Case Studies

Calling the right callers

Call centres are notorious for their high rates of attrition and low morale. Some employees, however, have high levels of motivation that drive them to perform. They have a commitment to succeed and the resilience to deal with customer rejection and setbacks. 

But how do you find and keep these people? Recruitment is a costly exercise – but the wrong recruitment can be even more disastrous. We talk to HFL Senior Consultant Lyanne Coley about the design and impact of new techniques for identifying the ‘keepers’ in call centre recruitment.

Just how costly is a poor recruitment decision in a call centre?
Recruitment is a huge challenge for call centre operations. When recruiting costs, management time, induction and training, and managing out are all taken into consideration, a poor candidate selection can cost an organisation between 12 and 18 months’ of that employee’s salary. This calculation typically doesn’t include the quality issues, lost clients, lost opportunities, and brand damage associated with a disengaged or underperforming call centre operative. We’ve estimated that the cost to our clients with call centre businesses is in the multiple millions every year.
OK, so huge losses. But surely high attrition rates simply go with the territory?
It depends on how high a rate of attrition you are talking about. Many call centres businesses report rates of 40 per cent or more – per annum. If you can manage that figure down to 20 per cent, you’re saving millions. And we know you can move that needle if you are very specific and careful about who you want to recruit, and properly test people prior to hiring. Recruiting the right people is possible using the right approach.
So, you’re going to describe your new design for call centre assessment via a case study?
Our new approach is a specifically designed Assessment Centre for call centre recruitment. Our client was to use the rigour and objectivity associated with an Assessment Centre approach to inform their final selection decisions. While standard applicant screening processes were performed - including resume review, phone-screening and behavioural interview - final steps now include psychometric testing.
How complex an exercise was this?
Our client needed to restructure and relocate an entire consultant sales force that included senior account managers, account managers and team leaders. The assessment process was to identify 19 new team members who were ready to perform. The first steps were to clearly identify the competencies, behaviours, experiences and knowledge required for each specific role by creating ‘Success Profiles’. We relied on a combination of existing position descriptions and key stakeholder interviews which ensured current and future role demands were incorporated into the profiling.
So clarity achieved through these success profiles?
Yes. And the clarity was as much about what we were not looking for. A common mistake is to hire someone who can already do the job really well. But what you often find is that in a very short time, because there is nothing to learn, no challenges, they become bored and leave. That’s an expensive mistake.
So having identified what you were looking for, how was the Assessment Centre set up?
The Assessment Centre was conducted offsite, over a 12-hour period, with 25 applicants given equal opportunity to showcase their skills and suitability for the roles. Each applicant was objectively assessed in two telephone-based sales calls (speaking with qualified assessors), with team leader hopefuls performing a one-on-one performance review meeting (with a qualified assessor/role-player).  The client’s assessors were brought up to speed with the process and assessment criteria through special preparatory training sessions.
So skills transfer was part of the execution?
Definitely. HFL delivered the process design; chose the assessment tools and created the simulations. The client now manages the execution of these Assessment Centres without HFL’s consulting team. This is an extremely cost effective approach for the client.
And did I hear you say some of the exercises were over the phone?
Yes, even though the candidates were physically there, we still conducted two exercises by phone to match the real work environment.
So, in this case, what did you assess?
Psychometric testing assessed the presence, predisposition and degree of sales call reluctance in the applicants. This assessment was also used to highlight behaviours likely to accelerate performance, motivators, goal-setting tendencies, and other factors that could support or hinder success within the sales roles. We put candidates through a series of cognitive reasoning tests - verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning - to identify underlying potential to learn new tasks, as well as current verbal and numerical reasoning skills required for the role. And then we ran the simulations.
In all, three objective data points were collected to support each applicant’s submission.
So how did decision-making play out?
A summary document was compiled for each applicant which ranked them according to their results. If they failed to achieve a ‘competent’ rating under at least some of the criteria they were removed without further consideration. Others, who had been successful across the entire range of measures, were considered suitable for job offers. Robust discussions were had around ‘borderline’ candidates, with the final decision lying with the client.
Such a process allowed our client to recruit with their eyes open. While some applicants may not have been a perfect fit, areas of strength and potential development opportunities were identified during the assessment process. Applicants could then be recruited with a draft development plan already in place. Their ability to learn and motivation were also assessed, providing the client with an indication of expected lead time required before the applicant could be considered ready for the role.
So, the ultimate question: did anyone get hired?
Yes! However, interestingly, not as many as the client had hoped, so the Assessment Centre is running again (without HFL) in the next couple of weeks. But that’s a good result – the client didn’t hire candidates that wouldn’t be long term bets. The client was extremely satisfied with this recruitment process, particularly the objectively and rigour that was established. Twelve jobs were offered (10 accepted) with a high degree of comfort around the suitability of each applicant.
To learn more about the design of Assessment Centres for call centre staff, please contact Lyanne Coley or Katelijne Pee.
A word from the client...
“We had an exciting opportunity to set up a national account management centre of excellence in Hobart. We took the opportunity to introduce best practice and engaged HFL to partner with us in the design of success profiles; the Assessment Centre; phone based outbound call simulations; design of an assessment matrix; and a calibration of inputs which included sales psychometrics, simulations and cognitive tests. The outcome was the hiring of an engaged new team that we feel confident are the right people for the right roles. The rigour that HFL helped us apply was built on practical application. We used a blend of HFL assessors and our own team members which added a diverse dynamic to the approach. HFL were great in imparting skills to our team, with the benefit of building lasting internal capability. We are now ready to run our own mini Assessment Centre for the next round of applicants. I would recommend HFL as a true partner, one that takes the time to understand the business and design the right approach to deliver the business results required.”
Ana Gelemanovic, Director Human Resources, OfficeMax

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