Working at a contact centre requires specific competences and skills, combined with the right motivation. That justifies a thorough recruitment process. The results of this process cannot only make sure that the right people appear at the start, they can also form the basis of good coaching and guidance.

Text: Debby van Rhoon

Which skills do you need to be a good contact centre agent? There are of course differences between working at an inbound and outbound contact centre (although these are fading). But in general we can say that agents need to be able to recognise the client’s wishes fast and that they need to be able to translate these into concrete actions, so that they can achieve concrete results in a short time. Only those who comply with high communicative and commercial requirements succeed in doing so. Some of these requirements seem to be opposites. How do you listen to a client, while you watch the waiting queue increasing? How do you stay calm and friendly while at the same time the client is being unreasonable and emotional?
Not only the content of the job, but also the tools, make the function of agent a very special one. Contact centres are gradually becoming a multi-channel environment. Agents often have multiple screens on their computers, which they work on simultaneously. Chat, telephone and mail; it’s all there at the same moment. And that in an environment that can be described as – friendly put – quite hectic.
The agents are expected to do a good job, to go along effortlessly with all kinds of changes (new clients, new processes, new managers) and also: to like all of this.

High damage risk
How do you know beforehand whether or not someone is suited for a certain job? Applicants tend to make their capacities to be more than they actually are. They do this partially because they overestimate themselves and partially because they want to increase their chances for getting the job you are offering. With recruitment and selection for contact centres, another thing adds up to this. A lot of people who are considering a job at a contact centre barely have an idea of their future work environment. After all of this, it is hardly necessary to point out the need for a thorough selection process when it comes to hiring contact centre agents. The damage risks are too high.

Direct Assessment
In order to measure motivation, competences and skills of potential agents, Manpower uses Direct Assessment: an instrument that Manpower had designed and validated in an international structure and that is being used in a lot of countries.
Direct Assessment consists of two parts: an online part, a questionnaire that can be filled in from a distance (from the applicant’s home). The second part takes place at the company. The first (online) part is meant mainly to offer the potential applicant an idea about working at a contact centre; it offers a first acquaintance and enables the applicant to think about whether or not the job fits him. At the second part, one goes more deeply into a set of core competences and skills that Manpower considers to be essential for working at a contact centre.

The results of the Direct Assessment form the basis of the interview. This interview can help objectivise some of the test results. It is possible that an applicant scores too low or too high for some competences because he has read the questions from a wrong point of view. The interview takes place via the widely used STAR-method: Situation, Task, Action and Result. The applicant can for instance be asked to name a situation wherein he was commercially speaking very successful. Then he’s asked to describe his role in the whole matter, which actions he took and what the results were. The STAR-method also offers the possibility to go deeper into competences that weren’t treated thoroughly in Direct Assessment, but that are of great value for the client. Following on the STAR-interview are possible role plays in order to get a better view on the competences that are not so easy to measure via a standardized test. Think about being friendly to clients and the ability to listen well.

The relationship between recruitment, selection and turnover
What is the relationship between the process of selection and recruitment and the turnover at contact centres? Generally speaking, turnover takes places at three different moments. Relatively fast after new agents have received a basic training, some of them leave. They had a different image of the job, don’t seem suitable after all or both. A second peak takes place after a longer period of time (a couple of months). The pressure to achieve is a common reason to start looking for a new job. The third moment agents decide to change jobs knows different causes. An important one: after a while, agents get tired of their job and don’t see any further development possibilities.
With Direct Assessment, like Manpower uses now, the answer to the first omission peak has been found. At contact centres where we apply the Direct Assessment, we see that the turnover lowers dramatically during the first period. At this moment Manpower is working to further develop Direct Assessment. We do this from the point of view that the results also form an important input for coaching and guidance. The results show us at which points the agent deserves extra attention. In order to use Direct Assessment in this way, Manpower wants to measure the performance during the first period and make agreements with the team leaders about coaching and guidance. By doing so, we bridge between search and selection and guidance at the work space. We also use this method to let the second peak decrease drastically.

Debby van Rhoon is business manager Contact Center Solutions, Manpower Nederland