The demand for high-quality, well-skilled, and motivated agent talent has never been greater. You’re competing not only with other contact center providers, but also with other industries that provide in-person customer care. Attracting, selecting, and retaining exceptional employees will only get more difficult as the economy continues to improve. This paper offers seven strategies to help organizations win the war for exceptional contact center talent.

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Introduction

Many contact centers operate in a state of near-constant hiring. Whether this is as a result of high levels of agent attrition or company growth, it can put significant strain on even the best functioning organization. Efficiently and effectively hiring the right employees is critical to delivering an exceptional customer experience.

Consider that today’s customers are better informed and more demanding than ever. They have the power of the Internet to help them research solutions to their problems and evaluate alternatives to your products and services well before they engage with your agents. In fact, your agents are more likely to interact with customers who have complex issues that were not solved online. Therefore, your agents need higher-level communication, language, and critical thinking skills. And, if that’s not enough, your customers also have social media by which they can broadcast their customer service experience to millions instantly. And they aren’t afraid to use it!

Assert your Brand

Your company may spend millions – perhaps even billions – establishing its brand to its consumers. But how much attention do you pay to asserting your brand to prospective employees? Job candidates often form an opinion (positive or negative) about a company based on how it presents itself during candidate recruitment. Evaluate your application process as if you were a customer and not a job applicant. If you’re not marketing your jobs to prospective employees in the same way you’re marketing your products and services to prospective customers, you are ignoring a very rewarding strategy.

You might also consider how you can recruit your current customers. You are likely already in regular contact with them – you DO market to them, don’t you? They are already familiar with your brand and its competitors, are loyal to yours and will likely perform well when talking to other customers and prospects. The collateral benefit is that time spent on product training can be greatly reduced since these folks already know your product well and may even know a few things your trainers don’t.

Expand your Search

Your company uses social media to promote its products and services. Use those channels to look for job candidates as well. Your careers page is obviously a good place, but it requires candidates to come to you. Recruiting on social media is the equivalent of you going to them and it increases the probability that you’ll attract applicants that might not otherwise seek a job with you.

Redefine Mission Success

What matters most in your center? Chances are you generate a lot of reports on a lot of metrics, but what are the most important ones? Many centers have graduated from AHT, adherence, occupancy and service level as leading indicators of success and have adopted more customer-relevant measures such as CSAT, NPS and FCR.

Recruiting often defines hiring success as merely having filled open job requisitions by the required due date. Depending on class frequency and volume, this can result in the hiring of marginal candidates who either won’t show up for training, won’t make it through training, or will leave shortly after arriving on the call center floor.

A successful hire is not one that simply shows up for training the first day. It is one that reliably adheres to schedule, works hard to achieve his or her goals, and is a long-tenured employee. These should be the factors that drive the hiring decision.

You might argue that this is difficult to discern during the recruiting process. The fact is, innovations in machine learning and predictive analytics makes this job much easier. Correlating post-hire achievements against your key business drivers with each candidate’s pre-hire performance enables you to create a profile of those who are likely to perform well and those who aren’t. This approach creates a closed-loop system that continuously validates your pre-hire assessment strategy by identifying what works and what doesn’t as measured by the most important indicator of all – your agents’ actual, observed performance.

Create Allies

A natural tension exists between the recruiting team and its stakeholders in contact center operations. Recruiting often claims that they are satisfying their obligations to provide quality hires in a timely fashion.  Operations often has a contrary opinion. While filling classes on time is one part of the equation, it needs to be done with new hires that are likely to be successful. Many companies measure success in these two organizations differently, which only heightens the tension between the two

In order to achieve a more sustainable balance between quantity and quality, operations and recruiting need to create a set of shared goals by which they can hold each other accountable. For example, the quality-of-hire measure that recruiting is held to should include not only speed-to-hire, but also tenure (did the new hire make it through training and past the magical 90-day threshold) and did he or she achieve the customer satisfaction or sales conversion goals? Satisfying all those should be factors in the quality-of-hire equation.

Use the Right Tools

The agent job is different than just about any other job in the enterprise and should be evaluated as such during the recruiting process. Many companies subject each job candidate to the same series of skills, personality, cognitive, and behavioral assessments, no matter what the job role, in the noble goal of finding those who are just the “right fit.” This is often driven by a company’s desire to homogenize their recruiting process. In reality, it means that many candidates, such as those applying for contact center roles are subjected to assessments or tests that have little bearing on the job they are applying for.

Furthermore, assessments that are designed to evaluate a candidate’s propensity to teamwork are rarely good indicators or probably customer care success. While it is preferable for agents to be “team players,” they are not necessarily dependent on their teammates in order to perform well. In addition, when assessing home agents, other factors to consider are independence and resourcefulness.

Instead, agent candidates should be assessed for skills that are critical to their specific job. According to O*Net, an online resource for job seekers provided through a partnership with the United States Department of Labor, the key skills required of Customer Service Representatives include: active listening, speaking, service orientation, reading comprehension, critical thinking, persuasion, monitoring, social perceptiveness and time management. To see O*Net’s report for the Customer Service Representative job, please visit: http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-4051.00. Find ways to directly assess these skills, even if the tools to do so will be unique to your contact center.

Measure and Plan for Hiring Shrinkage

Shrinkage is a well-known concept on the contact center floor and workforce analysts are well skilled dealing with it. A similar concept applies to the hiring process. Of those who are presented with a job offer and accept, a certain proportion won’t show up for training. More will leave during training and still more will leave in the critical post-training nesting period – usually about 90 days for most organizations. If the operation requires 20 new agents to be on the floor and the hiring shrinkage rate is 20%, that means that recruiting needs to hire 25 candidates. Industry studies suggest that as much as 60% of all attrition occurs prior to 90 days after training.

This “overhiring” has a significant economic impact to the company since more employees are hired than are actually required. Minimizing this rate is imperative to reducing hiring costs. New hires that leave before or during training return no economic value to the company.

Plan Ahead

Recruiting intervals routinely exceed 40 business days from receipt of application to acceptance of offer. It can take another 4 weeks or more for that new hire to successfully complete training and take their first live customer call. This interval is  detrimental to consistently providing an exceptional customer experience, particularly if the center is short-staffed while new hires are onboarded.

Unanticipated staffing demands, either through greater than expected attrition or growth or higher than forecasted call volumes can further exacerbate this situation. Operations and recruiting need to work closely together to properly set staffing expectations.

Final Word

Winning the war for agent talent is much more than just a numbers game. It’s about making timely, informed hiring decisions and selecting agent candidates that are likely to long-tenured and will achieve the company’s goals with a minimum of ongoing intervention. “Hiring and hoping” – the process of hiring marginally qualified candidates and hoping that they’ll miraculously transform into excellent performers through training and coaching – is rarely a winning strategy. It’s expensive and it puts your most valuable asset – your customers – at risk.

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