Call Center Management Feature Article
October 17, 2013
Interview Agents by Phone for Better Hiring Insight
By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor
When I was being hired for my first contact center job, I went through three rounds of interviews. Each interview round had me meet with management higher up the ladder, but all three had one basic element in common: They all were in-person interviews conducted face-to-face.
This probably was a mistake. That’s because no customer is going to talk with an agent in person. How will they interact with this customer? By phone, chat or email. It makes sense, then, that the best way to assess candidates for the call center is by also interacting with them through such channels.
While it of course is important to meet with candidates in person before they are brought into the company, not all hiring rounds should take place in person. One of the best ways to gauge a prospective employee’s ability to do the job is by having them audition through a telephone interview.
By interviewing the candidate over the phone, managers can get an early read on how well the agent will speak clearly, courteously and intelligently on phone. It can also be a great preview of their phone skills.
One good way to structure a telephone interview is by having it unfold in two stages.
In the first stage, gather information about the prospective employee’s experience in the industry and his or her familiarity with the software and contact center systems in use at your company. When listening to the candidate’s responses, listen for not just what is said—but also HOW it is said. This is one of the surest ways to check for how an agent might perform on the job.
In the second stage, role-play.
When I was interviewing as an outbound calling agent many years ago, the manager across the table from me asked me to sell him the clock on his desk. It certainly was a nerve-wracking experience, but it also showed him I had the chops—and the smoothness—to sell whatever I was asked to call about.
My role-playing scenario was in person, but how much better if it is done by phone as it actually would take place. So after listening for tone and confidence during the first stage, in the second put the prospective employee through various tests that simulate actual calling situations.
These role-playing scenarios should not only include sales, if that’s part of the agent’s job, but also standard ordering or call return. It also is informative if during one of the role-playing scenarios the manager doing the interviewing becomes surly or irate. We all know agents are confronted with unhappy customers sometimes, and this sort of role-playing can really test a candidate.
Now of course the candidate will be more nervous than normal during the tests—this is an interview, not one of many customer interactions he or she will be handling each day. But even though the agent will have an uncommon case of nerves, it still will give management a good sense for how the candidate will perform on the job.
This same technique also could be leveraged by e-mail or chat. The point is to not just get information from the candidate, but also put them through the paces of an actual customer service experience. The interview process is ideal for this kind of test.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi