Off Center
_ 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. 

12/9/2011 05:38:36 am

I once hired a person who answered B to question 1. My spidey-sense went off. However, this one was strong with the Force and followed up with his own question of "Do you like tequila?" I hired him. On his first day, he thanked me with a bottle of Patron, which I clearly could not accept. However, not wanting my new team member to start Day 1 with bad feelings, I promptly removed the bottle from the premises and took the rest of the day to hide it.

Anyway my point, if I have a point, is you truly do need to seek people with a fair bit of humor about them. Anyone who earnestly answers with A or B for either question is a farging liar. Who wants to do call center work for a living? This is a job for the insane who recognize that the caller is ALREADY pissed off before they heard your whiney voice. Deal with it.

Now to the moral of the story. How did this guy know I have a passion for tequila? A couple years ago, when I made my social networking site, I filled in the "favorite quote" section with "Everyone needs something to believe in. I believe I'll have another tequila." So he was clearly a stalker (2 points for you) and we should all be careful what we post on the Internet.

Thanks for another great article.

12/9/2011 06:29:33 am

Kevin, I do not much like it when a reader's comment is better and more hilarious than my actual blog post. You, sir, are fired.

Of course, I may rehire you and ask you to take over for me when I decided to retire.

Great stuff, my friend. I'm assuming you must have drunk half a bottle of Patron prior to posting today, but your secret is safe with me -- and the six other people who read Off Center.

Have a great weekend!


Julie Wheeler
12/10/2011 04:17:34 am

You BOTH! gave me a giggle. Thanks for always giving me something to smile about as I read your articles! :)

12/10/2011 05:24:45 am

And thank YOU, Julie, for giggling instead of reporting us to the proper authorities.



Chris Thompson
12/13/2011 11:52:50 pm

Brill.i.ant ... the blog post and the comments. I'm weeping with laughter; and joy at finding such kindred spirits in the call centre world. And thank God I did, since I was just about to stab myself with the sharpened end of a headset's mic.

12/14/2011 12:05:12 am

Welcome to the club, Chris. We are happy to accept a fellow free spirit and satirist into the fold -- despite your odd spelling of the word "center".

Be sure to sign up for the blog (if you haven't done so already). Otherwise, I will find you.



Kevin Carly
12/14/2011 11:01:28 pm


I think that's how they spell "center" in Cleveland. Please don't mock Chris. Sounds like life is bad enough for him. He will soon discover that plunging his headset's mic into his body will only result in having to raise a purchase requisition for a new headset. Isn't living in Cleveland cruel enough?!

Now, regarding my unceremonious termination...please send my severance on my behalf to my local State of Utah Liquor Store for in-store credit.



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