So, you’re hiring a new call-center agent.
The reality is, finding the perfect new hire can feel like a unicorn hunt. And even if you find them, they may not stick around; call centers are notorious for their high turnover. According to Avoxi, call center attrition rates hover around 33% on average.
While these statistics may be sobering, don’t give in to the mindset that “any hire will do”. The fact is, striking the right balance between finding the right agent and implementing employee retention strategies will help you keep high performers motivated and happy.
Why is it so difficult to find good agents?
The reality is, your next great hire isn’t going to present themselves on a silver platter. Many of your candidates will not necessarily picture themselves as a call-center extraordinaire, but rather, a skilled and capable professional who can adapt to the job you’re hiring for.
Here are some challenges that may be impacting your call center’s ability to hire and retain the best agents:
You don’t have a clear idea of what you’re hiring for
As the hiring manager, ask yourself this question: “What does the ideal call-center agent look like for my business?”
If you can’t answer this clearly and confidently, it’s time to change your expectations. If you don’t know what you’re looking for in your next hire, your candidates will pick up on that.
Going into an interview without a clear idea of what you’re looking for will set you up for failure. If you need some tips on what to look for, keep reading to the next section where we’ll cover this!
TIP: Analyze your call center’s unique needs to determine what your ideal agent looks like. Should they be motivated by sales and numbers? Should they be more inclined to customer care? Knowing which qualities to prioritize will help you narrow down your top candidates.
Your job postings are too vague
This point branches off our previous statement. Listing general qualities and aptitudes like “team-player” and “strong communication skills” will make your posting blend in with the rest of the customer service jobs out there. The role you’re hiring for is unique and requires a special person to get it done, so make sure you communicate it as such.
Take some time to consider what makes a call-center job appealing to the professionals you’re targeting. Working in an office setting may be attractive to a seasoned customer service professional who can’t work long shifts on their feet. Bonuses and commission-based earnings may attract competitive individuals who thrive under pressure.
Your new hires are not the right fit
As you may have learned by this point, thoughtless hiring will result in complications later in the process. Unpleasant surprises about the job and unexpected duties may be a turn-off for your new hires.
What’s the point in hiring the perfect call-center agent if they won’t stick around? Make sure they’re the right fit for your team in the interview. When possible, avoid relying on canned questions, and try to encourage a conversational flow around the interview.
Be sure to prompt your candidates to ask questions and answer them openly and honestly. Trust us, a little extra effort at the hiring stage can save you a big headache later.
Your agents don’t have the right tools
There are few things worse than starting a new job only to find out your team is understaffed and doesn’t have the proper tools to get the job done.
In fact, one of the biggest factors in call-center attrition is demotivation. After all, if your agents feel that they’re being set up for failure, they are much less likely to deliver results.
Consider taking inventory of your call center’s tools and gather feedback from your agents on what is working and what isn’t. For instance, call-back technology is a fantastic way to even out call-spikes during high volume periods, which can alleviate a lot of stress for your team and help them deliver the best service possible.
Skills and qualities of the perfect agent
Now that you have a high-level view of what it takes to hire and retain the best call-center agents, it’s time to conduct some interviews.
You might think that the perfect call-center agent has mastered all of these skills and qualities, but in reality, the right person for the job may have varying levels of mastery for each.
It’s very important to evaluate your business needs properly so you can put the proper weight on each qualification and make an informed decision.
TIP: Don’t just assume the candidate with the most call-center experience is the best person for the job! Different contact centers require different types of agents, so take time to evaluate the skills required to be successful in your department and what qualities will help your new hire thrive.
The following list contains all the must-have qualifications of a superstar call-center agent, plus some recommended interview questions to help you gauge their skills!
Strong knowledge retention
Your ideal call-center agent will need to have extensive in-depth knowledge of your company, products and services. They should be very comfortable memorizing these facts so they can provide helpful explanations and answer questions with ease.
Try asking: “Can you tell me what you know about our company and products/services?”
If the interviewee has done their research (which any good candidate should!) they should be able to provide a good overview of what your business does. This is a good indicator of how comfortable they are absorbing new information.
Effective verbal communication
A call-center agent’s voice is their “appearance”. So, take a moment and really listen to their responses.
Ask yourself: are they clear and concise in their answers? Are they able to explain concepts in an easy-to-follow way? How do they handle objections or follow up questions? And perhaps most importantly, what impression does their speaking tone give off?
Try asking: “Please explain to me how __________ works.”
If the candidate is interviewing for a sales position, consider asking them to do a quick pitch on the spot for a product they’re familiar with — a smartphone and its features is a great option. If the role is more focused on customer support, come up with a simple issue (i.e. you need directions to the nearest landmark) and ask them some simple follow-up questions.
Adaptability and problem solving
The ability to deal with curveballs gracefully is a must-have skill for call-center agents. Chances are your new hire will be presented with issues that are not part of the manuscript. If they’re uncomfortable going off script, they probably won’t last long.
Try asking: “Tell me about a time when you had to pivot your working approach due to an unforeseen circumstance”
Pay attention to how they tell this story. Do they have a positive or negative approach? Are they constructive when developing a solution? Do they consider all parties involved, or are they singularly focused on their own issues? Have the candidate walk you through their thought process and offer insights into why they made each choice.
Reliability and accountability
Call-center agents must be able to self-motivate and work independently in order to reach target goals. It’s important to select someone with a sense of integrity, who understands the part they play within the “bigger picture” of the organization.
If you need to hover over your agents’ shoulders every day, you don’t have the right individuals on your team.
Try asking: “You’re having one of those days where you are struggling to hit your numbers. What do you do?”
What you are looking for here is someone who describes taking responsibility for their actions and taking steps independently to solve the problem. Watch out for candidates who shift blame onto others rather than taking ownership of their work.
Empathy and a customer-focused mindset
Any call-center agent worth their salt knows that their job isn’t just about solving customer problems — it’s about providing a positive experience. Empathy is essential for this, as it allows the representative to put themself in the customer’s place and anticipate their needs as much as possible to create a pleasant experience and interaction.
Try asking: “What are some methods you use to ensure a positive customer experience?”
Pay attention to the language the candidate uses. Is it exclusively focused on getting the customer problem solved? Or do they mention the importance of making a connection with the customer and addressing their concerns?
Ability to work under pressure
Call centers are not always the easiest places to work. High call volumes and less-than-happy customers can put a lot of stress on your agents. Equip them with the right tools and technology to ease this stress and lower burnout rates, while making sure they’re able to weather the storm in trying circumstances (such as COVID-19).
Try asking: “How do you manage work during stressful, high-pressure periods?”
While you don’t want to imply that your call center is a perpetually stressful environment, it’s important to be transparent about the challenging aspects of the role.
Listen to the techniques that your candidate might mention to help them manage their stress levels and mental health in general. An individual who is self-aware and able to own their challenges will be much easier to manage and work with. Be wary of those who claim that they can ‘push through’ or that they never get stressed out.