The call-centre hiring challenge

Mix creativity with tried-and-true recruiting methods
By Shelley Seward-White
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/05/2003

Today’s call centre operations face intensely competitive times. Companies need to look for employees who value the client-customer relationship and possess the ability to turn callers into customers — even at entry-level positions. Given today’s hiring market, finding those employees may require some creativity to make them sit up and take notice of the available positions.

It’s not as simple as finding someone with a good telephone voice — different call centre tasks require people with different qualities.

Telephone solicitors need to be able to follow a series of questions and gather pre-determined information. As a general rule, requirements of the job include a strong, pleasant and clear telephone voice, a good telephone manner, some computer and key boarding skills may be required and the job almost always requires the ability to work under pressure, the ability to meet quotas and strong motivation.

Customer service representatives, on the other hand, may need to deal with general or generic enquiries to highly technical, specialized inquiries, complaints or services. Staff might need university or post-secondary education, bilingualism, computer skills, technical certifications, customer service orientation, problem-solving skills and good communication skills. Experience in the industry could also be an asset depending on the type of customer service centre.

These very different people will be found in very different places and there are numerous options available, none of which will be unfamiliar. Given that the average entry-level candidate will be from 18 to 25 years old, consider first where those people will be looking for a job.

A recent survey asked those 18 to 29 years of age what sources they had used in the past to find jobs. Top of the list was friends and family at 83 per cent, followed by newspapers at 72 per cent, 46 per cent used the Internet, employment agencies were used by 39 per cent and 18 per cent said the yellow pages.

When asked what sources they would use in the future, those same 18- to 29-year-olds intend to stick with a mix of sources, but the numbers show they’ll be using even more of the same. While friends and family remained top of the list at 88 per cent, the use of newspapers jumped to 86 per cent, employment agencies to 59 per cent and yellow pages to 33 per cent. The biggest jump of all came in citing the Internet as a source of employment searches, with 83 per cent of the target intending to use that method in the future.

So perhaps Web sites should be your first port of call. Posting jobs on the various Internet job sites such as workopolis.com or Monster.ca can result in a flow of resumes. Canadajobs.com charges $100 per 60-day job posting in its call centre category and the site receives 1.5 million hits per month. Links to Human Resources Development Canada’s (HRDC) Web site, or posting jobs in HRDC offices, can similarly provide great contacts with entry-level work-ready job seekers. And don’t forget your own Web site, university sites or the sites of employment services agencies.

College training

In Canada, many colleges offer courses to train call centre workers. In Ottawa, for instance, there are several excellent courses including CDI College (which has locations across Canada), the French-language La Cite Collegiale, and Algonquin College. The latter offers a 14-week program, which includes two weeks of internship at a private organization. The course includes instruction in: customer care, computer applications, team building, in-bound vs. outbound skills, written and oral communication, conflict resolution and negotiation, business ethics and professionalism.

Job fairs

Many companies — usually it’s the staffing agencies, but often private companies — turn to these schools when they want to find trained call centre workers.

Job fairs at colleges and universities that offer call centre training as an element of their business courses are also an excellent way to meet and pre-screen candidates. However, most job fairs take place in September and October in the first semester, and January and February in the second and of course the need to hire won’t always fall with in these periods.

Job fairs can be specialized or general, such as the popular Customer Care show in Ottawa, but they are usually tailored to a specific area such as high-tech, business or management. So the specific jobs available would need to fit those criteria.

Job fairs for call centre workers tend to be less highly advertised than high-tech job fairs, but they’re out there if you know where to look.

Many universities allow employers to post jobs online or call them into the career services desk. Some universities charge for these postings but at many the service is still free to employers. Other schools will allow companies to give individual presentations to recruit, but this tends to be for larger companies that regularly recruit from that school.

Bear in mind that at this time most college call centre courses haven’t yet recognized the need to provide more than just generic call centre training and that the candidate pool may not have certain required skills. With the rise in the number of call centres hiring college and university graduates however, this situation is likely to change.

Open houses, employee referrals, newspaper ads and of course posting jobs on the corporate Web site can add resumes to the pile. Many companies will also organize their own job fairs and promote these through flyers or other in-market advertising.

Using all of these methods will likely produce a stream of candidates. The question to ask, however, is do you really have the resources to review the resumes of that group, interview those with relevant experience, track the data on those interviewed, check references, hire and train the quantities of people often needed for these roles? If not, there are two other alternatives.

Alternatives

The first is handing over the task of finding and pre-screening candidates to an employment services agency. One benefit of this method is that the agency is likely to have an existing database of thousands of suitable employees from which to draw which makes it possible to hire hundreds of staff in the matter of days with additional people in reserve.

The second option is outsourcing the operation of the entire call centre. Since the staffing and managing of call centres often involves functions which differ from the core business in which the company is involved, top management very often do not have the time or expertise to deal with that aspect of their business. Outsourcing provides the means for companies to focus on their core business and still improve their client relations.

Regardless of the recruitment method, remember that at the entry level for a call centre employers need candidates who speak clearly, have good communication skills and are willing to assist customers. Of equal importance is for call centre staff to fully understand the environment in which they are to work.

This is where advanced simulation software is invaluable in allowing the call centre agent to gain confidence while undergoing customer service training and assessment. Some employment services agencies also have the ability to simulate work environments in their offices so that candidates arrive on their first day ready, able and willing to jump straight into the job.

Career path

The average tenure for an entry-level call centre worker is about two years. If you want to keep the person longer, you must be able to show him a “career path” at your firm.

A typical call centre career path is:

1) First-level support (this person handles basic calls).

2) Escalation technician (who knows a bit more about the product, and may have calls from the first level passed to him).

3) Second-level support (depending on the company, this person likely has, again, greater product knowledge than the escalation technician).

4) Team leaders, who have overall product knowledge, may also exist in the hierarchy.

Be creative

At the end of the day there are only so many sources to find candidates, and they are all labour intensive and everyone is using them. Ultimately, given the current hiring market, whether you place an ad on a Web site, run a job fair or hire a recruitment firm, you or they will need to be creative to stop traffic at your job posting.

Consider what one company did recently to find candidates — staff wore sandwich boards and took to the streets stopping people and traffic along the way. Out-of-the-box — maybe. Creative, absolutely.

Shelley Seward-White is a regional vice-president at Adecco Employment Services Limited in Ottawa. She can be reached at (613) 599-3151.

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