Off Center
In last week’s “Off Center” post, I listed some of the best agent recruiting practices I’ve seen during the 17 years I’ve spent breaking into contact centers illegally. Seven or eight of you even read that post. The rest of you I assume were too busy scouring the local highway underpasses in search of people to fill vacancies in your center.

While a comprehensive and strategic recruiting program is certainly key to attracting the right type of agents your contact center seeks, careful assessment of all applicants is still essential to make sure that they truly have what it takes to endure customer abuse, cramped cubicles and headset hair for years on end, or at least through orientation.

High-Tech, High-Touch Hiring

After the recruitment and early screening phase, the best-run contact centers utilize a holistic blend of technology and hands-on human tactics to help select the best candidates for the job. These tools and tactics include:  

Realistic job previews. Research has shown that one of the most common reasons why employees leave a contact center within a year – besides the night terrors and indigestion – is a disconnect between what the employee envisioned the job entailing and what it actually involved. It’s very common for contact centers – eager to “sell themselves” to prospective employees – to shade over some of the less desirable aspects of the job (e.g., the pay, the customers, the hours, the customers, the back spasms, the growth opportunities, the customers) during the recruiting and hiring phase. While this tactic may help the center attract and acquire new agents, it usually doesn’t take long for those new agents to realize that the “positive culture” they were told about refers mostly to what’s growing in the breakroom refrigerator. 

Top contact centers develop comprehensive job previews that show – and sometimes even let prospective agents experience first-hand – the attractive as well as the challenging and mundane aspects of work in a front-line customer care environment. Job previews can take several forms, including but not limited to:
  • Detailed tours of the contact center
  • Listening in on actual customer calls 
  • Videos of agents on the job
  • Candid conversations with the center’s existing agents
  • Readings from diaries of recently deceased agents.
The goal of job previews is not to deceive candidates, nor to scare them away. A good video-based job preview, for example, could include an agent handling a call with a happy and satisfied customer, then a call with a customer with a complex issue that isn’t easy to resolve – all followed by a casual conversation with the agent about what medications they take to cope with all the calls in that second category.

Pre-hire agent assessment tools. Hiring solutions specialists have made big advancements in applicant assessment software for contact centers in recent years, helping to make agent selection more of a science than a roll of the dice.  

Today’s best pre-hire agent assessment solutions are primarily web-based and can be taken by applicants anytime, anywhere. Most are complex product suites with a range of modules and reporting tools that contact centers can customize to fit their specific dysfunctional culture. Following are some of the common key components of the leading pre-hire solutions:
  • Skills assessment. Assesses a candidate’s ability to listen, enter data accurately and solve problems in a state of total panic.
  • Personality assessment. Ensures that candidate’s general traits, values and attitudes don’t match that of a serial killer or professional hockey player.
  • Work habits assessment. Gauges the level of dependability, professionalism and customer service orientation, as well as the willingness to not whine about weekend shifts or numbness in the extremities.   
  • Motivation assessment. Assesses a candidate’s ability to lie about how excited they are to handle call after call for hours on end.
  • Call simulations. Much like a flight simulator, call simulators enable call center managers to see if a candidate takes off and lands smoothly or crashes and burns in realistic customer support situations.
Multi-tier interviews. As powerful as today’s pre-hire assessment solutions are, in the end, people – not technology – hire people. Assessment products are great for helping to separate potentially qualified candidates from potential sociopaths, but live interviews with key supervisory and management staff is still the best way to ensure your center is hiring highly capable agents who don’t spit when they speak.

A multi-tier interview process is the method of choice in most top contact centers. This process begins with each candidate who makes it through the screening and early assessment stages completing an initial interview with a member of the center’s supervisory staff, who pleasantly asks a series of behavioral-based questions before viciously insulting the candidate’s mother. This is to see if the candidate can handle the level of abuse and psychological torment indicative of a customer service environment.

Candidates who impress the supervisor are invited to interview with one (or more) of the contact center's managers. Those who don’t flub up this second interview then get passed on to one or more of the contact center’s senior managers – e.g., a director and/or vice president – who ask a few additional key questions while polishing their golf clubs.

Following the final interview, the management and supervisory staff involved gather together to discuss each candidate and decide who makes the cut. They then ask HR to check each lucky candidate’s references, criminal background and pee before extending a job offer. 

Note: Some centers even get their most experienced agents involved in the interview process – tapping their intimate knowledge of the front-line position. Doing so not only makes for more comprehensive interviews, it shows senior agents that the organization truly values their insight and input despite barely paying them a living wage.  

Jeff Crystal
5/18/2011 04:17:18 am

This are very good points. I have always made FTE interviewees sit with at least one agent for at least 30 minutes to not only listen to calls and see what they do but to talk to the agent and get the "real" deal about the job. I always tell the interviewee that they should be interviewing me just as much as I am interviewing them. A lot of time during the interview is casual conversation to get a feel for how this person would fit in with the team and handle the job. After the interview I would sit down with whoever interacted with the candidate and ask for feedback which I then use to help me decide.

5/18/2011 04:44:55 am

Glad to hear that you have adopted such a solid job preview and "two-way" interview process, Jeff. Excellent practices!

Thanks for your comments and input.




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