Call Center Agent Recruiting & Selection: Is a single competency profile enough?

Call Center Agent Recruiting & Selection: Is a single competency profile enough?

What’s The Business Value of Call Center Agents?

Call centers have well defined performance metrics. Want to grab the attention of the C-Suite? Then ensure your recruiting and selection efforts enable the call center agents to meet or exceed the centers performance metrics and deliver real value to the business bottom line.

When it comes to servicing customers — whether it be for technical support, product information, billing and payment processing, or online shopping assistance — quality counts.  Call center agents, whether in an inbound, outbound or blended contact center, perform a vital function that drives sales, maintains customers and most importantly, builds brand loyalty.

Sixty (60%) percent of buyers prefer to pay more for better customer service. Eighty-six (86%) percent will stop doing business with a brand because of bad customer service experiences.  Eighty-nine (89%) percent of buyers will migrate to a competitor after a poor customer interaction with the original brand1.  If these three reasons are not compelling enough to receive the recruiting budget and timeline you need to positively influence your company’s bottom line, then consider the following fact.  Buyers are more likely to share their negative experiences than their positive ones.  With the rise of social media, negative reviews can rapidly reach thousands of people and impact a company’s reputation in just a few short business hours.  Now more than ever, customers are the ones who promote a company’s brand. The ability of call center agents to deliver superior customer service, be it order, billing, account maintenance or help desk support, can give a company an edge over its competitors.

We are all in agreement that empty call center seats have real cost to the business, but so do seats occupied with the wrong talent. More and more, call centers are investing heavily in call center agent talent acquisition and recruiting in an effort to add good talent to their teams. As discussed in Recruiting Budgets, is it money well spent? investing in recruiting and selection can pay dividends.

Identifying Quality Call Center Agent Talent Is Simple Right?

In order to deliver quality customer service and maintain strong relationships with clients, companies need to identify and employ competent and skilled call center agents capable of turning each customer into a loyal brand ambassador.  Based on our experience in high volume call center recruiting, the biggest challenge for recruiting and HR professionals is determining how to select the best talent for such positions when the competencies needed to perform these duties change and evolve constantly.  Many contact centers use multiple channels to provide quality service to customers via phone, email, online chat, and in some cases video chat.  Each channel requires a unique constellation of competencies to perform well, and a call center agent who might perform well using one channel may not be able to perform equally as well at another.  This makes it important for recruiters to identify what competencies are most important for specific roles before starting the search for qualified candidates.

Recruiters should begin by deciding which relevant competencies can easily and reliably be assessed and how to sequence them in terms of priority for the selection process.  For example, listening skills would be more important for representatives responding to customers via phone or video chat compared to those addressing customer concerns through email and text chat, where reading comprehension plays a greater role. Similarly, written communication skills and attention to detail would be more critical for call center agents communicating via text chat and emails than over the phone.

Against our advice, a client of ours once promoted their best customer service agents from phone-based support to email and text chat support only to find many of them unable to satisfy customers.  One funny example that comes to mind, which was not so funny at the time, was when a well-intended call center agent responded with I am sorry our product damaged your sh*t when he meant shirt.  Clearly, not all competencies are created equal across the different call center agent roles. Identifying and assessing critical competencies for successful performance is key for selecting the right quality candidates.

Obviously, not all call center agent positions are the same.  The competencies important in customer service positions also vary based on the type of call center and the services they provide.  For example, inbound center agents may need high level skills with conflict resolution, problem solving, technical trouble-shooting, or empathy.  An outbound center agent may require greater skills in presentation, negotiation, and relationship building.  Likewise, agents who communicate with customers through multiple channels may require higher level skills across a broader spectrum of competencies than a representative that focuses on a single channel.

As call centers adapt and change into contact centers with multiple customer service channels, companies will need to refine their competency models and change the candidate profiles of who they recruit and hire.  Reviewing and identifying critical competencies for specific positions can significantly impact the quality of candidates selected and, as a result, contact center performance.  Since quality customer service plays a critical role in a company’s ability to maintain business relationships with customers and protect its brand, ensuring that call center agents have the necessary skill sets at the appropriate level is a critical factor in ensuring business success.

How Call Center / Contact Center Agent Recruiting Professionals Can Impact the Business

  • Critically evaluate the competency model with the hiring team to ensure it is appropriate for the specific role you are recruiting
  • Build your candidate sourcing strategy from the competencies established for each unique role
  • Screen candidates for the specific competencies associated with each call center agent role
  • Revise your sourcing strategy and candidate screening process as positions evolve
  • Look beyond call center / contact center experience and focus more on the underlying competencies required for successful performance to build wider candidate pools
  • Partner with the hiring team to ensure recruitment and selection strategies are yielding hires that positively influence the key performance indicators that impact customer satisfaction and help the business meet its objectives

For more information about how to identify and connect critical call center agent competencies to call center recruiting strategies, please contact us here at The WorkPlace Group.

References

1. Top Contact Center Trends for 2015 – Compare Business Products http://www.comparebusinessproducts.com/resources/item/the-contact-center-in-2015

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Identifying Underemployed Workers: How to Find Great Talent

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics today’s U.S. unemployment rate is hovering around 5.5%. This is a significant improvement to the 10% unemployment rate that was reached in 2009. How does the 5.5% relate to the actual job market of today? A recent article by US News and World Report presents data suggesting that the current unemployment rate does not accurately capture how Americans are living and working today. It is important to note that the official unemployment rate only counts people who are actively seeking a job. Those not actively looking for work, those working part-time because they can’t find full-time work, and workers who are underemployed are not counted. If we include these individuals, the unemployment rate equals 11% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2015). This is 25% higher than when the Great Recession started in 2007.

Who are the Underemployed Workers?

Based on the job market data, it is safe to say that there is a large number of professional workers who are working in jobs that are below their skill levels, as well as part-time workers who are actually in need of full-time jobs. Although the number of new jobs in the last few years has increased, the majority of those jobs are at the entry and low-experience level. Therefore, those laid off at the start or during the recession may have only been able to find new jobs that underutilize their skills and experience. For example, someone who held a Director-level position pre-recession, may now be working as a manager.

The WorkPlace Group® has seen first-hand instances of underemployed workers on numerous occasions. For example, a recruiter at The WorkPlace Group® recently read the resume of an applicant who, on a cursory review, would be deemed not qualified. At first glance, her most recent positions involved temporary or contract work in roles that were a step back in comparison to her earlier work experience. But, upon closer review of her resume, it became obvious that she has extensive experience as a Senior Publications Editor & Publishing Specialist at a multinational mass media firm with just the specialized knowledge and experience our client needed. She is just one of the many underemployed workers who are likely to be passed over by hiring managers looking for specialized talent.

How To Find Great Talent Among the Underemployed Workers

As recruiters go through the selection and hiring process to find great talent for their employer, it is often difficult to determine if a candidate is the right fit for the job based on his or her resume. HR managers or recruiters might find themselves skipping over some great, quality candidates if they strictly focus on candidates’ current positions. It’s important to note that although someone may have taken a step back in their career due to labor market conditions, it does not mean that they aren’t looking to get back on track in their field or career advancement. While a resume tells us whether the candidate has the right experience for the job, it may not tell us the whole story. The WorkPlace Group® has some great tips for helping identify hidden talent among the underemployed:

1. When reviewing a candidate’s resume, evaluate their employment history for the past 10+ years, rather than the past 5 or 7 years. Consider candidates who had a consistent progression in their career prior to their most recent roles.

2. While reviewing a candidate’s resume, pay particular attention to candidates with educational credentials and certifications not required in their current role. These are likely to be candidates who are currently underemployed workers and will welcome an opportunity to work for your company.

3. When reviewing candidates look for individuals who are continually developing their skill sets. Candidates taking courses or attending seminars related to the positions they previously held may be currently underemployed and will welcome an opportunity to work for your company.

4. While interviewing candidates make sure to have a deep conversation about their job transitions to get an understanding of their current capacity. Topics to consider:

a. Does the candidate express feeling under-utilized in their current role?
b. Would the candidate prefer working in their current capacity or their prior capacity?
c. Is the candidate looking for a management or more senior level role?
d. Is this a role available with their current employer and why have they not moved into that role with their current employer?

The WorkPlace Group® Discovers Hidden Talent

While the unemployment rate seems to show promise in the job market and economy, the underemployed may beg to differ. Underemployed workers are out there, and more often than not are keenly interested in getting back on track in their chosen field and careers. The WorkPlace Group® has proven methods of finding and recruiting this hidden and talented workforce. For more information about how to tap into the underemployed market, please feel free to contact The WorkPlace Group®.

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Where’s the “Interview” in Video Interviewing?

The WorkPlace Group® is very familiar with the process of video interviewing as many of our clients have used it during their hiring process.  Typically, when we hear the phrase “video interviewing” we think of a dialogue between two people through two computer screens, similar to talking to someone through Skype. If Skype or another application is being used like Apple’s Facetime — there are several options, some designed specifically for recruitment — then a two-way, live interview is occurring.  We might also refer to these interview methods as web-based or mobile-based interviews.

However, more often than not, video interviewing platforms are being used to record candidates’ responses to a preset list of questions prior to the recruiter or hiring manager inviting the candidate to a face-to-face employment interview, whether that means in-person or via the web or mobile device.  As a result, what is often labeled “video interviewing” is in reality “video capturing.”

Video Interviewing or Video Capture?

When employers use video interviewing during the job application and recruitment process– for example when the candidate applies to a job or after reviewing candidates’ resumes or job applications– we are typically talking about video capturing. To do this, the employer sends a link to the candidate’s email, which, when clicked, presents a series of questions to the candidate’s computer screen. Depending on the configuration, the candidate may be able to scroll through all of the questions before responding or may be required to respond to the first question before seeing the next.  Candidates record their responses using the camera and microphone on their PC. Candidates must have a camera and microphone connected to their computer as well as an internet connection in order to record their responses.  Most providers of this technology will send a webcam to candidates who do not have a camera installed on their computer.  Candidates will then return the webcam to the provider once they have completed the interview.  Some providers of this technology also offer a mobile option.  This allows candidates to use their mobile device like a smartphone or iPad to complete the interview.

In an actual employment interview, whether in-person or over the web through video interviewing, there is a real person on the other end and a dialogue occurs in real time with questions, prompts and responses. With video capture the candidates respond to questions presented on their screen or via audio files pre-recorded by the recruiter or hiring manager. They are then given a finite time to record their response; typically, 90 seconds, but can be longer or shorter.

What Makes Video Capturing Different from Video Interviewing?

The employment interview is a specific type of data gathering methodology that contributes to a high-stake decision: hire or not hire.

The definition of an interview, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a formal consultation usually to evaluate qualifications,” and “a meeting at which information is obtained from a person.” What if the person collecting the information is not present during the interview?  Is it still an employment interview? Does an employment interview need to consist of at least two individuals interacting with each other, with at least one asking questions of the other? The scientific research on employment interviews suggests this is the case.  An employment interview involves a meeting between the employer and the candidate to review the candidate’s qualifications and can take many different forms: structured vs. unstructured; behavioral vs. situational vs. competency or some combination of all.

What if the method of collecting information from the job candidate is a one-way, or asynchronous, exchange of information, as in the case of video capturing? What if the interviewer is not present and the candidate is simply recording responses to a pre-set list of questions?  Would we still call this an employment interview?  Does this sound more like an employment test?

It remains to be seen whether candidates perceive video capture to be more like an employment test than an employment interview.  Either way, this is not necessarily negative.  Well-crafted employment tests have proven to be strong predictors of subsequent job performance.  However, employment tests have been subject to far more class action litigation regarding inappropriate hiring practices than employment interviews.  Thus employers need to use this technology with the same rigor, structure and consistency as a well-crafted employment test or structured employment interview.

Major differences between Video Interviewing and Video Capturing

Whereas a video interview is a virtual face-to-face employment interview, video capture is more like a survey that records not only what you say but how you say it and what you look like when you say it.  As such, it is important to note that video capture lacks a number of elements that a live interview entails. With video capture there are no follow-up questions or prompts to explore a candidate’s answers in more detail.  There is no opportunity for the candidate to ask for clarification as to what a question might mean.

In reviewing candidates’ responses in a video capture environment, recruiters and hiring managers often have the ability to randomly advance through candidates’ responses.  The entire response does not have to be reviewed.  Hiring Managers and recruiters also often have the ability to skip through and randomly select the questions they want to listen to.  Although listening to sound bites as oppose to candidates’ entire response to questions can save labor hours, employers should avoid haphazardly doing these things as it will likely lead to poor hiring decisions and potentially adverse impact.

How is Video Capture Typically Used?

Although video interviewing technology has been around for several years, it’s still in its infancy and employers are experimenting with the use of this technology. 

Video capture is most often used as a first-level screening tool.  By listening to and viewing how candidates respond to questions, recruiters and hiring managers can filter out candidates from advancing to an employment interview.  Employers who have experimented with a video capturing step in their recruitment process more often do so with entry level, high volume positions.  In general, job candidates with little to no work experience are more accepting and willing to participate in a hiring process that includes a video capture step than experienced professionals.  Since video capturing closely resembles an employment test, there can be considerable costs for validating the questions to be asked and the way in which responses will be evaluated.  At least this is what employers should do to take full advantage of these systems and maintain compliance with fair hiring practices.

The WorkPlace Group®’s Advice to Employers

As is true of all technology designed to enable aspects of the recruitment process, the methodology of how the technology is to be used and the intelligence that is loaded into system makes all the difference in the accuracy of the employment decisions it helps us make.  In absence of methodology and intelligence, the technology is like having a navigation system without an uploaded road map.  Without knowledge of highways and where they lead, the navigation system can’t get you to your desired destination.

To best take advantage of this technology, employers need to ensure that the questions asked in the interview are job related.  Employers also need to develop an evaluation or scoring key and train recruiters and hiring managers on how to make accurate and fair employment decisions based on what candidates say and do during these video captures.  Employers are well advised, if they don’t have an expert on staff, to work with an Industrial / Organizational psychologist to ensure the content loaded into the system has been validated and those using the system do so correctly and in line with good hiring practices.

For more information about using video interviewing and video capture in your recruitment, selection and hiring process, please contact a WorkPlace Group® associate.

Please read Increased Availability of Pre-Employment Assessments Increases Employer Responsibility for more information on the value of validating candidate assessments.

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Increased Availability of Pre-employment Assessments Increases Employer Responsibility

Fact #1: Bad hiring decisions cost a lot of money – not to mention all the intangibles, such as disruptive work environment, management’s and HR’s time dealing with the “bad” hire, etc.

Fact #2: Incorporating pre-employment tests/assessments into a company’s selection process can help minimize erroneous hires and improve quality of hires and retention rates … but only if:

The pre-employment assessment tool is:

  • Appropriate for the job you are hiring
  • Properly incorporated in your employee testing and selection process
  • Used in the spirit in which the developer(s) intended it

Being a team of Industrial/Organizational psychologists, we are obviously huge proponents of incorporating structured pre-employment assessment methodologies beyond the typical interview (which, as a side note, is still considered a pre-employment test from a legal perspective in the U.S., as is the resume review) in the employee selection process.  As consultants working with corporate clients, however, we oftentimes have to caution them about using such tools, particularly, off-the-shelf (or, nowadays, off-the-web or on-demand) tests. Such advice has nothing to do with the quality of the pre-employment assessments available in the marketplace but everything to do with the clients’ willingness to do the right thing by doing it right.

With increased availability and easy access to these off-the shelf/web pre-employment assessments, comes increased responsibility on the part of employers to make sure they are using the appropriate tools and using them correctly. It’s not enough to simply identify a pre-employment test that appears to be assessing the desired skills or competencies; you need to dig deeper.

To start, you need to ensure:

  1. the reliability of the pre-employment assessment
  2. the validity of the test
  3. that it assesses the skills or competencies you really want to measure

Ensuring that the pre-employment assessment you are considering was developed using a solid methodology (speaking to its content validity) and has robust psychometric properties (e.g., good reliability, reasonable item-level statistics) can get a bit tricky, especially if you are trying to decide among two or more tests.

The testing industry does not use a standardized way of communicating this type of information. What and how much information you can get about a pre-employment assessment depends solely on the vendor – and beware of vendors that don’t have substantive information readily available for your review. When it comes to evaluating the psychometric properties of an assessment tool, our recommendation is to always get an independent expert opinion. If you do not have someone available on staff, spend the few extra dollars and use an independent consultant – it will pay off in the end.

We recently reviewed a multiple-choice pre-employment assessment that one of our clients was considering using in their employee selection process. The test was titled “Written English” and was described as a test evaluating individuals’ reading comprehension and grammar knowledge of the English language. If our client wanted to ensure that candidates could comprehend written language and identify grammatical errors in written passages, then this test would have definitely been one of the pre-employment assessments to consider. However, when we dug a bit deeper, we uncovered that what they really wanted was to ensure that candidates could write comprehensible English. Thus, this test did not measure the specific skill or competency the client was ultimately targeting.

Now if you did your homework and found a pre-employment assessment that accurately measures skills or competencies you need and you determined it does well from a psychometric perspective … are you ready to put it to work for you? Not quite. You still need to establish policies and procedures governing the use of the selected pre-employment test.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • At what point in the employee selection process will the test be administered?
  • How will the test be administered (e.g., paper and pencil vs. online, off- vs. on-site, supervised vs. unsupervised)?
  • What, if any, will be the “retake” policy?

And most importantly:

  • How will the scores be utilized in the employee selection process?

This last consideration should be taken very seriously, especially if you want to ensure the “legality” of your employee selection process. Your answer to this last question dictates the final step necessary prior to using the pre-employment assessment. If the test scores will be used for screening purposes (i.e., determining whether candidates move on in the selection process or not), then you will need to conduct a cut-score study. The purpose of the cut-score study is to establish the “minimum acceptable” amount of information a candidate needs to know in order to be considered “qualified” for the specific position.

Alternatively, if you will use the test to rank candidates in making employee selection decisions, you should first make sure that, indeed, a higher test score is likely to result in better job performance; i.e., the test has criterion-related validity.

It is a fact of work life that pre-employment selection tests are here to stay, and for good reason – they help us identify the “most qualified” and screen out the “unqualified,” while saving time and expense, especially in cases where you are lucky enough to have large pools of candidates applying to your openings.

However, with the proliferation of pre-employment assessments in the marketplace, the ease of acquiring them, and their relative low cost, there is also an increased propensity to quickly adopt them without giving it much thought.

A pre-employment assessment can yield substantial benefits but only if it is the “right tool for the right job.” If it only minimally contributes to the ”quality” of your hires, then it is a tool you can do without.

For more information about choosing, implementing and administrating pre-employment tests in your recruitment, selection and hiring process, please contact a WorkPlace Group® associate.

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How the EEOC Guidelines makes “Ban the Box” a National Issue

To add to our previous posts on the “Ban the Box” trend happening across states and municipalities we wanted to share this interesting article from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “Perform Criminal Background Checks at Your Peril.” The WorkPlace Group has been following “Ban the Box” trends because these laws will continue to affect the hiring process of employers. In addition to States like New Jersey, Illinois, California, Minnesota and Colorado, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is also implementing “Ban the Box” policies at the national level. Should the EEOC continue in this direction, “Ban the Box” laws could come to affect all U.S. employers.

What is the EEOC Saying About Background Checks?

The EEOC has started to use Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to sue businesses for a wide range of hiring practices that negatively impacted minorities. An example happened in 1989 when the EEOC sued Carolina Freight Carrier Corp. for refusing to hire an Hispanic man as a truck driver. This man had a history of multiple arrests and served 18 months in jail for larceny. The U.S. District Judge Jose Alejandro Gonzalez, Jr. ruled against the agency saying that the “EEOC’s position that minorities should be held to lower standards is an insult to millions of honest Hispanics.” As Judge Gonzalez stated, “a rule refusing honest employment to convicted applications is going to have a disparate impact upon thieves.”

In April 2014, the EEOC unveiled the “Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions.” These guidelines state that criminal record exclusions have a disparate impact based on race and national origin. If you have been following The WorkPlace Group’s blog posts, then this should sound familiar. This is the long version of “ban the box.”

Where is the Connection Between Minorities and Ban the Box

The WSJ cites statistics indicating that the crime rate of certain races is exponentially higher than that of other races. These statistics form the basis for EEOC’s concern and recommendation to employers to change their application process. A former EEOC General Counsel stated in testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that employers could be considered guilty “of race discrimination if they choose law abiding applicants over applicants with criminal convictions.” (According to the same WSJ article) A considerable challenge for employers will be complying with EEOC guidelines even if they are not in a state with a “ban the box” law.

How Will the EEOC’s New Guidelines Really Affect Minorities?

The WSJ describes several studies that show fewer minorities are hired when employers conduct background checks in comparison to employers who don’t. The WSJ is suggesting that EEOC’s guidelines and stance on this topic may actually hurt the employment of those minorities it is purposely trying to protect.

“Ban the Box” Advice for Employers

Even if your state does not have a “ban the box” law currently, given the EEOC’s position on this issue, we recommend all employers delay inquiring or collecting any information on applicants’ criminal histories or conducting a background check until after an offer of employment has been extended.

We invite examples of how employers are changing their employment applications and selection process to comply with EEOC’s and State trends on “Ban the Box” legislature. We also welcome your questions as to how to best comply with this national trend.

For more information on how to ready your employment process for “Ban the Box” trends, please feel free to contact a WorkPlace Group Associate for assistance.

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