The Secret to Finding Reps Who Will Always Bring Their A-Game

happy-call-center-repCall center hiring can be a laborious process. There are always a number of candidates, but finding those who have the wherewithal to truly succeed as customer service professionals is a challenge. So how does a hiring manager go about identifying and selecting the best applicants?

Here are a few best hiring practices that can help you to take your call center to the next level.

Start with a phone or video chat interview.

Obviously, the most important personality traits for a call center rep to exhibit are poise and polish on the phone. If you start out with a phone-based or Skype-based interview, you can quickly weed out candidates who lack them.

Focus more on quality of labor, not on the cost of labor.

Remember, your customers are judging your company by the perceived intelligence, courteousness and helpfulness of your call center agents, so you need to evaluate candidates by listening through your customers' ears.

It might look good from a budgetary standpoint to staff your call center with low-skill, low-wage labor, but that lack of skill will negatively impact your customer satisfaction scores in the future. Make sure you hire candidates who, in their daily speech and initial interviews, use proper grammar, speak in pleasant, "pear-shaped" tones and convey sincerity.

Look for reps with prior, long-term experience in another company's call center.

Ideally, you'll find a few experienced reps in your candidate pool. Given that the average call center attrition rate is somewhere between 30-60% a year, this isn't surprising. But attrition is expensive and self-defeating (it has been called the "Silent Killer of Profits"), so if you are interested in hiring a candidate who is jumping from another ship, you need to drill down and find out why.

Avoid candidates who shift often from company to company— unless they are following a significant other who is transferred a lot (say, a military spouse), then either their employers have been dissatisfied with them or the candidates themselves have difficulty engaging. Neither would bode well for their success in your enterprise.

Likewise, if you find an experienced, polished candidate who is leaving a long-time customer service position with another company (more than 5 years or so in today's hiring climate), make sure you find out up front why he or she is leaving. If it's due to employee dissatisfaction, address the aggravating factor during your interview process. If wages were low at the last position, offer an incentive-based contract with real earnings growth potential. If lack of opportunity for advancement was the main issue, hire the candidate on as a lead and work out a growth plan early. Few call center reps leave a long-time position and apply for another call center merely for a "change of scene." If change of scene was really what they were after, they would be applying for a different type of job.

Just be sure that you and the candidate mutually set clear goals and expectations before he or she starts work. Then, set quarterly review meetings and stick to those goals. Continually ask for, and offer, feedback.

Remember that candidates are judging you, too.

Let's be frank— given that high, industry-wide attrition rate, yours isn't the only job posting out there. You're competing with every other company hiring reps at any given moment. That means applicants do have some power to be choosy in the market. You don't just want to fill open seats; you want to fill them well and for the long term.

Start by creating a profile of your customers' ideal service agent. Then write down the qualities you desire in a successful call center rep. Merge the two.

Lastly, write down what you can truly afford over the next year, five years and ten years (not what you want in an ideal labor market right now). You can always start negotiations where you "want" to be right now and work your way up— if you're identifying quality candidates who will blossom under your system, they're going to be worth it. Make sure you are considering meaningful, performance-based compensation and benefits growth when you develop your employee profile and growth plans.

Using that information, work with your company's creative team to create a compelling job posting. Don't rely strictly on job mill websites or temp services. Go out and find your candidates.

You might even try searching for experienced reps on LinkedIn. Why not headhunt a few from other companies?  If you value experience and stability, make a few long-term reps already in secure positions a better offer. Snagging a few key individuals will give you a departmental structure you can flesh out with qualified job seekers at-large.

If the hiring process seems overwhelming, or you can't afford a qualified, in-house call center, consider outsourcing to a professional partner.

If you do go the outsourcing route, be sure you contract with a provider that is already hiring professional agents for its call center operations. Test the waters. Ask your potential partnering organization if you can tour its call center and listen in on service interactions. Examine the company's stated mission and value structure and make sure it dovetails nicely with your organization's own mission.

If your third-party call center provider handles multiple clients, make sure that your computer system can be seamlessly and fluidly tied into your partner’s systems, so that their agents will be able to quickly serve your customers' needs. Naturally, too, the security of your customers' personal information is an absolute, inviolable necessity, so partner with a business-to-business solution provider who can guarantee that information will always be discretely and appropriately handled.

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RDI Corporation was founded in 1978 and is headquartered in Blue Ash, Ohio. We provide precise business solutions through a fully integrated outsourcing model and our clients ranged from mid-sized corporations to distinguished Fortune 500 companies.