Recruiting for the Contact Center of the Future


For more than a decade, a push toward virtual contact centers with work-from-home (WFH) agents has been moderately successful. However, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that trend at lightning speed as contact centers around the world were shut down to comply with stay-at-home orders and forced to enable associates to work remotely almost overnight. Now, as many countries begin to open up with social distancing protocols and best practices in place, it’s becoming clear that the model of hundreds of associates sitting side-by-side in an enclosed building isn’t going to be reality for a long time.

While the technology to enable the move to virtual contact centers has been available for many years, COVID-19 has led to the industry’s widespread adoption of solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled automation and workforce management to WFH agents who are dealing with rapidly changing demand for customer support.

As the industry embraces this digital transformation, contact center recruiting and hiring is following suit. As corporations and contact centers look to rebuild capacity that was lost the first few months after the pandemic took hold, they’re now faced with recruiting and hiring at scale, while anticipating future decreases and spikes in demand.

To recruit and hire effectively in this environment, organizations must take advantage of innovative technology and processes that meet the unique challenges and opportunities presented by our new normal. Here’s how.

Embrace a Digitized Approach to Contact Center Recruiting

Across industries, recruiting has gone digital since the start of the pandemic and likely will remain that way until organizations and candidates are comfortable meeting face-to-face. Digital candidate assessment and testing tools enable candidates to complete assessments at home. Such tests measure typing, internet speed, hardware speed and skills. Drug tests and operations validation also are now conducted remotely. And, by integrating all of these steps into an automated workflow, contact center recruiters can ensure that candidates move quickly through the recruiting funnel.

To increase the number of applicants in the funnel, companies still rely on recruitment marketing to drive applicants and direct sourcing using recruiters. However, with fully digitized recruiting, companies also are leveraging AI-enabled bots to automatically create search strings to parse resumes off job boards and engage candidates electronically to convert them into applicants.

Just as AI, chat, phone and email can be leveraged to deal with customer service inquiries, those technologies can be leveraged in recruiting and hiring, from assessing candidates to scheduling interviews to answering standard questions. With digitized recruiting, email and chat are key interaction mechanisms to manage the candidate experience. All communications channels should be interchangeable so candidates can switch channels without disrupting their experience. Additionally, in designing a digitized flow, clients must ensure as much of the process as possible is accessible via mobile device regardless of whether a browser, email or chat are being used.

Optimize Remote Contact Center Recruiting and Hiring

Hiring remote agents is not the same as hiring for local-only positions. What processes and technologies enable organizations to do remote recruiting and hiring well?

Recruiters should start by detailing the specific requirements for each WFH agent profile. A traditional customer service program, for example, might require a candidate with some form of customer interaction experience. While contact center experience would be preferred, often individuals who have worked in a retail environment are comfortable interacting with customers. For more technical programs or those that require healthcare-licensed agents, target candidates who have the appropriate certifications and licenses to ensure you bring in WFH agents with the correct qualifications. For customer service, traditional job postings with candidate engagement technology to process applicants is typically sufficient.

Video interviews are important for face-to-face activities such as operations assessments. And, automation and reminders throughout the recruiting funnel are critical. In the days of in-person interviews and assessments, a candidate could complete a large set of tasks, including drug tests, operations assessments, I-9 paperwork and typing speed tests, while they were at the contact center facility. Now, they must complete each of these activities at home in addition to ensuring that their workstation and internet can support the role’s requirements. In other words, there are more steps than before and they still all have to be completed before the candidate can start. Integrating automated reminders with phone calls from recruiters, when necessary, can help shorten time-to-hire and increase the throughput of the recruiting funnel.

When it comes to remote technology assessments, solutions are available that allow recruiters to assess a WFH candidate’s tech capabilities, including RAM level of the machine, upload/download speeds and internet access. Asking specific questions about the location of the workstation and noise levels also are important to ensure a good customer experience. With more and more companies purchasing and sending workstations to the WFH agent’s home office as part of the onboarding process, be sure to thoroughly screen the agent to ensure they will be retained. Cost-per-hire increases considerably when you are providing high-cost workstations.

Prepare for Uncertainty Around Demand

Historically, companies have relied on their own talent acquisition teams and managed their hiring processes based on sophisticated demand forecasts that incorporate typical seasonality estimates. However, due to record increases in COVID-19 cases across the country in 2020, it became increasingly clear that traditional economic and supply chain forecasting models would not work. As a result, enterprise talent acquisition teams understand that the old way of doing things isn’t going to work.

For example, when the pandemic first hit, travelers were calling airlines and hotels to cancel their business trips. Then, the stock market crashed and huge numbers of people were calling their brokers to figure out what to do with their portfolios. Stuck at home, consumer behavior changed and there was massive demand for sanitizers, paper goods, PPE and consumer products that make quarantine more acceptable such as new TVs, furniture and appliances. Such demands placed challenges on the entire supply chain from manufacturing to delivery. Frequently, people dealt with order delays and late shipments. All these challenges drove more call volume to the contact centers for the logistics providers and e-commerce companies. When the market crashed, the Fed decreased interest rates to near zero, causing an increase in refinancing and a shortage of WFH agents to handle the refinance-related calls.

How can contact centers manage recruiting and hiring given this heightened level of uncertainty? Flexible technology, processes and organizational alignment with partners are key to keeping fixed costs low and optimizing scalability.

Companies that didn’t leverage MSPs and VMS providers might now look to that model. Similarly, organizations will look for even more flexible and cost-effective arrangements, including leveraging public and private talent pools. Being able to scale recruiting up and down quickly using a partner will become more important. Traditional staffing models included minimums and did not have the flexibility to drop resources overnight. Cost-per-hire models for contingent labor may become more common as predictability of demand goes out the window.

Consider Flexible RPO Partners

Identifying and acting on shortages or surpluses of contact center agents must be more dynamic. It requires a new type of partnership—one that is flexible and not bound by time frames that no longer work.

Instead of the traditional big business process outsourcing (BPO) or recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) contracts requiring long-term commitments, contact centers are looking for flexible relationships that enable them to scale up and down with a few days to a few weeks of notice. They want to establish partnerships with providers who can increase or decrease recruiting capacity rapidly.

A contact center with seasonal demand shifts, WFH agents or high-volume recruiting needs can benefit by partnering with flexible RPO providers. For example, a company that hires 8,000 people per year is likely using a 20-person recruiting team onshore to do so. Alternatively, an RPO partner with a much larger team can handle such seasonality and demand shifts with a team of more than 1,500 recruiters. With a flexible service contract, such a partner can diversify seamlessly and handle demand fluctuations better than in-house teams and minimize capital expenditures.

Contact centers have been thrust into a world in which the recruiting process has become digitized. The right partners, processes and technology can help them improve the candidate experience, agent quality and employee retention. A flexible RPO partner can help contact centers optimize process flow and leverage the right technologies given their hiring needs. Whether you’re managing a large contact center program with customer service agents or a higher-end program targeting licensed agents or candidates with more nuanced skill sets, the right partner can help you through uncertainty.

Brian Cotter has been Co-President of PSG since its founding, and focuses on overseeing the company’s US operations. Prior to co-founding PSG, Brian was Vice President of Operations for eTelecare Global Solutions, a publicly traded business process outsourcing company. At eTelecare Brian managed a $60M division with 1,500 onshore and offshore employees. Brian joined eTelecare from Bain & Company, where he worked as a senior consultant for clients across a range of industries, including technology and financial services. Brian also worked for Bain’s Private Equity Group, advising private equity investors on acquisition candidates in a variety of service industries, including the staffing industry.