5 Ways Contact Centres Get Hiring Wrong and 3 Ways To Fix It - Employee Journey Series
Contact centres are most often the largest department in their organization and typically have the highest turnover to boot. In fact, in the US alone, it's estimated that over 3.3 million people work in contact centres which turns over 30-45% of staff annually. Yes. That's right. That's 1 - 1.5 million people being turned over every year! If Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers is right and it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, you'd think contact centres would be the best at it.
You'd be wrong.
No offence Malcom, but 10,000 hours practicing something can't make you great at it if the processes and practices most commonly used are not designed to hire the BEST people so much as the MOST people. You only excel at mediocrity.
In this series I aim to share insights into the high level Employee Journey of a frontline contact centre agent. In doing so, I will share a holistic set of practices and levers that work in concert to transform this often stigmatized role into something both fulfilling for a frontline agent and extremely valuable to the organizations in which they work. Through data, stories and my own experience, we will uncover some of the most common failures, why they happen and how to avoid them. But none of us have all the answers, so please share what works for you. Share your stories and help the CX, and more specifically, the contact centre community grow together. Hopefully the conversation can help us all do better...because let's face it...we CAN do better.
So where do most contact centres go wrong in hiring?
Here are just 5 of the most common gaps in how contact centres hire:
1 - Vanilla job postings
Don't get me wrong, on a warm apple pie, some vanilla ice cream is just right (my favourite dessert actually). But it isn't exactly the sexiest of all the ice cream flavours. I regularly talk to job seekers looking for contact center work and they are unanimously underwhelmed by the homogenous wording found in posting after posting. It's no wonder they apply to 100 jobs and hope one sticks. They end up resigned to find ANY job vs. being inspired for THE job, the opportunity at your organization. On the flip side companies I talk to dread the thousands of resumes they get that are a complete mismatch to what they truly want. Yet their postings are rarely aligned to the qualities and skills they deem most important.
2 - Lack or little involvement from the front line leaders
Why is it that those ultimately responsible for the employees performance and development, who will be held accountable for them and will be measured on their success, have little or no involvement? And/or do not have weight in the decision of who gets hired? In some cases, the contact centre leaders are not involved at all as hiring is entirely "in-sourced" to HR or outsourced a 3rd party recruiter.
3 - No alignment and/or training on what "good" looks and how to find it
Have you heard of robust programs to train hiring managers on what good looks like? On how to uncover those attributes during the interview process? Programs that include calibration across hiring managers? Funnily, many centres have a comprehensive agent training program as well a blueprint for calibration in their quality monitoring programs, however, this competency is not being leveraged in this area and so the same support is rarely applied to hiring managers.
4 - Traditional thoughts on what makes a great contact centre employee are outdated and dare I say, just plain flawed
It's a little surprising that by now, many contact centre leaders still believe things like contact experience is needed (it's not) and will speed up onboarding (it won't). Most are not doing top performer modelling (profiling their best to assist in designing screening tools for hiring) and for many that are, what they consider a top performer is also based on outdated notions of good which I will explore in a future article soon (why are we still measuring/weighting so many of the same KPI's from 20-30 years ago?).
5 - Hiring to deadline vs best candidate
This is so common that I am often surprised when someone is NOT doing this. Even some of the best centres still fall into this hiring trap and it's easy to understand why. Existing staff are overwhelmed, service levels are being missed, customers are frustrated with wait times, etc. Or, we are trying to fill a class to optimize training resources. It's no wonder we tend to hire to deadline. However, hiring to deadline over best fit perpetuates and even exacerbates many issues which I will discuss below.
So what are some ways to reimagine hiring?
Here's three that can help boost your CX and EX:
1 - Get super focused with your posting, with all the same creativity and thought you would an ad for your product
Your marketing team spends a lot of time thinking about who the person is they are talking to. This will be quite different for an anti-aging cream compared to the latest smartphone or men's designer jeans, a skateboard or a fast cooking rice. Even within each of those, ads will vary. For example, a smartphone ad aimed at a new parent might emphasize the camera whereas the processor speed might be emphasized for a different segment and the sleek design for yet another. They want the customer to feel they are being talked to directly. They want to focus on what that customer needs the most and how this product will help them achieve those needs. Your posting should do the same.
Here are some questions to help start this process in your organization. Is our posting in first, second or third person? Most are first or third but what are the benefits of talking directly to the candidate. "You love a challenge" vs "we are looking for someone who loves a challenge" or worse "the department is looking for someone who loves a challenge". Another question. Does your posting give the most weighting to the things you think about most when you make a hiring decision? The vast majority of postings today do not. What are the most important traits, skills and experience for your company and this role? Be real here. If you had to just pick a few, what would they be? Once you know, make sure they are the most talked about elements of your posting (at least 2/3 of your posting should heavily emphasize and integrate these). On the flip side, does your posting have requirements that you never use to make a hiring decision? E.g. 3 years of contact experience might be on the posting but you would gladly hire someone with less or even none if they demonstrate empathy, confidence, problem solving, professionalism, resourcefulness, etc. If so, get that OFF your posting. Do you really want people with the traits you most value to feel they aren't even qualified to apply?
2 - Give the leader this role reports to the hiring decision and SUPPORT them with training and calibration
First, if you are hiring a customer service representative, let the person they will report to have the hiring decision. Not just influence but the final call. Hiring is one of, if not THE most important functions of leadership. Hire well and a leader can truly lead their team, serve them, nurture and develop them. Hire poorly and a leader's time is consumed with managing their team's performance.
Giving them the decision also makes them that much more invested in the success of their team. So this should take priority over other meetings and the time needed should be factored into your front leader ratios. The cost of building this in will pay in dividends on the other end.
But no everyone is great at this. So train them. Develop a training program on interview skills and calibrate on what good looks like often. In reality, many leaders are not trained but handed an interview guide with your best worded behavioural questions (most of which can be researched and rehearsed by a candidate. An unskilled interviewer can't tell the difference).
Training should focus on how to put a candidate at ease, to open up without feeling judged, how to read their answers on and beneath the surface, how to make the session collaborative so the candidate can get a real glimpse into the role to see if it's for them. These are not second nature for most but learned skills.
Lastly, calibrate. Get more than one leader involved in interviews (I'm a big fan of group interviews as a portion of the process so all leaders get a read on all candidates). This way you can discuss what good looks like and where good was exhibited.
3 - Great candidates and not service levels should guide your hiring timelines
Of course, having bad service levels can create immense pressure on the operation. But making compromises on the traits and skills you deem most important will only add more pressure. As mentioned above, hiring to deadline over best fit perpetuates and even exacerbates many issues.
A poor fit will have lower performance and higher absenteeism which forces higher than necessary staffing to achieve a service level. A poor fit may not provide an outstanding customer experience so the customer may get through more quickly only to reach someone ill-equipped and often even disinterested to help or understand. A poor fit will have higher error rates causing call backs, complaints, escalations, tying up more resources and eroding customer confidence. A poor fit may consume the time of their leader which can risk mid to top performers feeling ignored or under appreciated. Lastly, a poor fit will turnover faster, keeping you in a constant reactive state of catch up vs shifting to the proactive work of employee development and continuous improvement.
It may seems counter intuitive but time and again it has been shown that it is better to take a temporary hit on service levels in order to have a more sustained service experience in the long run.
What do you think? What other ways can you improve the hiring process to achieve better outcomes such as employee and customer experience? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading.
About the author: Neal Dlin is the Founder and Chief Human Experience Officer at Chorus Tree Consulting (www.chorustree.com). He is a 2021 ICMI top 25 CX thought leader, a member of the Advisory Council for GTACC, keynote speaker, best selling author, proud father, fundraiser and theatre producer.