It’s currently a job-seeker’s market with contact centers in tight labor markets facing stiff competition for top talent. Add to that the industry’s high rate of turnover and it is easy to see why so many contact centers live in a continuous cycle of recruiting and hiring.
In today’s increasingly complex support environment, the competitive edge goes to companies that consistently deliver a superior customer experience. Simply filling call center seats is not an option. But while the frontline customer service professional’s role has been evolving in recent years, many contact centers tend to revert to the same job requirement they’ve been using for decades—namely, previous call center experience. But is X number of years working in a call center really the best way to determine which job candidates are most equipped to represent and support a brand’s reputation?
Meet Michael Rotter. As a divisional practice lead at Aerotek, a leading global recruiting and staffing services provider, Rotter is responsible for matching employers with qualified candidates for their customer service positions. As a staffing professional, Rotter has a keen understanding of both the employer’s and the job-seeker’s requirements for success. And while the call center may be the client, he works just as hard to ensure that skilled job-seekers are placed in service and support positions that offer rewarding work, growth and career development opportunities. Not surprisingly, his clients tend to have lower turnover than the typical call center.
Exit Interviews Provide Valuable Insights
How does Rotter align a call center’s business requirements with the strengths, values and characteristics that help a candidate to excel in a particular job and work environment? He begins by working with each employer to qualify their open positions. This requires some digging to uncover the underlying needs. For instance, does the job really require a candidate to have worked in a contact center before, or does the work call for someone who excels at problem-solving for different customer types and issues?
To understand what the call center’s work environment is like, Aerotek conducts exit interviews with each client’s departing employees and contract workers. These one-on-one discussions touch on the key areas that determine job satisfaction, such as how the employee viewed the training that was offered, what they liked and disliked about the job, significant challenges they faced on the job, what types of skills would have benefited them in their daily work, and what kinds of growth opportunities were available to them.
The responses help Rotter to develop a profile of an ideal candidate who would be a good fit for the job and company culture. While hiring managers might be inclined to zero in on those job-seekers who have other call centers listed on their resumes, Rotter says that a better barometer for determining a good match for the position are the personality traits and skills that a candidate would need to excel in the role.
For instance, candidates with brick-and-mortar retail or food service experience often bring with them experience and skill sets that translate well to a call center setting. “They may be used to working in a high-pressure environment with commissions for upselling or having to hit a sales quota, and working odd hours or on weekends,” he explains. “Some traits overlap and, at times, the person without direct contact center experience might be more effective because they’re used to dealing with a diverse customer base that requires them to be honing their conflict resolution skills on a daily basis.”
Universal Attributes for Service Professionals
While every employer has a unique culture and their call center positions may call for specific skill sets, there are a few attributes that are relatively universal to succeed in a frontline call center CSR role today, says Rotter. Those are critical thinking, conflict resolution and the ability to communicate effectively. And, of course, “punctuality is vital,” he notes.
In addition, proper grammar for written conversations is critical since most companies have one or more text-based channels. Also important are typing speed (productivity) and computer literacy (toggling screens, being able to use different programs to access information).
To gauge a candidate’s critical thinking and conflict resolution abilities, Rotter says that asking behavioral questions is an essential part of the screening process. “We ask all of our clients to help us come up with five or six strong behavioral questions that may be tailored to the type of work that they do,” he explains. “This allows us to disqualify candidates who don’t have those skills.”
Good behavioral questions to ask include:
- Tell me about a conflict that you had with a previous supervisor. How did you deal with it?
- Tell me about a time that you were part of a team that wasn’t successful. What could you have done to change the outcome?
“We try to ask questions that make candidates think and which require them to provide specific examples of where they’ve had to do things that were outside of their job title,” he adds.
Redefining the Agent Profile
Employers often adhere to narrow, long-held job requirements that have not evolved with the industry or the role. “It limits them tremendously, especially in today’s competitive environment,” Rotter says. “Flexibility is one of the most important qualities that will attract job-seekers who are in the marketplace, and it also allows the company to cast the widest net for talent.”
If your contact center has been in operation for 10 years or longer, it may be time to test your job description, he adds. “It will broaden your opportunity to find great people. A lot of that comes through the exit interviews,” he explains. “We learn a great deal about what the job actually is compared to what the employer tells us it is on the front end.”
Rotter also recommends that employers provide specific information about career advancement opportunities and define what makes them unique from other contact centers in their region. “There are so many frontline CSR positions available now that we need to be more creative to fill contact center jobs,” he says. “By creating very specific qualifying questions for our clients around what’s truly important for their business, and working in partnership to grow the position and create an organically positive workplace culture, our clients have experienced a lot more success.”
Finally, when considering their staffing plans, Rotter advises companies to consider the long-term impact, not just short-term cost savings. “Companies that are too focused on the numbers often end up underpaying their reps, which results in high turnover and lower quality,” he says. “The bottom line may look good right now, but it’s not an effective long-term plan. At the end of the day, the most critical outcome is the value that your people provide to your customers.”