9 Nuggets of Contact Center Hiring Wisdom

This article was originally published on the ICMI Blog on January 18, 2017. Click here to read the original. 

I took a Human Resources (HR) class in college. The good news is that I earned an A. The bad news is that I managed to remember almost nothing from the class.

It was just a handful of years later that I was promoted to be the Customer Service Manager at a small startup and quickly realized that some HR knowledge would’ve come in handy. There was no full-time HR staff and certainly no recruiter to speak of. I was it when it came to recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, scheduling, managing, and retaining the folks on my customer service team.

While I often look back fondly on those times, I also smile sheepishly when I think about the mistakes I made whilst hiring customer service representatives. And there were oh so many mistakes — many of which turned into valuable learning experiences. One thing is for certain when hiring for customer service roles. When you have a position or positions to fill and the call, email, or chat queue is bigger than your team can currently handle, there’s nothing more deflating than going through the entire recruit, interview, and hire process only to come up empty handed or hire someone who’s a bad fit for the job.

Here are nine nuggets of contact center hiring wisdom that I wish I had known years ago. And I hope these help you get more hires right the first time. I’m also willing to admit that most of these were probably taught in my HR class.

1. Describe the job well

I remember it well. One particular new hire walked into the office on her first day. The moment we started training her on some of the technical skills necessary to do the job, she made it clear that this wasn’t what she signed up for and immediately quit. While I was very proud of our philosophy of hiring people with great customer service skills and training them on the technical skills, I learned that it was imperative that candidates have a good understanding of all that the job entailed and what they’d be expected to learn.

2. Hire for a particular schedule

We happened to be a 24x7x365 operation. Lo and behold, those pesky night and weekend shifts were always the most difficult to hire for. It made it all the more difficult when I told candidates that we’d figure out their schedule once they were hired. It didn’t go over so well later when I told them they’d in fact have to work one of those shifts. Work is such a huge chunk of our lives and uncertainty over schedules can cause a significant amount of stress for anyone wanting to balance the other aspects of their life. I was much more successful in hiring for less desirable shifts when I set that expectation during the recruiting process.

3. Conduct phone interviews

Before arranging to have a candidate come to your office for an interview, do a quick phone interview. I remember speaking with one applicant and I couldn’t understand every third word she said. Foolishly, I had her come in for an interview and quickly realized that I still couldn’t understand every third word. If I couldn’t understand her on the phone, how would customers? A phone interview is a great way to save an unqualified candidate the trouble of driving to your office. It’s also a great time to discuss the job description and desired work schedule to make sure everyone is on the same page.

4. Test for job skills

We developed a simple questionnaire to allow candidates to share a bit about themselves and their philosophy of customer service. We also required them to take a typing test to ensure they could handle the significant amount of writing they’d be doing on the job. Any writing they submit, including their resume and cover letter is an opportunity to evaluate the impression they’ll give to your customers. That’s also why it’s not a bad idea to look at their social media profiles to see how they conduct themselves in public. This becomes all the more important if your team handles social media customer service.

5. Conduct peer interviews

Rather than being the sole interviewer, I also aimed to have a second person in the interview with me. Having another person to compare notes with is a great way to make better hiring decisions. In addition, I also recruited one or two members of my team to do a brief peer interview. Considering the fact that they would be working very closely together, it’s good to get the team’s buy in on the new hire. More than once I didn’t want to hire someone but the others thought they were a great fit. More than once, they were right.

6. Offer a job preview

For those folks who were interested in the job but hesitant because of the technical skills, we began offering them the opportunity to spend a few hours with members of the team to shadow them and ask questions. Don’t forget that candidates are also evaluating your company to make sure it’s a place they want to spend a significant portion of their life.

7. Take an HR class

I took another HR class after a few years of being a manager and realized I had much to learn regarding interviewing, background checks, forms to complete, breaks, overtime, scheduling, and other employment law. If you don’t have an HR person in your office, it’s best to get ahead of this stuff. Take a class, research articles, network with other professionals, and make sure you know what you don’t know.

8. Make the first day memorable

One of my colleagues who managed our engineering team had a practice of always making the first day memorable. Once he told a new candidate to come to work in casual dress only to find out that the entire team had worn suits and ties. Another time, he pulled the entire team into a meeting and yelled at them — all in good fun of course. My approach was a bit less shocking. We instead aimed to make our new colleagues feel welcome by decorating their workspace with notes, cards, and memes. We also ordered lunch for the team to encourage everyone to get to know their new colleagues.

9. Being a great place to work is your best recruiting

I can say without a doubt that many of my best hires were employee referrals. Employees who like their job will recruit friends and colleagues from other jobs to come work for you. Focus on being a great employer. If you don’t know how you stack up, an employee engagement survey is a great place to start.

I’d love to say that I followed each of these tips right out of the gate, but I didn’t. I told you about the lady that quit on her first day, but I didn’t tell you about the girl who moonlighted as a waitress and used her cubicle to catch up on her sleep on her second day of work. I also didn’t tell you about the guy that worked four hours from home before we realized he didn’t even have a working phone to take customer calls on. Oh and then there was the guy who after a month still had no clue how to send an email.

I definitely learned many lessons the hard way. Hopefully, armed with this list, you don’t make the same mistakes I did — but if you have any good stories to share, I’d love to hear them.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience at FCR, the premiere provider of outsourced call center and business process solutions. He has more than 17 years of experience as a customer service and experience professional. He is co-founder of the Customer Service Life blog and a regular contributor. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

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