How to Tackle the Number 1 Call Center Challenge

By Neelie Verlinden

First off, let’s throw in some stats to get you up to speed. Most US call centers have a turnover rate somewhere between 30 and 45 percent. The average employee turnover rate for all other US industries in 2016 was 18.1%, which is considerably lower. I know we’ve seen some staggering turnover figures before, but of all the high ranking industries in this unpopular chart, the call center business clearly takes the lead. Why is that and, more importantly, what can you do about it? Here’s how to tackle the number 1 challenge for call centers.

The Context

Imagine this: A big open space filled with about 500 call center agents. There’s the constant noise of phones ringing, colleagues talking to (emotional) customers and fingers tapping on keyboards. From the moment you sit down at your desk until the moment your shift’s over you’re on the phone non-stop; unsatisfied, confused or even angry customers, you’ve dealt with it all - over and over again. Today, like so many other days it seems, the volume of calls was so high you didn’t even get to take a break. Hungry and tired you go home to enjoy your evening, because tomorrow you’ll have to do it all over again.

Granted, the picture painted above may seem a little grim, but reality is that it’s a tough job to be a customer service agent. Just like hospitality and retail staff, call center workers have to be super friendly, flexible and willing to go the extra mile for the customer. In fact, customer service agents have to be all these things - and more - because when people call them something’s usually wrong. Whether customers get in touch because they don’t understand how to return an item or because they haven’t received their order yet, they all have an issue and they want the agent to solve it for them - immediately. Unhappy customers these days don’t hesitate to share their ‘bad experience’ on social media, adding extra pressure to an already stressful job. Knowing salaries tend to be on the lower end because we’re (mostly) talking about entry-level roles here, it’s not hard so see why turnover rates are sky-high.

The Good News

We don’t need to tell you how costly this turnover business is. Or what a negative influence it has on employee morale. The question is though, how can you bring down the number of people leaving your customer service department? There are several routes you can take, but we’ll zoom in on your recruitment funnel, because that’s what we know best.

Step 1: The Job Advert

Yes, many people underestimate the importance of the advert. They forget that this is often the first thing applicants get to see from your company. If you haven’t done so already, put some serious thought into your job ads. Make sure the words you use correspond with your company culture; if you’re a young, fun firm don’t write like you’re a serious accountancy business. Your advert should reflect what your organisation is about.

Next up: programmatic advertising. This is a relatively new way of targeting a specific audience. In short, it allows you to define exactly what candidate profile you are looking for and you can aim your adverts directly at the people that correspond your description. A huge time and money saver. You can read more about programmatic advertising here.

Step 2: Predictive Preselection

Remember that big open space filled with 500 agents we mentioned earlier? A high turnover rate here means an even higher number of applicants. Too high to be manually ploughing through CV’s and cover letters.

A data driven preselection tool - such as our TalentPitch - can do a lot of the work for you: Applicants go through an immersive online experience where they get to know not only your company, but also your culture and the job they apply for. They’ll get to see video’s, play games and judge real life work floor scenario’s. Meanwhile your candidates are being tested on intelligence, personality and skills that are relevant for the job.

This is what our talent assessment solution looks like: 

 

When your applicants go through the experience, TalentPitch gathers success predicting data and uses predictive analytics to give you insights that help you make better hiring decisions: A combination of statistical, machine learning, and modelling techniques enables us to predict how likely it is for a particular applicant to succeed in the role he or she applies for. In some cases, this resulted in an employee turnover decline of 70%!

You can create a talent assessment solution that is fully set up to your company’s specific needs. Think of personality traits required to perform well in a customer service role for example. But the best thing about a data driven recruitment tool is the fact that candidates perform better and stay with the firm longer, which brings down your turnover rate drastically.

Step 3: Face to Face

Obviously you’ll still need to meet your future employees in person. As it’s not easy for us human beings to be one hundred percent unbiased, we’ve got a few tips for you to keep in mind.

I. Cut out the CV & Create a well-structured Interviewing process

Instead, ask the applicants to solve a job related problem - before they come in for the interview - and evaluate them on how well they solved that problem; it standardises the process and every candidate is assessed in the same way. When it comes to questioning the applicants, have the same set of questions and ask them every single candidate in the exact same order. You can still use a résumé to get an idea of a person’s past of course, but not to primarily base your hiring decision on.

II. Data Back Your Decisions

The use of data is another way to eliminate bias. If we use TalentPitch as an example, its data and algorithms do the grading part of the job; the candidate’s future success rate at the job - and in your call center workforce - is calculated with the help of software. Together with this data from TalentPitch you are able to make a much more reliable decision based on facts rather than gut feeling. Here you can read more about tackling interviewing biases.

Step 4: Track Performance Data

Truth to be said, this part takes place after the recruitment phase. The tracking results can really help you improve your recruitment process though, so that’s why it’s worth mentioning them here. Measuring how your employees perform once they’ve start working for you can get you useful insights. Here’s an example: After seven months it turns out that 89% of your customer service workers that scored high on stress resistance perform extremely well. You can then decide to let stress resistance weigh heavier in your preselection. Of course you want to do this for more than just one aspect and hence optimise your recruitment process step by step. This way you’ll get that turnover rate down even further.

A Final Thought: Feedback

Strictly speaking this one probably is more important once you’ve hired new employees; you want to make sure you stay on top of any issues they may have and you want keep them happy. Especially since it’s not necessarily the money that makes call center agents want to say at a company, you need to step it up on other things. Such as regular feedback sessions. From manager to employee, but also from one employee to another - for example via a team forum or a special feedback app. And for those applicants that didn’t make the cut: give them useful feedback too. Our TalentPitch for instance sends every (rejected) candidate a personal report with their results.

To cut a very long story short: Working in a call center is super hard and turnover rates are soaring. Finding the right people to do this job is even harder. But, if you integrate the 4 steps we've described today in you recruitment cycle, this will make a huge difference; in terms of employee turnover, employee engagement and most importantly, overall happiness.

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