According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 2.5 million Americans were employed as customer service professionals (CSP).  Further research, conducted by Paul Stockford of leading industry analyst firm Saddletree Research, indicates that the call center industry as a whole continues to add jobs at a fairly healthy pace.  Some of this is replacement hiring – filling jobs vacated through attrition – but a large portion of it is through industry growth.  According to Stockford, the industry saw a net gain of nearly 52,000 jobs in 2013.  Business process outsourcers (BPOs) factored heavily in this growth as did companies that were created or expanded to support the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

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Irrespective of the catalyst, the act of sourcing, recruiting and hiring a CSP can be an expensive proposition.  Industry estimates generally settle on a figure of $6,500 per hire but can range as high as $10,000 or more for highly specialized positions requiring lengthier training and onboarding.  For a modestly sized center of say 500 agents that experiences the industry average turnover of 30%, this means 150 new employees need to be hired each year, just to replace those who have left.  This results in an annual hiring cost to the organization of $975,000 or more.

Other industry surveys suggest that, despite the extensive use of self-service technologies, CSPs are more important than ever.  Customers today are better informed having often conducted their own research prior to engaging a CSP.  Therefore, these kinds of interactions tend to be more complex requiring CSPs who possess excellent communication, language and critical thinking skills in order to deliver an exceptional customer experience.  It’s no longer enough just to be able to read a script and operate a computer at the same time.

The hiring process is critical for both the company and the prospective employee.  Improving its efficiency and effectiveness has proven to reduce hiring costs, reduce voluntary attrition and improve the overall operational performance of the center.  This paper offers five strategies to help organizations get the most out of their CSPs by improving the hiring process.

Cast a Wider Net

Look for ways to increase the number of candidates that are brought through the hiring process.  More choices generally mean better choices, presuming they can be acted upon in a timely fashion; otherwise they just overload the recruiting team.

The more common sources of candidates include the company’s careers page and employee referrals.  Job boards such as CareerBuilder, Monster, Yahoo! Jobs and others can be effective as well.  To reach passive job candidates – those who may be looking for a job, but don’t have a specific company in mind – consider social media channels that are likely to be used by an ideal job candidate, such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Sourcing analytics provide a valuable tool in identifying the best and most effective channels.  However, companies need to look beyond just the quantity of candidates found and hired from each of these sources.  Companies should also measure the quality-of-hire including tenure and on-the-job performance to identify the best-performing sources.

Shorten the Decision Interval

It can take as long as 35 business days – that’s 7 business weeks – to source, recruit, screen and hire a new CSP.  Add to this 4 weeks or so for onboarding and training and it can be several months before a new hire is as proficient as the CSP he or she is replacing.  Unless this interval is factored into the center’s staffing plan, it’s likely that service levels and customer satisfaction will suffer.

Part of that interval is spent waiting for results of background checks and drug tests, for example, but a significant portion of is also spent while the recruiting team works through the initial stages of the interview process.  Look for ways to slash time, either through automation or by compressing steps.

Another factor at play is the length of time a job candidate will wait before a job offer as made.  Many CSP candidates are probably also looking for employment elsewhere and will likely take the first offer that comes their way.  Therefore, the longer it takes to make hiring decisions effectively reduces the quality of the hiring pool.

Automate Early Stages of the Process

Many companies have invested in Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to facilitate online applications and ensure each subsequent stage is successfully completed.  There are other steps that could benefit from the application of technology as well.

A telephone interview, primarily to gauge the applicant’s communication and language skills, is a common early step in most CSP hiring.  Recruiters may spend several days trying to reach applicants to complete this step and may never reach some well-qualified applicants.

Using virtual interviewing technology early in the hiring process – as a step that is automatically started immediately after completing and application, for example – can substantially reduce the decision time while reaching passive candidates and reducing the cost of hire.  For example, employing virtual interviewing technology reduces the hiring interval by 40% and reduces the cost of hire by 54%.

This approach has the added benefit of increasing candidate engagement as well.  Organizational research finds that candidates who receive early and frequent communication from a hiring company are more likely to form a positive opinion of the company and are generally more willing to wait longer to receive a job offer.

Link Key Outcomes

A leading driver of attrition – especially early in a new hire’s tenure – is a poor match between the candidate’s abilities or expectations and the demands of the job.  Exposing candidates to realistic job previews can help in this regard, but tend to be time and labor-intensive and generally occur too late in the process.

Innovations in computing, specifically in machine learning and predictive analytics, can effectively link how a candidate performs during the recruiting process with how that person is likely to perform “on the floor,” if hired.  By collecting pre-hire interview and assessment results from all candidates and then monitoring their tenure and performance during their employment, accurate and reliable models can be developed that aid in automatically identifying future candidates that are likely to excel.  As more data are collected, these models improve thereby increasing their value.

Predict Best Job Fit

A significant field of study with respect to organizational behavior regards the role emotions play in employees’ relationships.  The notion of “emotional affect” influences critical organizational outcomes such as job performance, decision making, turnover, teamwork and leadership.  It also impacts interactions outside the organization – with customers, partners and vendors, for example – and can be easily measured and categorized.

During the pre-hire process, a candidate’s emotional disposition can be extracted from their verbal responses to telephone interview questions.  The use of virtual interviewing technology is especially helpful here in that these candidate responses can be recorded and more easily extracted using audio analysis technology.

Furthermore, every typical job type has a unique affective fingerprint.  For example, CSPs who excel at sales tend to be more energetic and enthusiastic; CSPs who excel at technical support tend to be more relaxed and calm.  This is another perfect application of machine learning and predictive analytics and results in job applicants being matched to the job best suited for them.

Final Word

Despite significant investments in self-service technologies, the customer experience is still largely dependent on a well-trained, motivated, skilled CSP.  Process and technology are largely masked from a customer and it’s the communication, language and critical thinking skills of the CSP that means the difference between an exceptional interaction and an unfulfilling one.  Innovative companies are adopting new strategies and advanced technologies to transform their hiring processes to source, recruit and hire CSPs that are capable of delivering on this promise.  The result is reduced recruiting costs, improved agent retention and increased performance against the key metrics in the contact center.

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