Tag Archives: Hiring Call Center Agents

Veterans: An Untapped Pool with Rich Skill Set

Countering the Great Resignation with Niche Recruiting

In January, nearly 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), and employers everywhere are questioning where they are going to find a workforce during this phenomenon called the “Great Resignation.” CEO and founder of Pearl Interactive Network, an innovative niche contact center business process organization (BPO), Merry Korn, says the answer is in niche recruiting.

“There are pockets of niche referral sources with a robust volume of strong candidates who are eager to work hard,” she offers. With the colossal shift of remote positions becoming a permanent staple for many companies, one area of niche recruiting that could soften the impact of this workforce shortage and keep call center operations on target is veterans.

“At Pearl, we find that veterans bring many strengths to the workplace,” states VP of business development, Jean Murphy. Veterans possess a strong work ethic and take pride in the challenges and satisfaction of a job well done; they carry a sense of duty and are organized and disciplined. Many veterans have learned what it means to put in a hard day’s work and can follow through on assignments, even under difficult or stressful circumstances.

Much of this attitude translates to their participation in the civilian workforce, making veterans an asset to employers. With large numbers of individuals transitioning and seeking employment each year, this is a prime, untapped pool of candidates with a rich skill set (Department of Veteran Affairs. (2012). “Why veterans Make Good Employees.” Washington, DC; Veterans Employment Toolkit Handout.).

Each year, approximately 250,000 veterans are transitioning from military to civilian life (US Department of Veterans). Sixty-six percent of veterans report that it is difficult to find work after separating from the military. Part of the challenge lies in successfully translating military jargon into private-sector employment keywords.

Seventy-nine percent of veterans report difficulty conveying their military skills into the civilian sector. Likewise, 72 percent of hiring managers say it is difficult to see the connection between military and civilian skills.

“Some occupations like doctor and lawyer are exactly the same in and out of the service,” says John Bohichik, transition services manager at the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, according to Military.com. However, “‘Platoon leader’ should probably be translated as something like ‘general manager,’” says Anne McKinney, author of Resumes and Cover Letters that Have Worked for Military Professionals.

In addition to translating job titles, a candidate’s resume should describe—in civilian terms—the candidate’s skills, responsibilities, and accomplishments.

Veterans seeking to transition to customer service roles could easily show their transferable skills in leadership, effective communication, adaptability, and attention to detail.

For example, with customer service interactions, agents use effective communication skills and attention to detail to build a personal connection with the caller, and to create satisfactory resolution. Veterans are mission focused; they excel at following established processes and strive to achieve the mission goal with a more than satisfactory outcome making them ideal employees.

Employers are looking for employees with the potential for leadership and have a desire to learn and grow. Veterans easily check those boxes. By the end of their first year in the service, most are cross trained in multiple skills and have gained core skills like working well under pressure, attention to detail, problem solving and teamwork.

Not all employers are keen on translating these skills or know how to attract these applicants in the first place. This creates an untapped pool of applicants primed to succeed in the private sector and a savvy strategy for companies.

Of the approximately twelve million veterans in the United States, nearly 30 percent report having a disability and 13 percent report a service-connected disability. Both physical disabilities such as amputation, scars, and disfigurement, along with the stigma of potential psychological disorders make it more difficult for veterans to find employment.

Coupled with the lack of access to transportation for individuals with disabilities, veterans with disabilities face yet another significant obstacle to employment. “Transportation may seem to be the least of their worries, but it is the lynchpin that connects disparate parts of daily living,” says Rutger’s researcher at the Bloustein School’s Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, Andrea Lubin. “Access to transportation must therefore be considered in any reintegration efforts.”

With the colossal shift of remote positions becoming a permanent staple for many companies, work-from-home jobs are an ideal pairing for both veterans and other individuals with disabilities and transportation barriers.

The reward for a concerted effort to target niche veteran candidates is a dedicated, loyal workforce. “The key to niche hiring success is for employers to create a work environment that embraces diversity and creates a culture of inclusiveness,” adds Merry Korn.

Pearl is known for delivering high-touch, white-glove customer service experiences, concentrating on the delivery of calls that require a complex resolution while developing a personal emotional connection between the agent and caller.

Korn adds, “Pearl’s culture of caring is at the core of everything we do and transforming the lives of those we serve is our driving force.”

Founded in 2004, Pearl takes great pride in their hiring preferences for veterans, including those with disabilities for remote positions across the nation, with employees in twenty-seven states. It is good for our business and our social mission.

Improve Hiring Results with Blind Auditions

By Donna West

Anyone who has ever seen The Voice knows blind auditions are often surprising. The audience knows that the very big voice is coming out of that very tiny girl, but the experts don’t. The guy with the shaggy looks might have the voice of an angel. The blind audition wipes out all prejudices and concentrates on what is important—in this case, the voice.

Dismissing Qualified Candidates 

In all areas of life and work we form opinions about the people we meet as soon as we see them. This occurs before they ever open their mouths. We often miss many excellent job candidates because their appearance sets them up for failure. Their clothes might be untidy or inappropriate. They may need a haircut or wear dreadlocks. Or they have piercings that give the interviewer a bad impression. 

We’re programmed by our own backgrounds and experiences to reject as unworthy some of the styles that others embrace. And it is certainly the prerogative of every employer to choose the culture they want in their business. 

That said, do we unintentionally disregard candidates who are eminently qualified to work in our answering services and contact centers? A friend will not hire anyone who has visible tattoos. Another person abbreviates interviews they consider a waste of time because the applicant is wearing jeans and deemed “not serious” about work. A nervous interviewee may not make eye contact and we disqualify them.

A Shrinking Labor Market

In a world where job candidates are dwindling, despite (or perhaps because of) unemployment, many businesses may stand to improve hiring processes by implementing blind auditions. The jobs offered by an answering service can be perfect for people whom society deems a misfit for whatever social reason. 

We can find the skills we need in people who choose video games as their passion, who wear neon nail polish—a different color on each finger—prefer green hair, or who have gauges in their ears and tattoos up their necks. 

Our industry can offer remote work to people who are afraid to leave their homes or can’t sit for hours at a time as in a typical office job. We can offer split shifts and uncommon schedules. We should let our agents’ compassion, their understanding, and their voices drive our hiring decisions. We should listen and judge our candidates’ attributes by how they could benefit our callers’ needs. 

If we strive to hire people who are computer literate and caring, the guy who tries to eke out a living by streaming live on YouTube might be the perfect candidate. Or the soldier with mild PTSD. Or the mom with kids at home who still needs an income. Our jobs are comparable to waitressing for an actress. Ours is the perfect reality job for those who are trying to live the dream or waking up from the nightmare.

If we seek employee longevity, let’s regularly seek nontraditional applicants who might offer a symbiotic relationship: someone sweet-natured who knows their way around a keyboard. Someone who appreciates the opportunity to work from home and live their life according to their own vision. 

Donna West is president of Focus Answering Service, which she founded in 1987. She began her second company, Business Calls, Inc., specializing in education and communication for the TAS industry two decades ago. She is a pioneer and thought leader, an award-winning speaker, writer, and educator within the telecommunications service arena. 

A Concise Guide for Outsourcing Success, Part Two

By Kathy Sisk

Should you decide that outsourcing may be right for you from a financial standpoint, consider the following steps to assist you in selecting a specific agency that will meet your specific budget and service requirements.

Step 1: Design an RFP (request for proposal).

Make sure your request describes the nature of the venture and exactly what you are looking for, including agent skill sets, specific service-level objectives, technology requirements, reporting capabilities, and previous experience with your account type. 

Think of the RFP as a job description, but more in-depth. To ensure the best match, include information such as forecasted outsource volumes by hour-of-day and day-of-week, average call length, and even agent incentive strategies that work at your existing center. 

 Be sure to ask each candidate to provide you with a list of their existing clients, including contact information, as well as information on the agency’s fees and other additional charges. Ask specifically for information on monthly base charges, programming and connectivity costs, telephone usage costs, and labor costs.

Step 2: Review returned RFPs and narrow down the candidates.

Select proposals that are complete, concise, and meet your minimum specifications. Check out the agency’s references. While it is unusual for an agency to give you contacts who will prove to be bad references, you can always read between the lines if you ask the right questions, such as: 

  • How productive are they now compared to when you first started doing business with them?
  • If you could improve in any area, what would it be?

Take careful notes during your reference checks.

Step 3: Conduct a phone interview.

Call each agency that survives the initial weeding-out process. Have a list of detailed questions prepared and listen to how well they represent themselves. Their tone of voice and the way they conduct themselves is often representative of the kind of performance you can expect from their staff once they begin handling calls. 

[In the next issue, we’ll cover steps 4 and 5 of selecting a call center agency.]

For more information about setting up, reengineering, outsourcing, and project managing your call center operations, visit Kathy Sisk Enterprises. They have over forty years’ experience with satisfied clients and centers across the globe.

Six Cost-Effective Recruiting Ideas: Attracting the Best Job Candidates on a Budget

By Jeremy Eskenazi

Recruiting can be challenging in any economy. When times are good, top candidates have many options, and when times are bad, employed people don’t want to make a move. As with any challenge, it’s important to tackle it strategically, and recruiting is no different. When it comes to acquiring talent, having your sourcing strategy and process in place should happen before you need to hire someone.

You may wonder why you would need to know your search strategy before you need candidates. With the market quickly fluctuating, it’s important to know where to look and what type of talent you will be looking for. This is because as much as you want to snap your fingers and have amazing candidates appear, it often takes a lot longer.

Once your talent acquisition strategy is in place, you can think about where you would find the kind of talent your business needs to continue to be successful. To help you move forward, here are six low-cost and no-cost sourcing channels to consider as part of a recruiting strategy:

1. Referrals

Employee referrals are the number one source of candidates by far. And they’re usually rated the best quality source. Employee referral programs don’t always have to have a monetary reward, though many do. The best programs focus on recognition and simplicity.

Recognizing employees for their referral quickly is key. Instead of monetary rewards, think about other less costly rewards that focus on the recognition. Try not to put too many barriers on participation. Also be sure to have a process for recognizing referrals immediately, and follow up with them to ensure success. If you pay a reward, consider paying it immediately upon hire, and investigate ways to pay, such as with branded debit cards or at check ceremonies.

2. Job Boards

Job boards are great for attracting active candidates. Ensure that your team’s postings are well written from a candidate’s “what’s in it for me” perspective. Don’t use company acronyms and slang. Use the job board’s search system to discover and then borrow from great job postings. Make sure your posting is easily findable and refreshed regularly. 

Resume databases are quite expensive. Because of this, they aren’t an option if you’re focusing on low-cost resources. However, there are some other alternatives to this option such as free or niche job boards.

3. Social Networking

Social networks provide a great opportunity to find passive candidates who may not be applying to your job postings. Using social networks only help your recruiters find targets to contact, but you still must call or contact these people. Keep this in mind when planning your recruitment strategy. Since you have limited time, focus on the best resources:

LinkedIn: First, make sure your team members are easy to find on LinkedIn. Their profiles should be complete and public. Change the settings in LinkedIn to ensure that they are searchable by search engines. There are places on profiles to include links to websites for your company and other information. Your team should thoughtfully ask and answer questions in LinkedIn answers to be more findable.

Use LinkedIn Groups to join and start groups; you can post jobs there for free. Invite people who can expand your network to find the type of people you want. You can use these LinkedIn sources to build a list to call. Or you can email them directly, outside of LinkedIn. LinkedIn InMail has limits and is more expensive.

Facebook: Facebook still targets a slightly younger audience. It’s harder to find sources on Facebook, but your team can use regular searches to find their co-workers, classmates, and others to get beyond their own network. Search for friends on Facebook or leverage it to find candidates to join Facebook pages that are appropriate to you and your jobs. Facebook company pages are also great ways to attract candidates.

Twitter and Instagram: It’s even harder to find people on these platforms, but a lot of posts are public and searchable. Use these sites to broadcast your jobs to relevant people or talk about your company’s culture. Post video job descriptions, starring employees or your CEO.

4. Blogs

Search relevant online blogs for subject matter experts and sources of candidate referrals. Review the About Me section. Also look at their blogroll (a list of links to other sites) to find others who share the same interest. Discussion groups are great places to search too—you can simply review their content and decide if you want to pursue them.

5. Internet Search

Searching for candidates online is an even more specialized skill—and one that is free, provided the recruiter has the skill to do it well. Great resources are available to learn how to do this even more effectively. Remember, however, that the lowest-cost solution may not always be the best resource to save money, as it may end up taking an unskilled person too much time to complete the task.

6. Resume Mining Services

Instead of buying expensive resume database access, consider using a resume mining service. These services offer a low-cost solution on a per-job basis or in packages of jobs. The work they do is simple: they scour internet online resume databases for actual resumes and provide them to you, usually overnight. Most services can offer an additional resource to do quick telephone screens on the resumes submitted.

Sourcing can be stressful, but with a game plan and a little creativity, you can find the best talent with little or even no budget. Good luck with your sourcing efforts.

Jeremy Eskenazi is an internationally recognized speaker, author of RecruitConsult! Leadership, and founder of Riviera Advisors, a boutique recruitment/talent acquisition management and optimization consulting firm. Jeremy is not a recruiter, but a specialized training and consulting professional, helping global HR leaders transform how they attract top talent at some of the world’s most recognized companies.

Hiring and Training CSRs for Digital Contact Center Work

By Doug Taylor

In today’s world, customers have become accustomed to serving themselves. This phenomenon may have started with fuel. With the notable exception of New Jersey, customers have been pumping their own gas for decades. Self-service quickly spread across other industries. ATMs have all but replaced drive-through services at banks. Self-service checkout lanes are proliferating in grocery stores. Even post offices have kiosks where customers can weigh items, buy postage, and send items, all without the assistance of a customer service representative (CSR).

Why the proliferation of self-service options? It’s all about time and efficiency. People believe they can do things faster themselves, and most often they can. They also want to be able to complete transactions—whether at the bank or grocery store or hundreds of online locations—when they want to.

Self Service and the Contact Center

This trend toward self-service has moved into the contact center industry as well. Modern contact centers are offering digital channels, such as interactive voice response (IVR) menus, websites, chatbots, SMS, and even social media sites, to give customers as many options as possible to find information and complete transactions in the ways they prefer.

Digital channels offer customers an avenue for completing simple tasks online. But when those tasks are more complex, customers need to talk to a CSR. Customers can certainly pay car insurance bills online without assistance, but if they want to change the amount of coverage they have on a vehicle, add additional vehicles, or report an accident, that often involves speaking to a person. That means the CSRs taking those calls must be trained and ready to handle these complex questions. They also need the soft skills to handle the emotions that come with a higher level of question.

The New Breed of CSR

CSRs are now expected to answer and assist with increasingly complex questions. They are also speaking with customers who have looked for answers online and come up short.

These CSRs need better training than their peers of just a few years ago to help the digital-first customers who are contacting them. They can’t simply read answers from a script, as customers have already found that online. CSRs must be able to think critically and act quickly. In addition, CSRs with high emotional intelligence (EQ) can sense what a customer feels and how to respond appropriately.

Just as CSRs need new skills, contact center managers need to adapt the processes they use to hire and train new CSRs. Hiring for more complex skill sets means looking for different attributes in individuals. It also means using distinct training methods to ensure that new CSRs can help customers with complex tasks.

How to Hire New CSRs for Digital Contact Centers

In general, it is easier to teach and prepare people in areas in which they are already strong. This holds true with contact center recruiting. Hiring managers should seek individuals who have a natural inclination to help others. This service mind-set cannot be taught.

For digital contact centers, CSRs need to have excellent critical thinking skills and a high degree of emotional intelligence. While people can be taught ways to improve critical thinking and problem solving and can learn strategies to improve their ability to read emotions in situations, it’s easier for trainers and managers to start with recruits who already have some ability in these areas.

Scenario-based questions help assess potential hires for critical thinking, EQ, and problem-solving skills. To assess, a hiring manager might give a potential hire the following situation: A customer calls into the contact center because his card is declined at a point of sale. When looking at the system, there appears to be no reason for the card to be declined.

What step would the potential hire take? In assessing critical thinking, hiring managers aren’t looking for a correct answer. It would be nearly impossible for a potential hire to know the correct steps to take for that specific contact center. They are looking for potential hires who go beyond the response: “Sorry, I can’t help you with that.” Managers should look for potential hires who state that they would ask customers and themselves questions to get to the root of the problem. Managers look for that way of thinking.

Additionally, emotional intelligence is about being socially aware, self-aware, and able to recognize the effect of emotions on behavior. Hiring managers screen potential hires for EQ by observation and through behavior-based questions.

To help determine EQ, a hiring manager can ask, “What are your two biggest strengths?” A person with a high EQ is self-aware and gives an answer that matches everything else the interviewer has observed. If she says, “I’m very outgoing, and I like to meet new people,” yet spends the entire interview sitting on her hands and whispering answers, she may not be very self-aware. Although it’s ideal to hire someone with a high degree of self-awareness, if she has a service mentality and excellent critical thinking skills, a few lessons in reading emotions will help bring her up to speed.

How to Train New CSRs for Digital Contact Center Work

For digital contact center work, trainers begin with defining the desired mind-set. They explain that CSRs must use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to be successful. Prior to self-service, contact center work involved reading scripts and learning workflows to assist customers. Since customers are taking care of simple issues themselves, a CSR’s priority is now unpacking a given situation before figuring out which solution to apply.

Situation-based training works best when preparing CSRs for digital contact center employment. Trainers can give new hires a scenario and then talk them through the process of solving the problem, pointing out tools they use along the way. As they progress, new hires practice with calls coming in from a trainer in another room. CSRs then move to a nested environment, where they take live calls with a seasoned CSR nearby to provide support and take over if needed.

To assist new hires in learning to read customers’ emotions, trainers play ten-second recorded clips of the beginning of calls. Trainees identify each caller’s state of mind and determine the best approach to take when communicating with that caller.

Since different callers require different approaches, CSRs must be prepared to change the way they interact with customers based on what they hear. Take the declined credit card at the point of sale, for example. If the customer calls in when being declined at a business lunch, he may be demanding and frustrated. A CSR would approach this caller differently than a person who calls in from a family reunion and wants to chat for thirty seconds about seeing relatives for the first time ten years.

In the first scenario, CSRs would use an “all business” approach to quickly reinforce that they understand the problem and get to work by asking questions to diagnose the situation. If CSRs use that approach with the second caller, they risk offending someone who has just shared a personal story and seeks acknowledgment.

A third caller may be hesitant and doubt he even has an issue. This caller needs reassurance that the problem is real, and the CSR can solve it. Acknowledging customers’ emotions helps diffuse the situation, since people ultimately just want to be heard.

To Sum Up

Scenario-based training is the most effective method to train new contact center agents and prepare them to serve customers. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills can be taught. While EQ is a level of intelligence, CSRs can work on developing skills to improve the way they read and serve callers.

Hiring managers can also use situation-based questions to determine which potential hires have a high EQ and a natural aptitude for critical thinking. They can also use an interview to assess whether an individual is self-aware and has a service mentality.

Combined, these attributes help hiring managers make the most intelligent decisions in staffing digital contact centers.

Doug Taylor is vice president of operations at HighPoint Global, which helps government agencies elevate citizen experiences, whether calling, online, or in person.

Four Steps to Minimize Risk in a Healthcare Call Center

By Janet Livingston

Running a call center is challenging, but mastering one in the healthcare industry carries an added set of concerns. People’s health and even their lives are at stake. Make a mistake, and it might affect someone’s future, even their life. Although it’s impossible to eliminate all risks, a few simple steps can greatly minimize them.

Hire the Right Skill Set

Determine what credentials you want staff in each position to carry. Then hire to meet those requirements. Don’t skimp or settle for someone less than ideal. With so much at stake, you don’t want to have an underqualified employee attempt to handle too big of a responsibility. This starts with hiring the right people for each position.

Determine what credentials you want staff in each position to carry. Then hire to meet those requirements. Don’t skimp or settle for someone less than ideal. With so much at stake, you don’t want to have an underqualified employee attempt to handle too big of a responsibility. This starts with hiring the right people for each position.

Determine what credentials you want staff in each position to carry. Then hire to meet those requirements. Don’t skimp or settle for someone less than ideal. With so much at stake, you don’t want to have an underqualified employee attempt to handle too big of a responsibility. This starts with hiring the right people for each position.

Provide HIPAA Training

Everyone in healthcare knows you must provide HIPAA training on a regular basis to all employees. However, finding time to do this may present a challenge. Every day in the call center is a busy one. This makes it easy to push off nonurgent tasks to tomorrow, next week, or next month. When it comes to HIPAA education, don’t delay. Make it a priority, and then do it. Provide HIPAA training as part of new employee onboarding. Then provide ongoing HIPAA instruction for every employee each year.

Insist That Staff Don’t Exceed Their Capabilities

Many medical call centers have a mix of staff, some with medical training and others without it. Though those without a healthcare background will quickly pick up medical jargon, processes, and even some protocols, make sure they don’t attempt to provide a level of service for which they lack the training. Nurses should provide nurse triage, while non-nurses shouldn’t offer any degree of medical advice. It’s that simple. This is one time to keep everyone in their place.

Have a Good Errors and Omissions Insurance Policy

Having a good errors and omissions (E&O) policy is important for outsource call centers, and it’s especially essential for healthcare-related operations. However, don’t view this as an excuse to take shortcuts. Instead strive to run your call center so that you’ll never need to file a claim. Consider E&O insurance as a backup in case the unthinkable happens.


While there’s a lot that can go wrong in a healthcare call center, there’s no reason to let it cause you to lose sleep. Follow these four tips to help ensure that your operation functions as it should and provides the high-quality service that your stakeholders expect.

Janet Livingston is the CEO of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier consultancy and service provider for healthcare call centers and medical answering services. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com or call 800-901-7706.

Fill Your Contact Center Seats with Passion, Not Just People!

By Tom Cunningham

World-renowned soccer superstar, Mia Hamm, once said, “If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion.” As leaders, it’s not only our job to achieve the goals set before us but to assemble a team that will turn goals into reality. Far too many of us have the mentality of just “getting people in seats” instead of taking the time to find the team members who have the passion and drive to achieve our key performance indicators (KPIs) and make brand ambassadors of our customers along the way.

We get hundreds of resumes that sum up a potential team member’s education, job history, tenure at each stop, and what they accomplished along the way. It’s impossible to gauge the person’s passion and fit within our culture by reading resumes. It’s a process that can become monotonous at times when we search for the checklist of required qualifications and skills based on a sheet of paper.

The sad part is that we have been trained to accept this as the way the recruiting process has always been done. We typically look for two or three things that seem to align with our job qualifications and duties, interview potential candidates with age-old questions—which many applicants have researched online for tips or make up stories to fit what they think we are looking for—and decide if we should choose them to fill one of the available seats.

This mentality has us in a vicious cycle where we are always in the hiring mode, dealing with people who only show up for a paycheck, or, worst of all, are detrimental to our culture. To combat this issue, my team and I have evolved our hiring process over the last year to approach it as if we were looking for the next Mia Hamm to lead our team onto the field.

How did we do this? We put our culture and core values at the forefront of our recruiting process. Yes, we still must go through resumes and review an applicant’s basic information to ensure they meet the required qualifications, but we don’t talk about their job history or technical aptitude in detail until the final round of the process. We can always teach our platform and business model, but we can’t teach passion or change an applicant’s character.

Phone Interview

The first step is the phone interview. During this phase, we talk about our core values with the potential candidate, outline each value in detail, and explain how each value affects every aspect of our team members’ workday. From employee evaluations to each interaction on the phone with a customer, our core values will be the judge of an employee’s success, so it’s critical applicants understand that from the beginning. We share with our applicants the following examples of how we rate our employees:

  • You have passion, drive, and perseverance.
  • You show respect to others, no matter what position you hold within the company.
  • You understand that every opinion is valuable and that great ideas can come from anyone.
  • You seek opportunities to learn and further your understanding of our business.
  • You share knowledge and experience with others in a constructive way.
  • You contribute positively while in meetings.

Providing concrete examples of what the applicant would be evaluated on during our phone interview process has filtered out many people just looking for a job where they can occupy a seat. It lets them know it will be impossible to hide within our center and merely collect a paycheck.

Instead, applicants know up front that we will be looking at them every day—from their performance on the phone to how they engage with every staff member in the company—to gauge if they are successful members of the team. This approach either energizes applicants to become more excited about our company or it drives them away to find an employer who will accept their desire to do the minimum.

Play a Game

The second step is where we interview the applicant for culture fit and determine if they have the passion to help us deliver the greatest customer service possible. Applicants come to the office dressed in their best, with crisp copies of their resumes, expecting the same old questions they have heard repeatedly.

Surprise! We casually greet them at the entrance, conduct brief introductions, and lead them not to a conference room but to our break room. Once there we enthusiastically ask, “What game are we going to play?”

Once applicants get over the shock of what they just heard, we invite them to put their resumes, ties, purses, portfolios, and jackets on a couch and choose between pool, air hockey, supersized Jenga, or Connect Four.

During this phase of the process, our goal is simple: Do we see this person fitting in with our culture? What are they passionate about? Finally, how did they adapt to our environment versus the old, traditional interview process? It’s a time to pull back the layers and see who this person is and what they are all about. We ask questions such as:

  • Do you consider yourself a nerd? Why or why not?
  • Do you prefer DC or Marvel or neither? Why?
  • What do you like to do for fun or to relax?
  • What does customer service mean to you?
  • What is the greatest customer service experience you ever had and why?
  • What is the latest book you’re reading? Tell me about your favorite parts and why?
  • What core value have you connected with the most during your career? Why?
  • Do you prefer Apple or Android? Why?

Spending some time playing whatever game they have chosen while making conversation with these types of questions is the catalyst of our evaluation process. Does their tenacity, passion, and drive about their personal and professional lives translate to what we seek in an employee? If the consensus is yes, only then do we set up a sit-down interview with some of our other leaders within the customer service department.

The Interview

The sit-down interview is when we look at the candidate’s resume and technical aptitude. If we believe they can learn our platform, we’ll give them the chance to join our team. However, instead of making this phase the quintessential part of the interview process, it’s the conclusion.

This process has led to two main changes. First, we turn away a lot more people than we hire compared to the past. Second, we have yet to lose anyone to attrition during the training phase.

Have the courage to do something different. Not only will your results be different, they will be rewarding.

Tom Cunningham is the North American director of SAAS Operations at PerfectServe. Tom has over twenty-two years of call center operations management experience. He can be reached at 865-719-6960 or Tcunningham@perfectserve.net.

Need Responsive, Fast-Flex Customer Service?

Get Real with On-Demand, Virtual Contact Center Solutions

By Kim Houlne

Forget real time. Business today runs on get-real time. Enabled by in-the-moment experiences. Catering to rising consumer expectations. To remain relevant, companies require fast-flex service and responsive customer care.

Contact centers operate within this immediacy and expectancy—some with limitations. For instance, brick-and-mortar call centers are restricted by square footage and number of seats. Available talent is confined to local ZIP codes. And at times these centers find themselves in harm’s way when hurricanes or blizzards blow through.

By contrast, virtual contact centers are mobile and move with the business. As demand fluctuates, they turn ever-ready expertise on or off from anywhere, accommodating upticks and downturns. More fluid, these remote resources often are outsourced as stand-alone operations or auxiliary workforces to in-house teams.

Get It? Got it. Good.

With contracted agents on the job and in reserve, work can shift as seasons change, market trends rise and fall, and unforeseen circumstances dictate. By itself, being virtual isn’t enough, however.

Success relies on proven, on-demand processes—from recruiting to onboarding to agent development—and a steady supply of quality reps to sustain performance. Needed are industry-skilled agents who are quick studies and think fast, with rapid-fire service that’s right out of the movies. Like this:

Customer: “I’d like to get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?”

Agent: “Got it.”

Customer: “Good.”

Get Real

Those lines, taken from the classic Danny Kaye film, Court Jester, exemplify the essence of stellar service: delivered promptly, as expected. For contact center clients, the get it?—got it—good, or G³, approach, is as strategic as it is well-timed for their customers. This means quick-turn solutions supplied by agile agents.

Such an on-demand model reduces overhead, eliminates capital expenses, and elevates service. Unlimited in scope, agents scale up or down for everyday operations, seasonal surges, and long-range projects.

The question is: How does a business achieve such workforce flexibility and responsiveness? One answer: Outsource with an on-demand contact service provider with the wherewithal to get real.

To be sure, this requires due diligence to get, if not guarantee, a good return on investment (ROI). Clients should do vetting up front to ensure that the service provider has the means and motivation to:

  • Recruit and retain remote agents with coveted skills
  • Immerse them in a client’s culture, business, and brand
  • Invest in their ongoing development for long-term ROI

Pay the Price—Now or Later

What it comes down to is whether a service provider looks at agents as an investment in a client’s success or merely sees them as a business expense to be passed on. Whatever the perception, outcomes will reflect the level of commitment and customer satisfaction scores.

Consider this: IBM Watson reports that “the overall turnover rate for the call center industry is between 30–45 percent, and each individual turnover can cost a company upwards of $6,440.” Now, let’s multiply it out, with 100 agents on an account. A 30 to 45 percent attrition rate adds up to $193,200 to $289,800. Gone.

That’s a three-way loss: wasted money, high attrition, and sullied service. The provider, client, and its customers all lose.

An Investment, Not an Expense

Regardless of how much self-service automation occurs, high-quality agents remain core to contact center services. Why? Because customers want to talk with agents to resolve problems too complex for chatbots. So, to avoid double-digit turnover and poor service, doesn’t it make good sense and ROI to value agents?

Virtual contact center operators know that remote agents, as independent contractors, work where they want. Their skills are in demand, just like the on-demand services they provide. That’s a given in the gig economy.

So the best working relationship, then, should be quid quo pro—with benefits shared among the provider, agents, and clients alike.

A high-functioning, on-demand workforce takes three things:

  1. A caring culture to attract the best agent applicants
  2. Know-how to educate and engage agents in a client’s business
  3. Ongoing investment to retain agents and build client relationships

Caring Culture Connects

These days, with record low unemployment and savvy digital workers, a low-scoring workplace—be it virtual or brick-and-mortar—probably is at a loss to find and keep talent. If a company doesn’t care, why even apply, much less stay?

Look no further than the jobsite Glassdoor, where employees and contractors rate companies and their leaders. Not only are those reviews read by job applicants, they’re also scanned by would-be clients wanting contact center services.

Face it: if workers aren’t happy, it’s a good bet they won’t be pleasing a client’s customers. That’s why a worthwhile work environment, especially a remote one, needs intelligence on three levels: emotional intelligence complemented by artificial intelligence and intelligent agents—or I³.

G³ * I³ = (G * I)³

Together they equal customer service, which is essential.

Becoming the Client Brand

When a company outsources, it entrusts not only customer service, but its entire brand to a contact center provider. As such, agents need to be immersed in the culture and business—becoming the brand.

Brick-and-mortar call centers normally have subject-matter experts who onboard agents. That’s okay, within limits. Usually it involves one-way classroom lectures or repetitive webinars. At best, by-rote instruction creates a workforce of automaton agents, whose knowledge extends only as far as the lessons taught.

Interactive by design, a virtual contact center classroom goes further to do more. Here, teaching is led by degreed educators who adapt a client’s training to an online education platform, such as Canvas, a learning management system.

To engage agents, curriculum is broken down into micro-learning (PowToon), interactive experiences (Umu), or gamification (educaplay). The result is agents who role-play real-life, customer situations and don’t parrot canned responses by rote.

Investing for the Long Term

Client services and products continually change. Upgrades occur. New products are introduced. Add to them e-commerce that accelerates every aspect of business. Contact center agents must evolve with these changes, if not anticipate them.

Continuing education, complemented by an agent community website, are essential for ongoing development. Remember that $6,440 turnover cost per agent? Odds are the agents who left were given short shrift or felt adrift after their initial onboarding. And bye-bye is the by-product.

High agent attrition atrophies any business. So, when contracting contact center service providers, ask them: “What’s your retention rate?” Three years is a good average. The best contact service providers have agent tenure ranging up to five, ten, and even fifteen years. Clearly, they invest in agents for the long term.

In the end, outsourcing contact services isn’t about adding bodies—be they brick-and-mortar or remote. It’s about extending the brand with qualified customer reps who get it. Got it. And that’s good for clients and their customers.

Kim Houlne, CEO and president of Working Solutions, pioneered virtual contact center services in 1996.  Before founding the company, she held senior management positions in consulting. A graduate of the University of Georgia, she delivered a 2016 graduation keynote address

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

By Sherry Gouel

Hiring the right person for a job is one of the most difficult tasks business owners face. There are so many factors to consider: experience, reliability, work ethic, honesty, professionalism, and the list goes on. Adding the wrong person to your team can be detrimental to the daily work environment, but it’s not really possible to predict if a candidate will work out.

There is another important question to keep in mind during an interview. Besides work skills, does this candidate have people skills? It’s one thing to complete a task well, but can this person work with others?

As with any new job, there is always a training period. A worker can eventually learn the necessary skills to accomplish their work, but if they don’t get along with their coworkers, it will affect the mood around the office. Call center agents must be team players, and tension between workers has a negative effect on the office atmosphere. Having staff that gets along and works well together reflect well on the business and how clients are treated.

Inclusiveness is an important factor in the workplace. An employee can be great at their job, be punctual, professional, and reliable, but if they cannot integrate with coworkers and be part of the team, it’s unlikely their employment will last. We’ve all met someone that for inexplicable reasons we cannot connect with. We might say, “They just rubbed me the wrong way” or “Their attitude just irritates me.” First impressions happen quickly and are difficult to change. We don’t set out to feel negatively about anyone, but it’s difficult to change our minds about our initial dislike. We tend to avoid this person and make no effort to give them a chance to prove themselves differently.

This lack of connection is difficult to change. It’s best to be proactive by looking for initial signs of friction during the interview rather than finding out a month after hiring them. Getting staff members involved in the interviewing process may help reduce future problems by testing the dynamics between existing staff and new additions. This doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be problems, but it may detect tension that could cause problems.

While no one knows if the candidate will be the right fit, there are a few things that can help. First have a list of questions to ask. Then, keep in mind that while part of the interview process is determining how comfortable and confident you feel talking to this candidate, you aren’t the only one that should be doing the interviewing.

Have existing staff join in to see how they relate to the candidate. It is often during small talk that we get to know and connect with another person. Following the interview, ask your staff how they felt about the interviewee; listen to their feedback and read between the lines. If you’ve narrowed down your choice to a few people, have your staff weigh in on this decision. It will hold them partially accountable in making sure this person gets the proper training and helping them to succeed.

Imagine a different scenario if your staff is not included in the hiring process and the new employee either lacks the people skills or doesn’t connect with coworkers. Will there be any effort to help the new worker feel part of the team? On the contrary—they may do things to exclude or alienate the new employee, hoping to make them quit. Losing employees and having to hire new ones comes with a cost.

If including staff members in the interview process is difficult, then extend the interview time by showing the candidate around the office. Stop at a few stations and allow some of your staff to show the candidate what the job consists of. All it takes is a few minutes of interaction to allow your staff the chance to meet the potential candidate and have a say in the hiring.

No one can predict whether a newly hired worker will be the right candidate, but these steps can better the chances. While a recruit may appear perfect on paper, remember that compatibility with the existing staff is just as important.

Sherry Gouel handles sales and marketing support for Szeto Technologies.

Ask Kathy: What Are the Best Methods for Recruiting?

Many employers hire candidates from the Internet. Although not a bad idea, not all good candidates are online. You cannot rely completely on the World Wide Web for all your recruiting needs; recruiting ideal labor takes work.

Having a hiring plan is a great step in achieving stronger employment. It also provides competitive advantages, such as lowered costs, successful hires, and reducing employee burnout. Here are effective tips on recruiting ideal labor:

Set Clear Requirements for the Position, Not the Person: The first step to finding the best candidates for a position is to have a compelling vision of what the job entails. Be specific with your job descriptions; ask hiring managers what the person really needs to do to be successful. Remember that the best candidates will only apply to a position that offers growth opportunities.

Establish a Powerful Pitch: Your pitch needs to attract the best candidates for the job. For example, “Are you willing to explore a job position that is clearly superior to what you are doing now?” Most of the qualified candidates will answer yes. Using this approach every time you talk to a qualified candidate will help you hire the best among the rest. Also, use this in your advertising to extend your reach in recruiting ideal labor.

Take Advantage of Resume Databases: To avoid wasting your time on resume databases, make sure to only call your top candidates on the first week of recruiting before someone else hires them. For the rest of the qualified candidates, you can send them an email with a compelling description of the job. Send the email to anyone who qualifies for your requirements and include a call-to-action for them to respond.

Make Appealing Advertisements: Traditional job descriptions are obsolete. Do not bore candidates with traditional advertisement that list skills and work experience; instead use creative titles and describe what he or she will be doing and learning. Include possible growth opportunities. This strategy is effective in recruiting the ideal person.

Phone Interviews: For call center agents, conduct a phone interview first; for at-home agents, conduct two phone interviews before meeting them in person.

Kathy Sisk, founder and president of Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc., is a trainer and consultant, contributing thirty-five years of expertise to the telemarketing, sales, and customer service industries.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2015]