What leader wouldn’t love to fill his or her contact center with highly skilled customer service professionals who will stay for a while and help to grow the business? That might be easier to do if you had unlimited time at your disposal, but in the fast-paced, ever-changing, always-putting-out-fires contact center environment, the need to quickly fill seats sometimes outranks a thorough vetting process.
“Contact centers often can’t go through a normalized system or approach to hiring because time is of the essence,” says John Loughlin, senior director of client solutions and delivery at HighPoint Global, which helps government agencies elevate the citizen experience through contact center optimization, IT services, training and knowledge management services. While a formal hiring approach may include several stages and successive interviews, many centers operate under strict time constraints imposed by seasonal spikes, promotions or other events for which they have to quickly ramp up.
When working within a compressed time frame, managers often default to hiring someone based on whether or not they like the individual or their gut-feeling about a candidate, rather than making a decision based on facts, data and objective interview results.
Reveal Your Stars with Behavioral-based Questions
Even if you’re crunched for time, it’s important to have a hiring strategy. “Make sure that your leadership team understands that hiring is not a process that you leave to chance,” says Loughlin. “You need a hiring plan that has well-thought-out components outlining who you’re looking for and why; who is a cultural fit and why; and what types of skills and knowledge you want your employees to have so that you can design questions against the competencies.”
Interview questions should be reviewed periodically and revised to reflect changes in the position. “Often companies will create a set of interview questions and then never look at them again,” he says. “Then the positions evolve, but the questions stay the same. You want to make sure that your questions are actually capturing the job fit or what you’re looking for in a candidate based on the role.”
Behavioral-based interview questions can help to reveal a candidate’s true attitudes and actual experience with various aspects of the job. Behavioral-based questions—such as those that begin with, “Tell me about a time…,” “Explain to me how…” or “Describe a situation where you…”—require the interviewee to describe not only what they’ve done, but how they went about it, specific steps taken, their thought process behind decisions, what the resolution or outcome was, and the impact for the business.
Loughlin recommends that managers use the STAR approach to guide their assessment of a candidate’s responses. STAR stands for situation, task, action, result. “When a candidate can meet a STAR, typically it means the person has actually performed that particular job, role or assignment,” he explains. If an interviewee can only tell you the situation or the task, but can’t meet the STAR by describing their actions and the results, then they’re likely just talking about something that they may have awareness of but for which they lack real experience or knowledge.
The STAR approach makes it easier to rank candidates’ past performance based on your questions. Those who finish the interview with the highest number of stars would be your top candidates. You can also set thresholds for moving to the next stage in the hiring process; for instance, candidates who don’t receive at least seven stars on 10 questions will not make it through to the next step.
Track Supervisors’ Progress for Improvement Opportunities
If your supervisors or team leads are involved in the interview process, Loughlin says that it’s essential to track how well they perform at identifying and hiring top talent. “Match the supervisor to the interviews that they conduct and to the performance of the agents as they hit the contact center floor, and track the progress over a period of 90 days,” he explains.
Analyzing the performance data of your new-hires along with their interview results will often reveal opportunities for tweaking specific interview questions or other parts of the hiring process. It will also help to identify supervisors who may need additional coaching on interviewing skills.
In addition to tracking supervisors’ hiring performance, sitting in on the interviews can help you to pinpoint areas for improvement in low-performing supervisors. You may also want to monitor your top-performing supervisors to find out what makes them shine and incorporate those practices into your center’s hiring plan.
Leverage Technology to Streamline Recruiting and Attract Top Talent
Many recruiting models are filled with redundancies and inefficiencies on the front end, which can often cause qualified candidates to lose interest long before reaching the interview stage. Automating sourcing and prescreening activities can save time, resources and ensure that those who meet with hiring managers are eligible, interested and understand what they’re applying for. Using the latest technology in the recruiting process can also help to differentiate employers in the eyes of potential job candidates, particularly millennials who are known to be attracted to tech-savvy companies.
Like many organizations, global customer service solutions provider Alorica relied on job boards for sourcing candidates. In recent years, though, the company, which employs more than 100,000 people globally, found itself fighting for talent in an increasingly competitive landscape.
Company leaders realized that job-seeking millennials were turning to social media rather than job boards to find opportunities. “We had to start thinking about how to position ourselves on social media—how do we get the message out that we are hiring?” recalls Ashish Bisaria, Alorica’s global head of client advocacy. “We also recognized early in the process that it’s not only about getting the word out. Curiosity about job openings is instantaneous, but when potential applicants want to interact, our business hours limited that interaction. Our HR organization is available Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but that’s not when people are on social media.”
So how do you engage job-seekers and retain their interest if they can’t immediately connect with someone to answer their questions? Enter chatbot technology. Alorica’s recruitment chatbot is designed to facilitate the initial Q&A session with potential applicants, answering all of their basic questions about the company, job, pay, hours, benefits and how to apply, and prompts candidates with additional questions to gather more details about their interests, backgrounds and requirements. Recruiters can then follow up with prequalified candidates during business hours. Insights gathered from chatbot Q&A sessions also can be used to compare applicants’ strengths, interests and backgrounds with Alorica’s extensive job profile database to guide candidates toward the best job-fit.
The chatbot technology is embedded into Alorica’s website and regional Facebook pages. Initially, getting people’s attention and engaging with them on social media was a matter of trial and error, says Bisaria. “We leveraged our internal resources to make adoption much simpler,” he explains. Since the company’s employee referral program is its top source of hires, employees were encouraged to share with their friends the direct links to connect with the chatbot.
Alorica has been using chatbot technology for recruiting since December 2016 with impressive results. In its first year, there was a 50% increase in interviews processed. The chatbot currently handles 7,000 to 10,000 interactions each month, and well over 100,000 per year. The online conversion rate is between 14%-16% compared with 4%-6% for traditional channels (job placement boards and via the HR organization), and the company has reduced its cost-per-hire by 84%.
Importantly, the immediacy of the initial screening session also allows Alorica to interact with qualified job-seekers before they move on to competitors’ job sites, says Bisaria. “Technology gives us that edge; it makes us more efficient and effective as an organization.
“We recognize that people want to do their best—and technology can help to take that performance one level higher,” he adds. “Humans on a very good day are only about two sigma accurate, but the right tool and the right technology can enhance human performance from two sigma to six sigma.”