. Certainly not cut out for the agent position, which requires humility and selflessness. Turn them down flat, or maybe refer them for a job in Marketing.

Forget those who choose “b”, too. They are stalkers. They’ve had an unhealthy obsession with your company for years and are now looking for a chance to get inside and control it like some crazed puppeteer.

Applicants who choose “c” are where it’s at. They show creative potential and a refreshingly different mindset. It’s important to hire a diverse group of people, including those who require a padded workstation free of any sharp objects. And since they already have voices in their head, they are much less likely than others to become overwhelmed during peak calling periods.


2) The most important thing to remember when dealing with angry customers is…

a) To offer empathy and support via such statements as, “I see what you mean”,  “I understand your frustration”, or “If I were there I would hold you close.”

b) That you are the person the ACD has chosen to take charge of the situation and turn a negative customer experience into a positive one.

c) That no matter how furious the customers are and how loud they yell, they’re going to die some day.

Applicants who choose “a” here are the same people who always say that everything is going to be okay, even when you tell them that you have to move to Detroit or can’t afford an iPhone. They are deceptive and dangerous. I not only recommend not hiring these types of people, but I suggest you immediately fire any existing employees who respond to this question in the same way.

As for applicants who select “b”, run – don’t walk – in the other direction. Trust me, you don’t want “everything-happens-for-a-reason” people interacting with your customers. They’ll use the concept of “fate” to defend their every action in the contact center. “I’m not sure why I told that caller to bite me before hanging up on him – I guess it was just meant to be.”

Those who choose “c” have the right idea. They are able to keep a level head in times of strife and are thus less likely to burnout and alienate customers. In addition, their obsession with the futility of human existence typically leaves them with few friends, which means they will rarely complain about the schedule interfering with their social life.