A common cause of customer service new-hire turnover in contact centers
Illustration By Dan Hetteix

I often ask leaders of award-winning contact centers what they think is the key strength of their operation. They almost always point to their people. Many also stress that the “secret sauce” is hiring the right type of service staff—those who are enthusiastic, positive and who demonstrate a passion for helping customers. These companies typically adhere to a rigorous hiring process and the managers never settle for less than excellent.

Unfortunately, in an industry where high turnover rates are considered a fact of life, many more contact centers cave to internal pressures. The need to hire quickly and fill seats outweighs the consequences of bringing on board a bad hire—leading to a perpetual cycle of disengagement and attrition.

“The longer the position has been open and the more positions you have to fill, the more you’re willing to lower your standards,” says Mark Murphy, founder of leadership training and research firm Leadership IQ, and author of Hiring for Attitude: Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting Star Performers with Both Tremendous Skills and Super Attitude. “Too many managers go into interviews looking for reasons to hire, as opposed to looking for reasons not to hire.”

A three-year study by Leadership IQ, found that 46% of new-hires fail within the first 18 months, largely due to a lack of interpersonal skills. The research, based on 5,247 interviews with hiring managers from 312 organizations, revealed that:

  • 26% of new-hires fail because they can’t accept feedback,
  • 23% because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions,
  • 17% because they lack the necessary motivation to excel, and
  • 15% have the wrong temperament for the job.

“We discovered that most job interviews focused on technical skills rather than a candidate’s coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament,” Murphy says. “It’s not that technical skills aren’t important, but they’re not a predictor of a new-hire’s success or failure.”

Although attitudinal interviews are more effective at assessing future success, Murphy says that managers often rush through this part of the process. If they feel like they’ve clicked with a candidate after a couple of questions, they often end up skipping the rest of the questions. In fact, the majority (82%) of hiring managers in the study reported that, in hindsight, that they had overlooked the clues that a candidate probably wouldn’t work out because they were pressed for time, were tired of the process or believed that training could transform the wrong candidates into high-performing employees.

How can you prevent hiring failures? Murphy advises going into it with a crystal-clear plan of which questions you’re going to ask and in which order. Be prepared: Know what good and bad responses to those questions sound like, and what actions you’ll take if you get a bad answer.

For instance, if your interview plan includes five questions that you’re going to ask, even if a candidate provides outstanding responses to the first three, don’t stop there. Always ask the final two questions. “If the candidate gives a poor response on any of the questions, no matter how much you like the person or how much you feel that you’ve already clicked, let that poor response stand and give the interview low marks,” he says. “It takes discipline to be willing to say, ‘I am perfectly OK with not hiring somebody.’”