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How to Successfully Mine Remote Contact Center Talent

Published November 20, 2020

Written by: Jeff Christofis
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Jeff Christofis

Jeff Christofis is an expert in customer experience, contact center management, help desk services and IT support. As vice president and practice lead for KellyConnect®, the contact center outsourcing division of Kelly® Professional & Industrial, Jeff oversees the delivery of contact center solutions to a variety of clients using traditional brick-and-mortar, home-based-agent and hybrid delivery models. With more than 30 years of leadership experience in a variety of industries, Jeff has led all aspects of contact center outsourcing and IT.

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When change is difficult it sometimes takes a little nudge to move in the right direction. Like many business environments, the contact center industry wasn’t nudged this year—it was pushed.

With most call center providers still cemented in the brick-and-mortar model, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for transformation. This is due to the restriction of operations at these businesses as well as employees’ hesitations to work on busy call center floors.

The pandemic has made it clear that the future of contact centers is remote. The work-at home agent model and fully virtual solutions will eventually become standard practice. As a result, service providers must be ready for burgeoning recruiting opportunities and challenges.

Identifying and hiring top call center agents is already more competitive than it has ever been. With a shift to AI solutions (including chat bots and virtual assistants), “super agents” who can handle more complex customer interactions with a white glove approach are in high demand, yet hard to find. We’ve seen our fill rates drop as much as 50% as we’ve become more selective in our search for the right agents.

Going remote significantly expands your talent pool. However, while the quantity of candidates will skyrocket, quality may not. Your recruiting, hiring and on-boarding strategies must adapt to this new reality. Many providers who have shifted to either a remote service delivery or a hub-and-spoke model may still be using traditional hiring practices from their brick-and-mortar days. Unfortunately, these do not translate well. For a successful shift to a virtual setting, consider the following six ideas.

Do Your Homework on Local Labor Laws

The traditional brick-and-mortar setup limits your recruiting geography. Candidates will only drive so far for a contact center job. Alternatively, going remote allows you to hire agents from anywhere, at least theoretically. Whether or not you want to is another story. When recruiting nationally or internationally, be aware of logistical challenges as well as country, state and local labor laws.

Let’s look at a scenario where you are based in the continental United States. Do you have the resources to ship equipment to Hawaii, Alaska or other countries? Even within the U.S., labor laws vary significantly. In some regions you’re required to furnish offices for your home-based agents. Is that something you can afford or are prepared to do? It is a smart idea to weigh these considerations before starting to recruit.

Find Agents Where They Are

The moment you cast a wider net, you’re going to catch a lot more fish. Candidate flow will go up, which means fill rates will come down.

To find qualified talent, it’s critical to fish in the right waters. Think about what skills you’re looking for in agents and determine where the ideal candidates congregate online. You can run banner ads on subject-specific forums or advertise on gaming and social media platforms that attract a tech-savvy crowd who thrives in a digital environment. This will allow you to optimize your marketing spend and increase the overall quality of your talent pool.

Introduce Realistic Job Previews

When you over-recruit in terms of volume you inevitably run into many “tire kickers,” candidates who apply without having a strong interest in the job. In an industry with high turnover, be extra vigilant in selecting hires with commitment and grit. The best way is to let candidates self-nominate out if they determine the job is not the right fit.

There are companies that offer to pay new hires to quit before they walk onto the job in order to gauge their true passion for work. At KellyConnect, we take a different approach by introducting realistic job previews. Our candidates walk through interactive scenarios giving them an accurate sense of what the job entails. They also hear from advisors who share authentic testimonials highlighting benefits and challenges of the role. It’s a process that eliminates many tire kickers.

Use Behavioral Assessments

Before we interview candidates, we want to know if they have the right personality and behavioral attributes to succeed as contact center agents. We have created behavioral profiles from our top performing advisors and screen candidates against them.

Using data and business intelligence gained from a closed-loop process, we refine profiles over time as we learn that certain attributes are more or less important than we originally thought.

There are constants, however. We’re looking for candidates with an innate desire to help and those who exhibit a strong passion for something in their life, whatever that might be. In customer service, empathy and excitement are just as important as logical reasoning and trouble-shooting abilities.

Don’t Schedule Interviews

We also don’t schedule interviews. Our candidates do.

This provides an additional layer in identifying truly committed job seekers. Up until this point the recruiting process has been fully automated. Once candidates have been vetted through that process, we invite them to interview online. They can schedule one within the hour.

Onboard and Engage Remote Talent Meaningfully

Recruiting and hiring remote staff is only the first step. For virtual contact center solutions to succeed, building a strong team culture is key.

When colleagues are not sharing office spaces, fostering a strong sense of community is that much harder. We leverage an internal social media tool that allows employees to launch interest-specific clubs, host contests, share best practices and recognize top performers. We govern the platform, but don’t police the content. It’s our digital watercooler where friendships are being built. In fact, our advisors tell us one of their biggest fears about leaving is losing that community.

There’s always room for improvement, of course, but the numbers show that our recruiting, hiring and on-boarding process is working. Our employee satisfaction score is over 90% and our net promoter score is 80%. We attribute that success to how selective we are in the hiring process. We believe our fill rate of 5% shows our tools are working and helping us identify the diamonds in the rough. It’s up to you to start mining yours.

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