By Kevin Hegebarth
Despite the continued soft economy, contact center hiring has remained strong. According to Saddletree Research, the contact center industry has added over 40,000 new jobs in the past two years. Nearly 11,000 of those jobs were added in the second quarter of 2011 alone. Furthermore, according to a recent survey by the career community website Careerbliss.com, customer service representative was the number two comeback job with an average salary increase of more than 26 percent over 2009. Technical support representative was ranked tenth, with a 16 percent increase. These statistics indicate that contact center jobs are in high demand and employers are paying a premium for qualified labor.
Despite this seemingly good news, contact center turnover has changed very little over the past ten years. Many companies report turnover of 100 percent or more, which means they are replacing their entire agent population every year. This is expensive in terms of customer satisfaction and costs to recruit, train, and coach new agents. Whether the primary mission is service, sales, collections, or technical support, contact center operations need to sustain a robust pipeline of candidates with excellent communication skills to handle customer interactions quickly and satisfactorily.
The Hiring Process: Customer service employees form a customer’s first and lasting impression of a company. Therefore, finding those applicants with excellent communication and customer service skills are paramount. Many companies use recruiter-initiated telephone interviewing to gather basic information about a potential employee’s qualifications, as well as gauge their fitness as a company representative. This process can be time-consuming because a recruiter must often make several attempts to reach a candidate. It’s also expensive in that recruiters often spend upward of twenty minutes or more on a live telephone interview. What’s more, it’s likely to capture only a small subset of quality candidates due to pressures to fill positions quickly, limited time on the part of the recruiter to perform such tasks, and the availability of candidates to participate in a live phone interview. Using virtual interviewing technologies can not only reduce the cost to recruit new agents, but can also increase the number of qualified candidates in the hiring pool and dramatically improve the quality of agent candidates.
Virtual Interviewing as a Recruiting Tool: Virtual interviewing is a simple process that is generally used in place of or to augment the live telephone interview. Hiring companies can post a link for conducting an online interview on their own job board or a commercial job board like CareerBuilder or Monster, or they can invite candidates to participate via email. Using media-rich Web and voice-response technologies, candidates use a Web browser and their telephone to be guided through a series of text-response and voice-response questions designed to collect their basic qualifications and record their responses to a variety of scenarios they might expect to encounter.
Virtual interviews are typically conducted in two stages. The first part is generally text-based, during which the candidate may be asked a number of questions that are designed to collect his or her basic qualifications for the job. Failure to answer one or more of these questions correctly may “knock out” the candidate from the application process and prevent them from moving to the voice-response stage.
The voice-response stage is designed to allow the candidate to answer a number of questions regarding their prior experience, knowledge of the job, and response to common customer service scenarios. These open-ended, free-form questions allow the applicant to answer in their own words and in their own voice. Answers can be as long or as short as the candidate desires. The responses are recorded and cataloged for a recruiter to review and evaluate at a later time. The recordings can also be shared with a hiring manager or other stakeholders, as appropriate.
Once a candidate has successfully completed both stages of the virtual interview, a recruiter can review the applicant’s responses and score the interview. This process is similar to the quality-monitoring process that occurs in just about every contact center – interactions are recorded, reviewed, and scored against the standards of the organization. A recruiter can greatly increase the number of interviews conducted in this manner, resulting in a larger and better quality talent pool from which to choose.
Reach More Candidates Cost-Effectively: Since recruiters need only to review successfully completed interviews, significant time and labor savings can be realized over traditional phone interviews. Consider that a recruiter may have to make several attempts to reach a candidate before actually conducting the interview, and that the interview itself may take twenty minutes or more to complete. Consider also that many interviews start with a recruiter asking some basic qualification questions. If a candidate is unqualified, the recruiter has wasted valuable time.
Virtual interviewing can weed out unqualified candidates through the text-based qualification stage and never expose these applicants to a recruiter. Furthermore, virtual interviews tend to be shorter in duration – as little as five or ten minutes – meaning recruiters can evaluate many more candidates. This is especially beneficial when there are many positions to be filled or they need to be filled in a short time frame.
Many exceptional candidates may already be working and are difficult to reach during the hours that most recruiters normally work. Virtual interviewing is an “always on” application, which means candidates can interview at a time when it is most convenient for them. Companies that use virtual interviewing can therefore reach many more of these potential employees, thereby increasing the overall quality of the talent pool.
The Many Benefits of Virtual Interviews: Virtual interviewing is not intended to replace every step in the contact center hiring process, but it can provide significant benefits, especially for those organizations that have significant hiring requirements. These benefits include:
- Reduction in recruiter time to conduct interviews: Recruiters often have other valuable job tasks to do such as onboarding, training, coaching, and discipline. Virtual interviewing can free up the recruiter’s time to handle these higher-value activities.
- Expanded candidate pool: With the “always on” nature of virtual interviews, a candidate interview even when a recruiter is not available. In fact, a recent study discovered that nearly 40 percent of one company’s best candidates interviewed outside of normal business hours.
- Greater consistency: Each virtual interview is conducted in exactly the same way, using the same questions. Any inadvertent recruiter bias is removed from the interviewing process, which means that each candidate is evaluated fairly.
Kevin Hegebarth is vice president of marketing and product management for HireIQ Solutions, Inc. He is a frequent contributor to industry publications and has spoken at numerous industry events on the topics of workforce acquisition and optimization, the role of social media in customer service, and innovative human capital management strategies. He is an AIPMM certified product manager and is a co-inventor of two US patents. Kevin can be contacted at email@example.com.
[From Connection Magazine – March 2012]