Why is hiring a call center agent vital?
As we have already mentioned, qualified agents are your main factor in success. When you are looking for agents for hire, you have to understand which skills should they have, how much you want them to be experienced, and what results you want from them.
Call center agents are a fundamental part of the success of the entire department. Yes, every hire can say “Hello, my name is Kelly\John\Angela, and I`m going to support you with your issue” but that is not the way it has to be done. Agents have to gain or already have some vital soft skills to provide both outbound and inbound services and let’s discover a few of them.
Active listening skills - agents have to know how to listen to the customer to understand the root reason, answer the right questions to both show care and find out some vital details which are needed for successful resolution, and never lose any customer sayings which can give important information not only about the problem, but about customers themselves - their communication style, preferences, job, needs, and so on.
Conflict resolution - conflicts happen, and they happen more often than you could imagine. Customers sometimes come to the support team in a bad mood already, and their main goal is rather to create a scandal than to solve their problem. Agents should know how to transform a conflict into a positive resolution and final of the conversation, and even if such an end is impossible agents need to have enough endurance to not fall into depression or get emotional burnout.
Empathy - agents have to shine from the positive and make customers happy and smile just with their tone of voice. Yes, we know that this sounds like something unreal, but you`ve got what we mean by it. Robotic agents or those whose voice sounds like the voice of a martyr can’t provide positive customer experiences, and it’s a great problem.
Adaptability - some customers require not only a personalized service but a service that would be totally focused on their imagination of how it should be provided. Some customers are too conservative and formal, and they can become angry customers just because of the word “Hi!”, while others hate formality and expect you to communicate with them as if you are old friends.
Troubleshooting and independence in decisions - yes, agents do work in accordance with protocols and internal compliance, but they have to be independent - not because you have to give them this opportunity but because they have to bear such a mindset and skill set. Firstly, dependent agents are absolutely unable to grow and develop professionally - it is just a specific type of person. Secondly, they can’t deal with complicated customer requests.
And this list isn’t over by these skills. Agents also have to understand the product, market, and target audience clearly, the product’s pros and cons, customers’ preferences, main company policies, contact center industry standards, compliance rules, and so on. Such soft skills as small talk tricks, issue resolution, or stress resistance are also crucial, and some people just can’t gain them - it is the main fact you have to take into consideration, and that is what you have to discover during the first interview process - either this candidate can be a great customer service representative or no.
How to improve your hiring call center jobs process?
Now let’s discuss the main topic - how to perform a perfect call center jobs hiring process to employ only highly qualified and professional candidates who will bring your call center to another level of service.
Clear and interesting job description
The first rule - we forget to consider every candidate as a low-skill and no-degree person who just needs a job. There are even some call centers for hire, with their own agents and call center managers, you just pay money, but we are not going to discuss such a way of call center setup because we think that if you want to do something right - do it on your own, with our help and advice, surely. So, a call center agent isn’t similar to a bus driver or food delivery courier - it is a more responsible and important job, and it requires more skills and more training. Thus, the first thing you have to do before writing a job description - is look at how it is done by competitors and do it better.
For instance, include an option for agents to get free access to a library or gym certificate after three months of successful work. When you write about the reward system for top-performing agents, describe it in detail, not as all other employers do “We offer a reward system, but to find out how it works you have to be already employed”. What is the reason for such a description?
Show your care of workers in the description - tell about internal events, show some photos of a team or office, let people feel that you put effort into delighting not only customers but employees too - and you will receive the same attitude in return.
Also, clearly describe your requirements and main conditions for successful hiring - if you need people only with a college degree, write it down. If you need people with a specific experience, write it down. Each specific need that is clearly described in a job description decreases the number of CVs and candidates who have to be refused even for the entry-level role - so it saves your time if in other words.
Provide an opening interview by phone
When you have reviewed all cover letters, CVs resumes, and other job applications, it is time to sort them and throw away unsuitable candidates. Afterward, you will have the main list of potentially suitable candidates who suit your requirements. Anyhow, you have to understand that having a great CV doesn’t guarantee that the candidate is really professional - look at the number of free guides on “How to compile a great resume” on the web and how many CV compilators, and other digital tools are available, and you will understand that even a kid can do it. Additionally, if you need a call center hiring “work from home” agents, then small talk with a job seeker is more vital than a CV.
Phone interviews should also be more focused on understanding a person’s communication skills, and their skills assessment to make an informed decision about whether you need this candidate to come for a live interview or not. Yes, such common questions like “What is your working experience?” are good to ask, but avoid asking too obvious interview questions, such as “Where do you want to be\work in five years?” - we both know that the true answer has to be “Not as your call center agent”.
Provide final-round interview
So, we are at the end of the path of call center job hiring. You have a few qualified candidates who have passed all challenges, and now it is time for a final talk and a final hiring decision. How to perform an ideal interview and get all the information you need and create a great first impression on your ideal candidates to motivate them for further work?
First of all, point to the vital aspects of the work - tell about targeted audience specifics, internal compliance, customer service level agreement, and other formal things which are must-haves. Secondly, talk about preferences of the work - bonuses, reward programs, and so on. Thirdly, create a little bit unexpected test - ask a candidate to perform a roleplay where you will be a “customer”, and the candidate will be a customer service agent. Moreover, you can use another trick - as contact center agents are difficult to be provided with a test task, just ask another person, like a call center manager, to call you during an interview and tell a legend that this is a customer calling and give the phone to a candidate - just look how would he perform during a stressful situation.
Also, you can ask tricky questions, such as “What would you do if unhappy customers call you with a request you don’t know how to deal with?” or “What would you do if a customer calls with a request to cancel a subscription because of one negative experience\to ask the manager to link to the call?”. Yes, these questions are a bit banal for experienced agents, but try to find such ones. For newbies or call center agents with less than half a year of experience, these questions may put them in a stupor.
Based on the results of each interview, come with a hiring or negative decision for all job applicants. Ignoring candidates who haven’t passed the final interview can cause problems in the future when you will need fast hiring and look into the candidates base, but get a refusal because of a lack of respect during the previous communication. By the way, do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Onboarding is a part of the call center hiring process
Now you already have a few new contact center agents, and you think that everything is alright, but we are going to disappoint you - it is not the end of the hiring process. When you have just hired new call center representatives, it is critical to help them pass through the acclimatization and onboarding period without any issues and create a positive charge before starting work. Leaving agents along with tonnes of information, difficult-in-use knowledge bases, complicated terminology and a lack of internal communication may cause agent turnover - have you ever wondered why most new call center agents leave the work during the first three months? Now you understand where the pitfalls lie.
The problem is that supply exceeds demand in the call center positions market, and it is not a problem to change working places each month if needed. There are too many poorly managed call centers that have around 50% of yearly turnover, and they do hire new agents. Unfortunately, as most call centers are similar in a negative working environment, lack of internal communication and cooperation, absence of training programs, and poor salaries(national average salary is low, that’s how market works, we can’t do anything with it), and no career prospects, agents don’t expect any positive emotions from any of the jobs. Nonetheless, you still can offer better job conditions, a positive environment, and an atmosphere, and it would be enough to convince agents to stay with you - and a stable and friendly team is a key to success, isn’t it?
The best onboarding practices aren’t as costly or difficult as some non-qualified people think, they include mentorship, total access to internal information, clear onboarding planning, and transparency.
Just ask more experienced agents to become mentors of new hires: teach them, control their progress, point to mistakes, and just communicate with them to ease their integration into the team. Under “accessible information” we mean a greatly designed and easy-in-use knowledge management system that would cover all potential queries about the company, products, service, customers, call center software, customer base software, inbound calls processing, outbound call processing, incoming calls escalation tips, and so on.
Where to look at during an interview
Let’s assume all thoughts about the main agent skills you have to look for during hiring. To avoid making this paragraph too lengthy, let’s just compile a short list of such skills.
Empathy - we have already mentioned it, but let’s clarify what we mean under “empathetic agents”. Agents have to talk in a positive manner, create an impression of a happy and self-confident person, don’t be scared to show emotions, be open to the emotions of other people and just be pleasant during a conversation. A small tip to follow: while a person interviews a candidate, carefully listen to how each candidate speaks: intonation, style of talk, specific phrases, emotions - you will easily identify boring, always-tired, and angry persons who just can’t provide customer service(if it has to create a positive customer experience, surely).
Multitask abilities - ask about some situations where qualified candidates have had to act in a multitasking manner. Ask them to tell examples of such situations, or offer to pass through a small challenge: talk to a customer and fill out the customer card at the same time, for instance.
Going-of-script skills - customer conversations often go away from the expected call flow, so agents have to be adaptable and know how to switch their minds from one issue or request to another. Test this during the interview: talk a bit about one thing, and switch the conversation to another issue unexpectedly - the reaction of a candidate will tell you much.
Stress resistance and cold mind - a difficult skill to test, but you can ask potential agents about such situations from their past experiences and analyze their answers - they should include real examples of real situations.
Attention to detail - give a task, for example, to review and edit a call script that contains mistakes, both grammar and semantic errors. Give a limited time for a task, for instance, five minutes. This task can also show how agents can keep their mind cold in a stressful situation.
Reliability - ask clearly about agents’ career dreams and expectations. You have to know for how long they will stay with you, and after getting an answer, tell them about career prospects. Planning is vital, and you can’t plan when having a few “Schroedinger agents”, who are either going to stay or to leave.
Customer-oriented - you have to understand either agent just answers customers or they are trying to solve the root problem. This skill is the most vital, but you can test it only in real-work conditions.