Contact Center Hiring: Finding the Best Way to Recruit

Finding the right people to work in your contact center is critically important. Hiring the wrong people will not only turn off customers and hurt sales, it will also negatively impact the attitudes of other workers in your organization.

When faced with a bad labor market, many companies simply hire whomever they can get, with very little prescreening, and hope they can train the new employees to become star agents in a short time frame. But this approach puts a tremendous strain on those involved in the recruiting and training process.

Not only will supervisors waste a lot of time doing interviews with unqualified candidates, they will also need to spend more time coaching the new hires and raising their performance to acceptable levels, which adds considerably to the cost of training.

And if the new employees soon figure out that the job isn’t what they thought it was going to be, they quickly leave and the process starts all over again.

As we discussed last week, getting the wording of your help wanted ad just right can go a long way to screen out applicants who simply aren’t qualified. By telling candidates up front what the job responsibilities are, and what skills are needed, supervisors can save themselves a lot of time, headaches and company money. (And the new hires will be happier too, because the job turned out they way they had expected.)

Part of the process of developing a clear, well-written ad involves identifying the knowledge, skills and attributes (KSAs) your agents will need in order to successfully carry out the basic functions of the job (not the more advanced functions, as these typically require additional training and time on the job).

Once you’ve determined which KSAs you will hire for, the next step is to determine the best way to recruit, based on the KSAs you’ve identified. Where will you find the highest concentration of people who possess these skills and attributes?

First, list all of your recruitment options (such as local colleges, employment agencies, local newspapers and temporary agencies). Then, create a matrix to determine which option best serves which KSAs.

Hiring methodology

Once people are recruited, you can use various assessment procedures to select candidates. The choice of a procedure should be based on how well it meets the criteria of validity, cost-effectiveness, and reliability.

Validity refers to the extent to which the assessment procedure accurately measures what it is intended to measure. Many people, under pressure to fill vacancies quickly, fail to collect essential data on the validity of their selection procedures and the cost of using them.

This failure prevents the organization from obtaining valuable feedback about what assessment procedures are working and what the process is actually costing. It also leaves organizations that cannot document the validity of their assessment procedures open to legal challenges from rejected candidates, who may perceive the assessment process as biased against them.

Cost effectiveness is a judgment that weighs the primary benefit of the assessment procedures (selecting candidates who meet performance expectations) against the method’s developmental and operating costs. An assessment procedure is considered reliable if it consistently measures, time after time, what it is designed to measure.

Frequently used methods

Interviews (including telephone and face-to-face), reference checks, paper-and-pencil tests, biographical data, academic achievement, and work samples are commonly used means of assessing candidates. Computer simulation is becoming more and more popular in the contact center; this gives people a sense of what the job would be like. We’ve heard that some job applicants take themselves out of the running after dealing with simulated customers.

After you determine what hiring methodology is most appropriate for each KSA, then you can determine what tools are available for each methodology. Your team should discuss the pros and cons for each methodology, as well as the tools that can be used, so the best options are selected.

First, make a list of all possible methodologies. The list may contain:

–face-to-face interviews
–telephone interviews
–computer simulations
–role plays
–verbal tests
–written tests
–facility tours
–observations of job
–presentations by candidate
–drug test and background investigation.

Then, make a list of available personnel for your hiring team, such as:

–front-line agent

Once this is done, the hiring team members can decide on the best options and put the system into place. At this point, they also pass their findings along to the training department to ensure they know what to expect in initial and on-going training. You should also incorporate the identified KSAs into the incentive and performance appraisal system to ensure the loop is complete. The importance of this is immeasurable.

A word about linkage

Everything in the contact center is linked to everything else. Strategic goals are linked to critical success factors. Critical success factors are linked to job descriptions. Job descriptions are linked to hiring criteria, performance appraisals and call monitoring sheets.

Hiring criteria, performance appraisals, and call monitoring sheets are linked to training and incentives. If we don’t consciously think through the linkages, each time we make a decision, we add to our frustration. Agents receive mixed messages about what is important and don’t get the help they need to become experts.

Take a simple linkage test: Look at your job description for your customer contact agent. Trace the job requirements through the hiring criteria, the call monitoring sheet, initial training, the reward and recognition program and the training library.

Is each job requirement traceable through the maze? If not, you have a linkage problem. Much of the work we do at Response Design is helping companies fine-tune the linkages so a consistent message is sent to each employee and so the customer experiences nothing but WOW service and sales.

Next week we’ll offer a few tips on how to minimize errors in the employee selection process.

Kathryn E. Jackson, Ph.D, is president of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

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