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How To Hire Better Call Center Agents - Every Time!

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How To Hire Better Call Center Agents - Every Time!

How To Hire Better Call Center Agents - Every Time!
By David Filwood

Reduce Turnover • Raise Productivity • Lower Absenteeism

A typical Call Center employs 3 Different Types of Call Center Agents:

1. Top Performing Agents - “Grade A” Agents with the “Right Stuff” that pushes them to Succeed, and the seemingly Natural Compatibility with the Duties of the Position. You probably have a few in your Call Center Operation now and wish that you could duplicate them.

2. Adequate Agents - “Grade B” Agents who Perform their Duties Adequately Enough “to get by” – but No Better.

3. Marginal Agents - “Grade C” Agents who have a High Level of Absenteeism, Low Productivity, Poor Performance & Poor Customer Satisfaction Ratings and who have a Negative Impact on Agent Team Morale.

We ask for a lot from today’s Call Center Agent: Handle More Customers & Calls, Order Taking, Cross-Selling/UpSelling, Being Proficient with Computer & Support Systems, Being Non-Confrontational & Good-Humored, Work Well in a Team Environment, etc., etc.

As a Call Center Hiring Manager, your Challenge is Twofold:

1st – How Do You Find a Sufficient Quantity of Quality Applicants for your Call Center Agent Positions?

Many North American Labor Markets have reached the Saturation Point for Call Center Agent Applicants in the Local Labor Pool. In fact, 64% of all North American Call Centers now find it a “Major Struggle” or “Somewhat of a Challenge” to Find Quality Applicants for Call Center Agent Positions. And 37% of Call Center Employers are now Reporting “Severe” Competition for Call Center Agents by Other Employers.

2nd – How Do You Weed Out the Job Candidates Who Will Burn Out Fast Because They Aren't Suited For The Work, and Identify the People With the Skills, Motivation, and Work Ethic to be Your Top Call Center Agents?

While Almost Everyone can Use a Telephone, Not Everyone is Cut Out to Work Successfully as a Call Center Agent.

Hiring the Wrong Call Center Agent is the Root Cause of Turnover and Absenteeism, and is a Significant Drain on your Bottom Line, on Customer Satisfaction, and on your overall Call Center Agent Team Morale.

Today, the Average Annual Turnover Rate of Full-Time Call Center Agents is over 30%. The Turnover Rate for Part-Time Call Center Agents is Worse (84% - with 15 Month Avg. Job Tenure). And, the Average Cost to Recruit/Hire/Train a Replacement Call Center Agent ranges from US$2,600 – US$15,000 (depending on the type of Agent Position).

Every Failed Hire Causes You to Throw Precious Budget Dollars Down the Drain Retraining Recruits for the Same Position. Not to Mention the Lost Sales & Service Opportunities, Poor Customer Satisfaction Ratings, Lowered Productivity and Higher Absences associated with a Poor Job Fit.

There are a Series of Best Practices Steps you can take to address these Two Issues in order to Recruit More Top Performing Call Center Agents:

STEP 1: Create an Agent Success Profile – What are the Core Competencies, Personality Traits, Skill Set(s) and Demographics of your Optimal Performing Agents?

Who are your Top Performing Agents?

You should be Profiling your Top Performing Agents for their Gender, Diversity, Economics and Education.

Across all Call Center Industry Segments (except OutBound TeleSales and Technical Support/Help Desk), over 75% of all Top Performing Agents are Female and 66% of them are Working Mothers. Only 5% have College Degrees, and 30% of them participated in “Welfare-to-Work”, Unemployment Insurance or Public Assistance within 6 months prior to their Hiring.

Is there Specific “Must Have” Skills/Knowledge that your Top Performing Agents need?

How do your Top Performing Agents Profile in Terms of Typing Speed/Accuracy, Computer Literacy, Specific Industry Knowledge/Experience, etc.?

What are the Key Personality Traits of your Top Performing Agents?

Are you looking for an InBound Agent? (A Persuasive Communicator Motivated by Security, Work Environment, Coworkers / Team, Service and Recognition).

Are you looking for an Inside Sales Agent? (A Persuasive & Persistent Communicator who is Service Oriented, yet Motivated by Sales Opportunity).

Or are you looking for an OutBound Sales Agent (An Assertive & Persistent Closer who is Motivated by Income and Conquering Challenges and who Initiates Customer Interactions).

STEP 2: Create a Recruiting Strategy – Create a Recruiting Communications Plan that Identifies & Targets the Job Seekers that Meet your Agent Success Profile Criteria.

Your Recruiting Communications Plan should include:

  • Personal Referrals

  • Print Advertisements

  • Elementary & High Schools (Part-Time Job Opportunities for Working Mothers of Students).

  • Colleges, Universities, & Technical Training Programs (Part-Time Job Opportunities for Students).

  • Minority Organizations (Native Americans/First Nations, Gay/Lesbian, New Immigrant Support)

  • Online Job Postings

  • Virtual Communities

  • Job Fairs

  • Outplacement Programs (Transferable Skills: i.e. Laid-Off Customer Service/Sales Staff).

  • Unemployment Offices

  • Welfare-to-Work Programs
  • STEP 3: Deploy an In-Depth Telephone Screening Process – All of your Recruiting Advertising should use as the Call-to-Action a 24x7 Automated "Employment Information Line"/Phone Screen which is then followed by a Structured Telephone Interview.

    A 24x7 Automated "Employment Information Line"/Phone Screen Can Be As Simple As An Extension on your Current Voice Mail System:

    “Hello … and Thanks for Calling … you’ve reached the 24 Hr. Employment Information Line for the ABCXYZ Company.

    At ABCXYZ Company you will have the Opportunity to Have Fun … Make Good Money … and provide a Service that Our Customers Really Appreciate.

    You’ll Earn a Guaranteed Base Wage of $__/Hr … Bonuses … Get Training … and All the Support you’ll need to Succeed.

    We’re Conveniently located Downtown … with Easy Public Transit Access … and there’s Plenty of Parking nearby.

    To Succeed … You’ll need to be Confident … Professional … and have an Excellent Telephone Communication Style.

    To Take The Next Step in Our Hiring Process … at the Sound of the Tone … Please Tell Us Your Name … and Please Spell Your Last Name.

    Also … Please Give Us Your Telephone Number … and the Best Time to Call You Back.

    And finally … Please Read Back to Us the Ad you are Responding to … and Remember … this is a Telephone Audition … So give it Your Best Shot!

    Here Comes the Beep … So Give Us Your Name … Your Telephone Number … and Read Back the Ad.

    Good Luck in your Job Hunt …

    Thanks for Calling.”

    A 24x7 Automated "Employment Information Line"/Phone Screen can also be as Sophisticated as an Interactive IVR System:

    “This Position requires you to Read … Speak … and understand English. Are you able to do so?”

    “Press 1 for YES … Press 2 for NO”

    “This Position will require you to work Non-Traditional Hours … including Evenings … Weekends … and Holidays. Do you wish to continue this Process?”

    “Press 1 for YES … Press 2 for NO”

    “This Position is Fast-Paced … Structured … and Requires that you have the Ability to Multi-Task. For the Majority of your Shift … you will Remain at your Workstation … while Assisting Callers and Customers by Telephone. Your Performance will be Monitored and Measured … to Ensure the Highest Levels of Customer Service. Do you wish to continue this Process?”

    “Press 1 for YES … Press 2 for NO”

    You will Save Time and Money using a 24 Hr. "Employment Information Line"/"/Phone Screen by:

    • Reaching More Applicants Faster.
    • Recruiting Top Candidates Before Your Competition.
    • Building a Bigger Applicant Pool.
    • Ensuring that Applicants have a Clear Understanding of Important Job Requirements.
    • Assessing Applicant’s Ability to Follow Basic Instructions.
    • Conducting “Voice Auditions” to assess an Applicant’s “Telephone Personality”.
    • Reducing time spent with Unqualified Candidates.
    • Maximizing Applicant Buy-In and Participation in your Hiring Process.
    • Part of a Legally Defensible Hiring Process.

    The Job Candidates who pass through your 24 Hr. "Employment Information Line"/"/Phone Screen should then be promptly followed up with using a Structured Telephone Interview.

    A Structured Telephone Interview is:

    • Used to Further “Sell The Job Opportunity”.

    • Used as 2nd Screen of Candidates for “Must Have” Skills & Attributes (Start Date, Shift Availability, Wage Rate, Typing Speed, Specific Product Knowledge, Sales Ability, Security Clearances, etc.)

    • Used to Further Evaluate a Candidate’s “Telephone Personality”.

    • Where Appropriate, Used to Schedule a Candidate Visit at your Office for Going Forward with Hiring Process.

    Delivered consistently, a Structured Telephone Interview is part of a Legally Defensible Hiring Process – as all Candidates are asked for the same information in a uniform and consistent fashion.

    STEP 4: Deploying Pre-Employment Assessment Testing – to Confirm Personality Traits/Job Fit and Skill Set(s).

    Candidates for Call Center Agent Positions need to have a Unique Constellation of Traits - and Specific Amounts of those Traits - in order to Successfully Complete the Job Requirements.

    A Call Center Agent’s Success Depends Much More Upon Personality/Job Fit Factors than Product Knowledge, Past Experience or Skill Set.

    Merely knowing how to react in a Customer Service Situation is Far Different from Actually Engaging in the Necessary Appropriate Behavior – Consistently - and for the Long-Term.

    This is what Call Center Agent Personality/Job Fit Testing Measures.

    SPAS – Service Personnel Appraisal System - is CD-Rom based Call Center Agent Pre-Employment Screening Software, which is Easy to Deploy, Very Cost-Effective and Highly Predictive of an Individual's Suitability for a particular Call Center Agent Position.

    SPAS Weeds Out Job Candidates Who Burn Out Fast Because They Aren't Suited For The Work, and Identifies The People With The Skills, Motivation, and Work Ethic to be Top Call Center Agents.

    There are Specific Versions of the SPAS Call Center Agent Pre-Employment Testing Software Validated to Test for Call Center Agent Positions such as:

    • InBound Customer Service
    • OutBound Telephone Sales (B2B) Business-to-Business
    • OutBound Telephone Sales (B2C) Business-to-Consumer
    • Inside Sales Agent
    • Tier 1 Technical Support/Help Desk Agent
    • Central Station Monitoring Operator
    • Telephone Collections
    • Telephone Answering Service Operator
    • Reservations/Guest Service Agent
    • Government Information & Referral Operator
    • Tele-Counselor
    • Mystery Shopper

    Whatever Call Center Agent Personality Testing Instrument you Deploy – make sure it is Validated for the Specific Call Center Agent Position you are looking to fill – and Use it Consistently – at the Same Point in your Hiring Process – and with All Candidates.

    You should also perform a Skills Test on your Job Candidates. Skills Tests are designed to Identify a Candidate’s Skill Level in Specific Areas such as Keyboarding, Software Literacy, Spelling, Telephone Etiquette, Listening, etc.

    STEP 5: Using a Structured Face-to-Face Interview – based on Core Competencies, Personality Traits and Skill Set(s).

    This Style of Interview has Great Value in Call Centers because it allows you to Identify Candidates’ Past Behaviors and Use Them as Good Indicators of Future Performance and Behavior.

    Before you conduct a Structured Face-to-Face Interview, you need to go back to your Original Success Profile and Core Requirements Document. Identify the Most Appropriate Core Competencies for the Position and Build your Questions around these Competencies.

    They should be Very Specific Questions Designed to Determine How Candidates Behaved and Thought during Certain Situations.

    Structured Interview Questions could include:

    “Tell Me About a Time When You Went Far Beyond What Could Normally Be Expected In Order To Satisfy a Customer?”

    The Target Behavior you are looking to uncover is Customer Focus. Can this Candidate Demonstrate that they can go “Above & Beyond The Call of Duty” to ensure that Customer Requests are Handled Effectively – and with a Customer Service Orientation?

    STEP 6: Having Your Candidates Experience a Job Preview – Depicting Day-to-Day Activities, Responsibilities and the Environment of the Call Center.

    The Goal of a Call Center Job Preview is a Final Attempt to Sell the Candidate “In or Out” of the Job.

    You need to Paint a Realistic Picture of the Company, Call Center Environment, Hours, Flexibility, Management Style, Performance Expectations, etc.

    This can be done as easily as having Candidates Sit in the Call Center for a Period of Time to Form Their Own Opinion before Accepting or Declining the Job Offer (**Check Your Local Labor Laws to See If Candidate Time Spent in a Call Center Preview by “Sitting In The Call Center” Qualifies as “Paid Time”.)

    There are also Software-Based Call Center Simulators that are available to give a Candidate the Ability to Accurately Experience Call Center Work – such as Referencing and Cross-Referencing Data and Dealing with a Variety of Callers and Customer Service Scenarios. (**Used as part of a Pre-Employment Process, Software-Based Call Center Simulators are Not Subject to Local Labor Law Interpretation as “Paid Time”.)

    During the Call Center Job Preview Time, the Candidate should also be Encouraged to Speak “Off the Record” with Supervisors/Team Leaders and Potential Coworkers.

    Done correctly, this Step will Help You Attract People who Genuinely Want to Work in your Call Center.

    STEP 7: Reference Verification - (also Security Clearances / Drug Testing if required).

    These Best Practices Hiring Steps are Easy to Deploy, Very Cost-Effective and Highly Predictive of an Individual's Suitability for your Call Center Agent Positions. They will allow you to Recruit, Select and Hire New Call Center Agents who fit your Employment Needs Better and Stay On The Job Longer - leading to a Call Center Agent Workgroup that has More Experience and is More Productive.

    Your Individual Call Center Agent Productivity Will Go Up - Along With Your Customer Satisfaction Ratings - and Your Turnover Costs Will Go Down.

    I would be Happy to Prove to you – in Advance and at No Charge – that these Best Practices Hiring Steps Will Work for your Call Center Team as well.

    Please Don't Hesitate to Call/eMail me, or to Find Out More Click Here =>


    David Filwood
    Principal Consultant TeleSoft Systems

    David Filwood is the Principal Consultant with TeleSoft Systems, a Call Center Improvement Consultancy based in Vancouver, BC.

    David has 20 Plus Years of Call Center Management Consulting Experience for Small-to-Medium Sized Government, Non-Profit and Diversified Business Call Centers.

    David has been featured in Profit Magazine, TeleProfessional, Connections, Call Center Times, InQueue and The CBC as a Call Center Subject Matter Expert.

    David has also been a Featured Speaker at Call Center Industry Conferences such as The Association of Teleservices International (ATSI), The Help Desk Institute (HDI), The Canadian Call Management Association (CAM-X), The Canadian Security Association (CANASA), and The Southern California Nortel Users Association (INNMUG).

    David Filwood also sits on the Advisory Board of The National Association of Call Centers (NACC).

    How To Hire Better Call Center Agents – Every Time!
    ©2006 TeleSoft Systems

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