Tag Archives: Hiring Call Center Agents

Are Remote Agents in Your Staffing Future?

By Penny Reynolds

One of the most critical steps in making and receiving customer calls is deciding not just how many agents will be needed, but what type of staffing solution will be used. Since up to three-fourths of call center costs are related to labor, this decision is fundamental to the operation of the business. How a business chooses to get people in place to handle its customer interactions will affect every other function within the center.  This can include site selection and facility design, forecasting and scheduling, performance management, technology acquisition and management, facilities management, human resources administration, and risk management.

The four options for call center staffing include traditional in-house staffing, outsourcing, contract agency staffing, and telecommuting. This article will explore the possibilities, advantages, and disadvantages of telecommuting as a call center staffing solution.

The practice of telecommuting for office workers is growing rapidly. The International Telework Association and Council (ITAC), based in Washington, DC, forecasts that over 30 million workers will telecommute by the end of 2004, more than a 50 percent increase in just three years. This growth is occurring across all sectors of business including business and legal services, health care, banking and finance, as well as others. The call center, with its “knowledge worker” population, is one of the professions best positioned to take advantage of this work option.

The technology exists today to allow agents to log in from home or any other remote site and receive calls in the same way as if they were sitting in the call center. Telecommuters can be part of an automatic call distribution (ACD) agent group and receive calls just like the other agents in the group. Data can be sent to their screen at home just like what they would see in the center. The technology also provides for management functions so that the remote agents’ statistics are tracked and reported just like the in-house agents. Supervisors can also monitor and record remote agents’ calls on a real-time or scheduled basis.

Some ACD systems provide built-in capabilities to enable remote agent connections. Other call centers rely on third-party remote agent technology that allows agents to receive calls from the regular ACD as if they were a position in the center. This type of technology makes it possible for agents to even use the features and functions of the ACD phone system from home over regular, dial-up telephone lines using a basic off-the-shelf telephone set.

Telecommuting Advantages: There are many advantages to telecommuting or remote agents. They are:

Schedule Flexibility. The main advantage of using remote workers as all or part of the call center workforce is the flexibility gained in scheduling. It is very difficult to cover the peaks and valleys of calls throughout the day with traditional staff. The call center may have a two-hour peak of calls in the morning and another in the afternoon. While the call center can’t expect someone to come into the center and work a split shift to handle those periods, it may be reasonable to expect a person working from home to do so.

Covering night and weekend hours may also be easier to accomplish with telecommuters. Many people do not like to commute to work at night when crime and traffic risks go up. These same people may be willing to work those hours if they can do so from the comfort of their own home.

Real Estate Savings: Another primary benefit of telecommuting is the space savings for the physical call center. Assuming that an agent occupies 50 square feet of call center space and the lease cost of this space is $20 per square foot per month, the savings per agent would be $1,000 per month or $12,000 per year, and this is just the cost of the space alone. In addition, the one-time and ongoing costs of building and maintaining workstations, furniture, lunchrooms, conference spaces, and other amenities along with the cost of additional utilities, costs could easily double.

This estimate of savings is supported by actual industry statistics. According to numbers from ITAC there is a cost avoidance of $25,000 per teleworking agent when compared to traditional staffing alternatives.

Expanded Labor Pool: Another strong reason to consider the utilization of a remote workforce is the potential to attract additional labor sources. This expanded labor pool may include those that are highly qualified workers, but are handicapped or physically challenged and unable to commute daily into the business site.

A telecommuting option may also simply bring in a bigger pool of qualified candidates attracted to the prospect of working at home and avoiding the commuting hassles of getting to their job every day. In fact, companies not only find their candidate pool increasing, but also find that people may be willing to work for less money if telecommuting is an option. In addition to avoiding the travel time of a long commute, employees can save money on transportation costs, food costs, and a working wardrobe. These are all significant benefits to employees.

Remote staffing capabilities may also be a way to have workers who are out of the office due to illness or disability back on the job sooner. Rather than waiting for a full recovery, many workers may be able to resume working sooner from home, either on a full-time or gradual part-time basis.

Staff Retention: Businesses generally find that their teleworking employees have much higher job satisfaction and retention rates than traditional in-house employees. In addition to the “hard dollar” employee benefits listed above, the additional time found in their day is a big factor in the employees’ overall satisfaction and quality of life.

Another retention benefit is the fact that trained employees can be retained even if they move to another city or area of the country. Many call centers lose valuable employees when a spouse’s job takes them to a new place. With remote agent capabilities, the high-quality agent can remain employed avoiding recruiting, hiring, and training costs for new staff, not to mention the retention of valuable skills and knowledge.

Increased Productivity: Many trial programs of telecommuting workers versus traditional office workers suggest that telecommuters are more productive. The main reason for this higher productivity may be the fact that there are fewer interruptions to distract the employee. Their comfort and increased satisfaction from working at home may also be a contributing factor to the better productivity.

Disaster Recovery: All sorts of disasters and emergencies can happen that disable normal call center functions. Having a pool of remote workers can assist the call center in carrying out its work during emergencies. A flu epidemic or icy road may prevent staff from coming into the center, but work can still be carried out from remote sites. A flood or power outage at the call center can damage workstations, but assuming connectivity to the main switch is still possible, agents at home can continue to process calls.

Environmental Impact: Having fewer people driving into the call center every day can certainly reduce auto emissions and pollution. This isn’t just a nice benefit, but may help some companies comply with legal regulations. The federal Clean Air Act requires companies with more than one-hundred employees in high-pollution areas to design and implement programs to reduce air pollution. Setting up a telecommuting program is one option for complying with this rule.

Telecommuting Disadvantages: Telecommuting is not for everyone however. There are also some downsides to this staffing alternative. The major obstacle preventing many companies from doing telecommuting is the issue of equipping the agent to work at home. While the voice part of the technology is easy to accomplish and phone calls can be seamlessly made and answered, the bigger obstacle has to do with the data portion of the call.

Delivery of the data portion of the call to the agent’s desktop at home requires equipping the agent with the proper equipment and sufficient bandwidth to enable customer interactions. Dedicated lines can be expensive, and ISDN and DSL lines are not available in every area. There is also concern about the delivery of private or confidential information to an agent’s home where friends and family members may have access to it.

Social concerns should also be taken into consideration. Those team members that work from home may not feel as much of the team as their on-site counterparts. And it may be more difficult to keep at-home agents “in the loop” of office communications and new procedures. Many companies address this gap by having the employee come into the office at least one day a week to work.

Finally, many employees are not good candidates for telecommuting. Some may lack the experience or discipline to work without supervision. Other individuals need the camaraderie of being in a social workplace. It is important to define up front what selection criteria will be used and make sure a process is in place to continually monitor and coach telecommuters to ensure they effectively contribute to the goals and objectives of the center and of the overall business.

Evaluating the Potential: An increasing number of organizations are exploring or implementing the telecommuting option as a way to get the flexibility they need in staffing as well as to improve employee satisfaction and morale. Do you think telecommuting might be a potential solution for your call center? Proceed slowly by implementing a small pilot program first to test its acceptance and success. You may find that the “work at home” solution is a winner for your center, your agents, and your clients.

Penny Reynolds is a Founding Partner of The Call Center School, a Nashville, Tennessee based consulting and education company. The company provides educational offerings for call center professionals including traditional classroom courses, Web-based seminars, and self-paced e-learning programs at the manager, supervisor, and front-line staff level. For more information, call 615-812-8400.

[From Connection MagazineJan/Feb 2004]

Recruiting and Retaining Staff In A Small Business

By Ron Beilin and Paul DelFino

Over the years, we have seen the frustration, anxiety, and compounded challenges that small business entrepreneurs experience in managing their workforce. Often, emerging businesses grow from startups that include the entrepreneur and just one or two others. The perception is that growth and success bring more employees and compounded problems. Entrepreneurs often say, “It would be easy if not for the people issues,” or, “Sometimes I wish I had fewer employees and made less money, because then I’d be happier.”

Why do entrepreneurs feel like they suffer a heavier load with employee management issues than managers in larger companies? Do they? Our experience is:

  • Small businesses have many disadvantages in the human resources open market
  • Small businesses do not always leverage the advantages they do have
  • Reinforcement and continual application of basic management disciplines can improve the circumstances for small businesses

It’s Not a Level Playing Field: Let’s face it, scale and size provide purchasing power and leverage. The rule applies in human resource recruitment and investment as well as purchasing. Larger enterprises often:

  • Offer unique benefit programs and benefits not available to small businesses in terms of medical, retirement, deferred compensation, and other sophisticated and costly programs.
  • Offer defined and disciplined compensation programs with market-driven mid points to salary ranges and ongoing programs for compensation adjustments.
  • Offer career path counseling, structured and funded development and training programs.
  • Offer defined policy and procedures embedded with flexibility for the ever-growing demand for free time (leave policies, flexible vacation scheduling, personal days, etc.)
  • Offer a broader arena for socialization, with people who do the same things and think the same way having the opportunity to meet and expand relationships in a social setting.
  • Offer access to the latest and greatest in technology, or state-of-the-art equipment related to an individual’s vocation.

Can You Compete? Not listed above is one other secret weapon that the larger enterprise brings to the table: a dedicated human resource professional that develops and packages the above into a disciplined marketing program to attract the best employees. Unfortunately, in small businesses, that role is too often relegated to less than one percent of the entrepreneur’s time. But can it be done? Examination suggests it can.

Benefit Programs: Many state or local chambers of commerce and economic development initiatives provide group benefit programs. Some have grown in scale and sophistication to match those of larger companies. Also, numerous benefit consultants have worked with larger insurance and investment carriers to create unique and competitive offerings. A few phone calls could get you and your people just about any program you might wish for.

Salary Administration: Sample compensation programs and job descriptions are available online. Local salary surveys are available from chambers of commerce and other industry groups for the price of membership and participation. An investment of one day by one person could result in a respectable program any small business would be proud of. However, the investment is wasted if a disciplined performance evaluation program is not maintained.

Careers and Training: Not every person wants to be CEO of General Electric. However, most people want to learn! Every day small business mailboxes are filled with advertisements for training programs. Often these are discarded. What if you established a policy to invest $500 and two days each year for each employee’s development? For a company with ten people that is approximately a $5,000 decision, plus 20 days of time away from the office. Before you say no, remember that conventional wisdom suggests that it costs $8,000 to recruit and train one support or service employee. The key here is joint discussion with each employee on the plan for the year and the real need or benefit that can be applied to productivity gain and job performance.

Policy Manuals: Less than ten percent of businesses we enter that are under $10 million in size have an up-to-date policy manual. Sample policy manuals are quickly available from industry associations. These example documents can then be edited, customized, and printed for your staff.

Socialization and State-of-the-Art Work: Most entrepreneurs belong to an industry group or association. But few assign their employees to represent them in similar programs as members and leaders. This process is in itself an employee development investment. Beyond that, your employees could be pushing you for change. They can be your recruiters. The strategy requires confidence since they themselves can be recruited – but, with the above steps in place, who can compete with you?

Can You Win? Much of the commonly accepted wisdom about big business is crumbling:

  • Job security has eroded with layoffs and collapse of confidence
  • Stories of conversions and terminations of traditional pension programs to lump sum employee-funded initiatives leave many wary of long term commitments
  • Many employees have accepted that the world has changed and that their employer, whom they have not personally met, is not committed to them as an individual

The result is that many people now more interested in quality of life issues – knowing who they are working for and what their employer stands for. This fact could and should be your largest recruiting weapon.

It Always Comes Down To Time and Money: By now, you may be thinking that this advice is impractical – that you can’t afford to take these measures. Our response is that considering how much your company spends in payroll, can you afford not to?

Ron Beilin and Paul DelFino are the principals of the consulting firm Opportunity Inc. For nearly 15 years, they have assisted entrepreneurs in growing their businesses, responding to economic downturns, and merger and acquisition activity. Visit www.opportunity-inc.com to contact them or learn more about their services.

[From Connection MagazineJul/Aug 2003]

Effective Employee Management Begins Before You Hire

By Joseph Sefcik

Have you ever reflected on a new hire and said to yourself, “I made a mistake in hiring this employee?”  If so, you are not alone. Terminating that individual may have been relatively easy, but chances are it was an unpleasant and most likely a difficult task.

Being an effective manager is always easier when your employees are skilled and reliable. Effective employees will make you a more effective manager. When your employees are skilled and capable, work usually flows more smoothly, clients are more satisfied, and there are fewer crises. As managers, we are challenged most by employees who are not entirely capable and perform less than satisfactorily.

Therefore, we will be more effective managers if we focus on selecting the right people to hire. Selecting the right people requires an effective selection process. If we take shortcuts in the selection process and lower our standards for quality, we will end up having to compensate for those shortcuts by spending additional time managing and supervising ineffective employees.

We all face the temptation to hire quickly and fill open positions. Giving in to this temptation often forces organizations to compensate for new-hire deficiencies through training or supervision to catch employee mistakes before they become real problems. Unfortunately, too often we depend on training to make an employee into something they never were from the beginning. Similarly, we may conclude incorrectly that our management is ineffective when in fact, we simply hired a management challenge. Our job as managers is tough enough without inviting unnecessary hurdles.

Is selecting the right employee the answer to effective management? Not entirely, yet an effective selection process evaluates applicants who 1) fit the job and 2) possess the required skills. Selecting new employees who meet these requirements will ease the dependence on requiring additional management to compensate for workforce deficiencies.

Job Fit. Job fit refers to a method where the manager/employer evaluates an applicant for compatibility with the job requirements and the working environment. An employee’s job compatibility is one of the earliest indicators of voluntary turnover. Turnover can erode morale within your organization and erode customer confidence. Therefore, one aspect of the selection process should be to match the preferences and motivation of applicants with the conditions and requirements of the job. This can be accomplished informally with an interview or more formally with a test designed specifically to measure job fit.

Possess the Right Skills. Possessing the right skills refers to evaluating whether an applicant has the necessary skills required to do the job. This is not merely a review of prior work experience because just being in the job at a previous employer is not a guarantee that an applicant possesses the right skills. Accurately evaluating an applicant’s skills usually requires a diagnostic tool. These tools can be as direct as a typing test or a test for voice inflection, or they may even include a comprehensive simulation test that immerses applicants in “virtual reality” of the job. Written questions or written tests usually are not sufficient in determining skill levels of applicants.

If given the choice, we would all choose to be on a winning team. Winning teams always strive to hire the best people possible. It is easier to manage good people and it is easier to win with good people. Selecting people who fit the job and have the necessary skills to succeed just makes good business sense.

Joseph Sefcik is President and CEO of Employment Technologies. He has 25 years of experience in the field of employee selection. Twenty years ago, Mr. Sefcik designed the first automated job simulations for entry and mid-level jobs. These early simulations evolved into the EASy brand simulations and later on, in 1994, the formation of Employment Technologies Corporation.

[From Connection MagazineJul/Aug 2003]

Prison Call Centers May Re-Launch in Canada

By Nicole Davis

The average citizen doesn’t want to chat with convicted felons. So the idea that prisoners might call our homes to ask us questions about which laundry detergent we prefer makes some of us ask, “Why let people like that phone me? Why should I have to talk to them?”

What many people don’t know, however, is that job-training programs such as prison call centers are proven to help keep prisoners from re-offending after they are released and, in Canada, inmates working in call centers never handle personal information.

Fenbrook Medium Security Institution sets the standard for future prison call centers in Canada. “We are touted as the benchmark,” said Assistant Warden Willie Gladu. Yet all Canadian prison call centers, including Fenbrook, were temporarily shut down on October 18, after concerns were raised by the National Association of Market Researchers about the wisdom and appropriateness of putting inmates on the phones. Corrections staff at two other prisons, Pittsburg Institution and Westmoreland Institution, declined to answer any questions concerning their call centers, but Gladu is optimistic that all three centers will reopen soon, and he is not alone.

Ellen Henderson, director of policy and regulatory affairs at Correction Canada (Corcan), which employs federal inmates, agrees with Gladu. “These are not major problems, just concerns that are being voiced,” she said. Michelle Pilon-Antilli, director of media relations at Corrections Canada, added that the closures were only “precautionary measures.”

Before the shutdown, Fenbrook employed 51 inmates in its call center, and ran three other centers outside the prison. All three of the Canadian call centers had close partnerships with private sector companies who supplied the phone numbers and questions to be asked.

“We supply the offenders and they pay the offenders,” said Gladu. The centers only deal with market research, and the inmates gather no personal information. The prisons are determined not to accept surveys or marketing contracts that require prisoners to collect personal information, so as not to tempt the inmates or worry the public. Calls are dialed by a computer and all the inmate has is a telephone headset, a computer screen, and a keyboard to type in responses. Every call is monitored and staff members patrol the floor to help inmates with problems.

Some problems include inmates wandering from the prescribed script or having inadequate recording skills. If an inmate strays from the script, the survey is stopped and the inmate is asked why he strayed. “It is a potential, but we monitor,” said Gladu. The majority of problems are typing-related. Many inmates have never worked with computers before and have poor typing skills. They must pass a course in typing to continue working in the call center.

Not every prisoner is able to work in a call center. Inmates convicted of fraud are rejected based upon their crime. As Gladu pointed out, there are many steps to follow to apply for a position. Inmates must first apply in writing, and the applications are forwarded to a security staff that then sends them to the employment coordinator. The employment coordinator may or may not decide to proceed with the applications.

If the application is accepted, the call center supervisor then interviews the inmate. The entire application then goes to the program board of six staff members who ultimately decide if the applicant should work in the call center or not.

The CORCAN concept seems to be working. Along with the call centers, CORCAN is responsible for all prison employment programs, and has seen the recidivism rate drop and prisoner moral increase. CORCAN employs more than 5,000 offenders still in prison and 1,900 in communities. CORCAN claims that there was a 27.8% reduction in re-offences in 1996 in 52 paroled offenders who participated in CORCAN, compared to 19.2% one and a half years earlier.

Morale is also affected, and Henderson said she has seen it for herself. “Men have broken down and cried because they find they are finally good at something,” she said. Men are trained and educated to work. If an inmate wants to work in a call center, or any other job in prison, he must receive education beforehand.

When inmates are accepted as CORCAN trainees, they learn skills that can be useful in the workplace. They also learn the skills necessary to be a good worker, from commitment to responsibility to punctuality. Pilon-Antilli also said the program helps inmates be self-sufficient.

CORCAN wants to train inmates for jobs when they are paroled, and the program offers men in call centers the chance to work in call centers outside of prison. In Fenbrook alone, 16 inmates have received their certificates and of that group, three now have jobs. Some are still in jail, but it may give them a better outlook on the future if they have a certificate in their pocket telling them they can do a professional job.

Prisoners who have a future ahead of them — one that includes a possible job opportunity – may be much less likely to re-offend. They are trying to turn their lives around and have a better chance in a program like CORCAN than they do sitting in their cells.

Many experts in the field have faith in the program and believe that the call centers will be reinstated soon. Until then, Gladu said, “We wait.”

[From Connection MagazineMay 2003]

From The Other Side Of The Desk: Job Candidates Tell What They Like — And Don’t Like — in the Recruiting Process

By Malcolm C. McCulloch, Ph.D.

How many times have you recruited an exciting candidate for your contact center, only to have the person walk away, possibly to accept a position with a competitor? Hardly ever? More often than you would like? If this is a recurring problem, you need to ask yourself why.

Successful recruiters are a useful source of information for improving recruiting practices, but another source is the candidates themselves. Over the years, LIMRA International has gained some insight by surveying applicants for insurance and financial services jobs who accepted new positions, as well as qualified applicants who walked away from job offers.

Their candid comments tell us how companies can improve in four major areas of the hiring process – communication style, quality of information, interview techniques, and employment testing. Companies staffing their contact centers can heed this advice given from the other side of the desk.

Communication style: A recruiter’s communication style can affect a candidate’s level of interest. Here are some comments from candidates urging recruiters to be open and credible, knowledgeable about the job, and to avoid being “pushy.”

“Have a standard policy of being honest and open with the applicant; don’t sugarcoat the job.”

Candidates focused on the importance of openness in communications and perception of the recruiter as a credible source of information. In general, they express a preference for unvarnished information and dislike any unnecessary dressing up of facts – whatever the topic. In extreme cases, some respondents believed that they were misled by certain information and therefore considered the recruiter, one of the first company contacts, un­trustworthy.

“The recruiter needs to have full com­mand of product knowledge; I want to know what I’m selling or servicing.”

Candidates said that recruiters were not always prepared with basic information about company products, policies and procedures, or even about the recruiting process itself. A picture emerged of some recruiters conducting their business on the fly without adequate preparation or background knowledge.

Quality of information: Candidates indicated a desire for greater information about the recruiting process and the job itself. They mentioned four areas in particular – the recruiting process, job requirements, compensation, and company information.

“Recruiters should have something in writing that outlines the application process and interviewing steps.”

Recruiters understand the rationale of their recruiting steps, but candidates may not. A number of candi­dates were perplexed by the process and said they were not given an orientation on the ap­plication process. Candidates wondered about the number of interviews and the types of questions asked.

The remedy is straightforward: to reduce the number of interviews and/or the time interval between interviews. Also, be sure that the initial recruiter explains the interviewing steps and provides the reason for multiple interviews. Many companies do provide some form of orientation. However, if there is no clear understanding of what is expected and why, recruiters run the risk that candidates will be left in the dark and will second-guess the procedure.

“Give a realistic picture of what the work and business are like.”

Candidates wanted better information about actual job start-up activities, as well as more details about the on­going nature of the work activities, tasks, and skills neces­sary for success. Some candidates seemed to have no clear idea of what was expected on the job or what was expected of the agent. Respondents suggested that recruiters clarify and detail the quantity and nature of pre-hire activities and post-hire training required. More information on expected production and service levels would also be helpful.

In addition, candidates suggested that the recruiter convey a realistic picture of the job, including its challenges and potential frustrations.

 “Give a history of the company’s background and place in its industry”

A number of applicants showed interest in finding out about the company, its products, and its operations. While some applicants believed that they did not receive enough information about company products, others responded favorably to hearing about products that they would be proud to sell, service and be associated with.

Interviewing techniques: Interviewing is an integral information-gathering component of recruiting. Candidates offered several suggestions for improvement.

“People conducting interviews need to be more organized. Make candidates feel more welcome, and listen better instead of talking.”

Applicants observed that when interview questions were not organized by topic or failed to flow smoothly, the interview appeared disor­ganized and unprofessional and was a poor reflection on both the recruiter and the company.

Other comments addressed the issue of rapport building between recruiters and candidates. Applicants pointed specifically to the negative effects of a recruiter rushing through an interview or behaving impersonally toward the applicant. This type of behavior increased the natural stress and uncertainty of the situa­tion for the applicants who encountered it.

“Include an interview with a working call center representative who can tell what the job is really about.”

A number of candidates recommended that representatives, especially relatively new ones, be used as interviewers. Applicants indicated that these agents could give them more realistic and complete information about the job. Candidates were eager to hear information from the trenches.

Employment testing: All companies participating in the study used some form of early screening instrument to assess the qualifica­tions of applicants for the job. A number of comments focused specifically on candidates’ testing experiences.

“They need to explain more about what kind of test it is.”

Candidates wanted a clearer understanding of the test’s relevance to the applicant assessment process. They wanted to know why they were taking the test, the importance of the results, and the length of the test. Also, candidates did not always clearly understand the use of the test as an instrument to predict job success.

On balance: These applicants’ comments provide another view of what can turn off candidates from the recruiting process or bolster their interest in a job. However, we should keep in mind that the recommendations are entirely from the job applicant’s point of view. This must be balanced against company needs for cost-effectiveness in recruiting, as well as established and carefully developed recruiting procedures. Finally, some of the recommendations should serve as important reminders to strengthen good recruiting practices that are already in place.

Malcolm McCulloch, selection and assessment consultant for LIMRA International, directs research supporting the development of selection tools and provides expert consultation on the effectiveness and efficiency of recruiting, selection, and assessment programs. He is currently leading research on recruiting, selection, and compensation issues in customer contact centers.

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2003]

Looking for Good Employees? Then Get Out of Town!

By Steve Clover

A robust economy is a mixed blessing for the small business owner. Capitol is abundant. Interest rates are low. Your customers are riding the tide as well. In fact, if you are a good marketer, you may be able to bring in more business than you have ever dreamed. As with any silver lining, comes a dark cloud. I’m talking about the ability of a TAS to attract and retain good employees. Think about it. Aside from customers who pay, equipment that works and phone lines that are stable, what is the most valuable resource in your telephone answering service (TAS)?

The answer of course is your staff.

A low unemployment rate is on balance desirable, but can pose a real challenge for those of us who may be located in some of the tighter labor markets. If you are like the rest of us, you are probably guilty of gazing around your call center muttering to yourself, “If I could just find half a dozen more people like…” Well okay, let’s say you find them. How are you going to hire and keep them? Look around at your competition, and I don’t mean just other TASs. Starting wages have escalated everywhere. Your potential candidates are going to look closely and compare what your company has to offer in the way of wages, benefits, hours, environment, etc. There are enough jobs available today where sign-on bonuses are offered, regardless of skills!

Your ability in maintaining a well-trained, dependable staff, will determine your company’s level of quality and ultimately, its success. Constant turnover in your employees produce a constant turnover in your customers. The cost of hiring and training comes directly out of your profits. Your clients are paying a fee for the service you are providing, not for employee churn.

So, in a booming economy where the national unemployment rate hovers near three percent, what is the answer?

My company, Telemed, has been located in Atlanta, Georgia since 1986. Due to our business’s significant growth over the past few years, we knew we reached the point where action needed to be taken. We were paying wages far above what was reasonable to retain employees that were not even near the highest level of ability. The results from our classified advertisements were depressing. It seemed as though we would screen fifty candidates, hire five and have one of the five stay for six months–it was time for a bold move.

Having gone through a similar situation several years ago with a previous TAS employer, we explored other areas of the country to relocate our inbound operations. This company, which was then located in the New York metro area, moved the entire inbound operation to the Virginia coastline. Norfolk, Virginia, home of the largest naval base in the world is nearby. Many military dependents and retirees looking for shift work live in the area. Get the picture? Many other companies did as well and located large call centers there; however, this area has become saturated and is not an option for a smaller TAS.

After investigating many locations throughout the southeast, including military towns, Telemed decided upon an area in western Virginia. The people are friendly and hard working. They have endured difficult times in the past. At the point we first considered this vicinity, the unemployment rate was over eight percent! The community needed jobs desperately and lobbied strongly for our relocation. The local and state governments offered a mixture of incentives including:

  • Location assistance
  • Facility construction
  • Fixed asset financing
  • Tax incentives
  • Financial assistance
  • Training

We were also impressed with the level of education of our candidates. Since there were few jobs in the area, many young people decided to prolong their education. The average applicant had at least two years of college. Although the labor pool was deeper than what we had previously, it took time to train those “green operators.”

After six months from when the papers were signed, we had achieved a higher level of quality than our customers experienced in Atlanta. Now we are seeing the benefits of our move very clearly. The level of quality continues to improve, errors are down and overall call management skills sharpen daily. For every applicant that does not make it through training, there are several more waiting to fill the position. We do expect this trend to continue.

Some advise for those who would consider this strategy: never stray farther than you are comfortable with. Remember, you may be spending a lot of time at the new location.

Search out areas that have a higher unemployment rate. Local communities, which have lost major employers, are a very good start. The Internet is an excellent source to find influential contacts in your chosen areas (i.e. chambers of commerce, local officials, etc.). Check out the local newspapers on line. Military towns deserve a close look as well. Take your time. Remember, if you bring jobs to an impoverished region, you will be in the drivers seat when the time comes to negotiate terms.

Once your initial homework is complete, narrow your search to at least two or three competing areas. Do not commit. Let those planners and politicians know they have competition. If you play your cards right, they will sweeten the pie with various enticements to help make your decision the right one.

Steve Clover is vice president, sales and marketing for Telemed, a nationwide medical call center. He can be reached at 800-663-3560 or email him at steveclover@telemedinc.com.

[From Connection Magazine – September 2000]