Putting top talent into customer-facing roles is the key to achieving high customer satisfaction, yet the current labor crunch makes it all but impossible for companies to keep their call centers staffed with skilled agents.
The workforce shortage crisis in the US is officially the worst we have seen in decades. The number of available workers per job (1.4 workers/opening) is now half of what the national average has been for the past 20 years, and the ratio continues to fall according to the US Chamber of Commerce.
For US companies, the difficulty to find and retain affordable call center agents will only intensify in the coming months as employee turnover is expected to increase. A recent survey from Prudential Financial revealed that 1 in 4 workers is planning to look for new opportunities once the pandemic threat has subsided. Half of those preparing to jump ship say they want better compensation and benefits, professional growth opportunities and a better work-life balance.
The workforce shortage crisis in the US is officially the worst we have seen in decades
Not surprisingly, this staffing crisis has increased demand in Nearshore markets. The abundance of available jobs for skilled agents means that top-performers now have their pick of employers, which means retention of top talent will become an even bigger priority.
So, how can call centers compete in this type of job market? The key is the ability to attract individuals that truly value the position as a long-term opportunity or even as a job that could springboard into a prestigious career, versus someone who is only looking to supplement their income and will always move quickly when something better comes along.
This difference in how agents view the job often signals the difference between engaged and disengaged employees. Research by the Temkin Group found that, compared to disengaged employees, highly-engaged employees are 5.3 times more likely to recommend an improvement and 4.7 times more likely to do something good for the company, even if it’s not expected of them. And Gallup reports that high workplace engagement contributes to a 10% increase in customer ratings and a 20% increase in sales.
Strategic Approaches for Attracting Top Call Center Agents
In a competitive job market, the strongest job candidates will naturally seek out best-in-class employers. These are companies that are well-known for delivering on employee promises and being a great place to work. It takes time to build a company reputation that sells itself to prospective call center agents. You have to provide a vibrant environment, engagement, pay and perks to make people feel like it’s more than a job.
Similarly, your recruiting practices should reflect what makes your company unique and the highest standards for the position. Remember, bad hires will end up costing you more in lost time, productivity and customers.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when recruiting top-quality call center agents:
- Invest the time upfront to develop comprehensive candidate profiles. The call center agent’s role has evolved in recent years. Today’s agents are handling more complex transactions amid rising customer demands. The ideal call center agent is highly educated, professional, career-minded, engaged, positive, motivated and willing to learn. We feel that this is the baseline for success in the position. Still, every brand’s unique elements and personality will require additional attributes and customization to develop the best fit profile.
- Offer unique benefits and perks. The types of benefits you offer will assure job candidates that you care about employees’ personal and professional well-being. Traditional benefits are the table stakes, but today’s agents expect more. Consider workplace amenities and other conveniences to help with work-life balance, such as on-site cafeterias, coffee shops, health clinics, ATM machines, company-provided transportation, and break-out spaces to de-stress.
- Showcase your company culture. The majority of job-seekers (77%) consider a company’s culture before applying for a job, and it is one of the main reasons that almost two-thirds (65%) of employees stay in their position. Use social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to highlight what makes your call center agents want to come to work every day, whether it’s a fun work environment, employee achievement and recognition programs, or a chance to get involved in volunteer work and make a difference in their local communities.
- Provide career paths and continuous development. Employers that invest in their employees draw the best candidates. Job prospects want to know that there is potential for long-term growth. What’s unique and exciting about the call center agent role is that it can be a portal to various career options — all under one roof. A candidate can start as an agent and work their way up into management. Or, with additional training, they can move into areas like accounting, IT, marketing, sales, workforce management, business intelligence, and more.
- Leverage employee advocacy. An employee referral program can be your top recruiting resource for high-quality candidates. Your current employees are already ingrained in the culture. If a top-performing agent refers a friend to work for you, there is a good chance that the job candidate is a lot like your existing agent.
Develop a Robust Hiring Strategy to Screen for Top Talent
Attracting high-quality candidates is just the first step. Follow that up with a comprehensive hiring process to ensure that you’re putting the right people in the right seat. Thorough candidate screening takes time and resources, but this is not an area where you want to take shortcuts.
The following are a few practices that we use at TOG to identify stand-out candidates with the potential to become brand ambassadors.
- Screen for attitude. For a candidate to thrive in a call center position, attitude is everything. We can train agents on just about any skill, but we can’t teach them to be nice. We use behavioral questions to learn more about their personality and whether they are positive, open to feedback and motivated to learn (will vs. skill). We also use exercises to vet candidates for their “coach-ability” — how receptive they are to coaching.
- Conduct comprehensive pre-employment tests. Other types of assessments are also critical to the screening process, such as active listening skills, multitasking, typing and problem-solving. In all of TOG’s Nearshore locations, we apply multiple tests for American English fluency — a standard English skills test to measure the candidate’s language proficiency level and our proprietary English fluency test to gauge their understanding of contextual clues in a conversation.
- Assess candidates for culture fit. Multilayered behavioral interviews offer great insight into whether a job candidate will be a good fit for our culture and our client. Getting this right ensures that all of our agents feel connected, engaged and able to perform at their best.
- Calibrate agent profiles frequently. The calibration process tells us how closely the job candidates are matching the recruiting profile. Hiring needs are constantly evolving. We may nail it the first time, or we may need to adapt the process to reflect emerging skills and criteria.
A Successful Staffing Strategy Is Dynamic
A critical lesson that we can take from the current labor crisis is that workers will expect more from employers going forward. That’s why a successful call center staffing strategy is never stagnant but continuously improves and evolves with the needs of your employees, customers and business.
Why put so much time, effort and focus into recruiting and identifying top talent, especially in this tight labor market? It’s the difference between having just a body in a seat versus a highly qualified brand ambassador. At The Office Gurus, our business is built upon our ability to attract and hire talented agents that act as an extension of our clients’ brands and cultures.
In my next post, I’ll discuss what sets brand ambassadors apart from ordinary call center agents, and the value they bring to the role.