Contact Center Hiring: Picking the Best

Sep 23, 2008 8:14 PM  By

Hiring the right people for your contact center can be a huge challenge. Not only is it difficult to find people with good basic “soft skills,” such as verbal communication skills, it’s also hard to find people who have common sense and can make good judgments when interacting with customers.

As we discussed in part one of this three part series, the hiring process begins with the help wanted ad you post online and in the local papers. Presenting an accurate description of the job, including the responsibilities and skills sets needed, is essential and will help screen out applicants who aren’t qualified, thus saving time and money in the recruiting and training process.

The next step, which we discussed part two, is to recruit candidates based on the knowledge, skills and attributes (KSAs) you’ve identified as being necessary for carrying out the job. Knowing where to find the highest concentration of people who possess these skills and attributes is essential to effective recruiting and hiring.

Now let’s discuss some of the other steps you can take to minimize errors in the selection process:

1) Rely on several assessment procedures, rather than one. Each procedure has its limitations. Interpret all results with caution.

2) Be wary of educational requirements. For example, consider a job applicant for an accounting position. To put “bachelor’s degree in accounting” as a requirement is pretty secure. We know what most schools require for accounting degrees.

However, in our interview, depending on the experience level of the applicant, we may still want to check if the required learning took place. The problem with the contact center industry is that there are no guarantees that the required KSAs have been learned through education or prior experience.

There are few degrees or certificates in telemarketing or customer service. Even prior experience is no guarantee. Many contact center jobs do not teach the KSAs you are requiring. Therefore you must verify through the hiring process whatever requirements you state in the job description for education or experience.

3) Have applicants demonstrate relevant performance. If they can reasonably be expected to possess essential KSAs, have them perform some aspect of the job. This is a situation in which computer simulation and role-playing are a plus.

4) Conduct structured, in-depth interviews. Ensure that the objectives of each stage in the process are specific, demonstrable, and appropriate.

5) Have several people (preferably including potential co-workers) participate in the selection process. No matter how much quantifiable information has been gathered, the selection decision will ultimately reflect a judgment.

One way of increasing the objectivity of this judgment is to include several others in the process. An interesting study found that many interviewers trusted their intuition over any objective data discovered in the interview process. When you combine that with the fact that most of us hire people who are like us, you can see how we can miss many good candidates (simply because they did not match our style).

6) Use an assessment procedure to conduct initial screening of applicants. Narrow the field down to a manageable number of finalists before using more expensive, time-consuming procedures. Many contact centers use a telephone interview or an automated system to first evaluate the candidate’s speech patterns. If you don’t like the way he or she sounds on the phone, why waste everyone’s time “trying to teach a pig to sing?”

7) When a decision is imminent, conduct a potential problem analysis on each remaining candidate. Look at all the information that has been gathered for each one, and ask the following questions: “If this person were selected and turned out to be a problem to the organization, what would the problem be? How would it make itself known? Why would it occur? What selection criteria would not have been fully met?”

If it is clear that the candidate does not meet the selection criterion in question, ask whether training, mentoring, or other supervisory activity could prevent the problem. If so, would it be worth the additional cost? If not, can the organization live with the problem?

8) Keep accurate records. Ensure that relevant information is collected and used to assess the validity, cost-effectiveness, and reliability of the selection procedures. Review this data periodically. It is the only way to objectively improve the assessment process.

Remember that there are no shortcuts to excellence in personnel selection. Be prepared to devote time and effort to this endeavor. Careful planning and attention to detail are necessary. The benefits of selecting outstanding personnel will be directly observable to the extent to which these individuals exceed performance expectations and thus significantly contribute to the achievement of organizational objectives.

The time and other resources required to establish this type of selection system may seem costly at first, but the cost will be significantly lower than those associated with correcting an error in hiring. Remember, it is always more expensive to solve a performance problem than to prevent it.

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