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Best practices for hiring call center agents

What is the best way to manage a constant flow of hiring and training in the call center? Our call center is on a continuous hiring cycle and our new hire training is five weeks long. How do we manage this and achieve the maximum benefit for both human resources (HR) and the call center?

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The situation that you describe, a continual cycle of hiring call center agents and a five-week training program for new agents, is common in many call center environments. Unfortunately, it is also a very costly practice, as it involves a great deal of management attention. Since the entire process begins with hiring the right agents, it would be best to start with a careful review of your recruiting, interviewing and hiring practices.

Here are a few best practices for hiring call center agents:

  • Assess the qualities that your top agents possess. Develop an ideal agent profile that encompasses the skills, attributes and behaviors that are required of a successful call center agent. Provide your HR recruiter with the candidate profile.
  • Make sure that the recruitment staff completely understands the call center working environment and agent performance expectations. Invite your recruitment staff to spend time in the call center. Have them sit with agents to listen to calls and get a first-hand look at the complexity of the job, the fast pace and structured work environment. This experience will prove invaluable in helping them accurately assess the abilities of candidates.
  • Meet with HR to review current recruiting strategies and identify what's working and what's not. Be creative in developing a list of new or alternative recruiting strategies to explore. For example, if at-home agents are a viable alternative for your organization, consider employing them to create a cost effective, high quality, flexible, diverse labor pool with an unlimited geographical reach and no real estate costs.
  • Use a competency-based assessment tool as part of the hiring process to evaluate agent candidates. This tool should be able to assess skills as well as personality traits that are a critical to being a successful, happy and satisfied agent.
  • Perform the initial job interview in the channel for which the agent is being hired. For example, if an agent is being hired to handle phone calls, the initial screening should be done over the phone. Similarly, for email agents, conduct the initial screening via email.
  • Use behavior-based interview questions. Ask candidates to provide specific examples of a time in their previous job(s) where they demonstrated ability and skill in handling situations that they are likely to encounter as a call center agent. For example, questions such as, "Please tell me about a specific time when you had to deal with a difficult or unreasonable request from a customer," will help you obtain important information about a candidate's skill and experience, and also gain valuable insight into how they approach and work through challenging situations.
  • Provide candidates with full disclosure about the job, working environment and all specific job requirements, such as non-traditional work schedules, shift requirements, weekend and/or holiday requirements, scheduled lunches and breaks and training requirements. Give candidates an opportunity to listen to simulated calls to be sure that they know what they are signing up for.
  • Survey new hires after every step of the process, i.e., recruitment, new hire orientation, training, and three months after training to discover new ways to improve the hiring and training process.
  • Conduct exit interviews to understand why agents leave. Track agent attrition to identify trends and opportunities to improve your processes.
  • Track and report on the effectiveness of recruiting, interviewing and hiring initiatives. Meet with HR on a regularly scheduled basis to review trends and discuss ways to enhance the process.

    Once the hiring process is optimized you'll need to examine your agent training, satisfaction and retention practices. For more information, please refer to Motivating Agents: Respect and Rewards Make a Big Difference and 2007 Call Center Supervisor Best Practices.

  • This was first published in December 2007

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