Call centres are notorious for their high rates of attrition and low morale. However, some employees have high levels of motivation that drives them to perform. They have a commitment to succeed and the resilience to deal with customer rejection or setbacks. The key is to recruit and retain these people. Recruitment is a costly exercise – but the wrong recruitment can be even costlier.
HFL has recently developed a new process for maximising outcomes in call centre recruiting. We talk to HFL Senior Consultant Lyanne Coley about the design and impact of these new assessment procedures.
Firstly Lyanne, before you describe the new design for call centre recruiting and the specific case study, just how costly is a poor recruitment decision in a call centre?
Our clients all have their own calculations, but the cost to businesses we deal with is in the multiple millions per annum. It’s a huge challenge for most clients running a variety of call centres. A calculation based purely on the investment in an individual can be between 12 and 18 months’ salary when recruiting cost, management time, induction and training, and managing out are all taken into consideration. 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.
OK, so big costs. But surely high attrition rates simply go with the territory when it comes to call centres?
It depends on how high a rate of attrition you are talking about. Many businesses report attrition rates of 40 per cent or more per annum in call centres. If you can get that figure down to 20 per cent, you’re saving millions. And we believe 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 using the right approach is essential for success.
So, you’re going to describe you new design for call centre assessment via a case study, is that right?
Yes. Our new approach is basically an Assessment Centre for call centre recruitment. Our client was to use the rigour and objectivity associated with an Assessment Centre approach in order to inform their final selection decisions. While standard applicant screening processes were performed, including resume review, phone-screening and behavioural interview, final steps included the Assessment Centre coupled with psychometric testing.
How big an exercise was this?
Our client needed to restructure and relocate an entire Consultant Sales Force (including Senior Account Managers, Account Managers, and Team Leaders). The assessment process needed to identify 19 new team members ready to perform. The first steps in this process were to clearly identify the competencies, behaviours, experiences and knowledge required for each specific role by creating “Success Profiles”. In this instance it was sufficient to rely on existing position descriptions, as well as key stakeholder interviews, which ensured current and future role demands were incorporated.
So clarity about what the client was looking for was achieved through these success profiles?
Yes. And the clarity was as much about what we were not looking for as much as what we were looking for. A common mistake is to hire someone who can do the job really well for four months, but then gets bored and leaves. 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). Half-day Assessor Training was conducted to get the client’s assessors up to speed with the process and assessment criteria.
So skills transfer was part of the execution?
Definitely. HFL did the design, chose the assessment tools, including simulations, and we still provide these to the client. But now, the client manages to execute these Assessment Centres without HFL’s consulting team being required. This makes it extremely cost effective 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 over the phone to try and make the entire process as face valid as possible.
So, in this case, what did you assess?
Psychometric testing included an instrument to assess the presence, predisposition, and degree of sales call reluctance in applicants. This assessment was also used to highlight behaviours likely to accelerate performance, as well as 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 in terms of ability 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, 3 objective data points were collected to support each applicant’s submission.
So how did decision-making play out?
An overall summary document compiled for each applicant. This process allowed applicants to be ranked 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 offer. Robust discussions were had around ‘borderline’ candidates, with the final decision lying with the client.
Such a process allowed the recruiters to recruit with their eyes open. While some applicants may not have been “perfect” fits, 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 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. Overall 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.
A word from the client…
We have an exciting opportunity to set up a national account management centre of excellence in Hobart for the first time at OfficeMax. We took the opportunity to introduce best practice with this initiative and engaged with HFL to partner with us in the design of success profiles, Assessment Centre, phone based outbound call simulations, design of 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 through their approach was built on practical application with a true understanding of our business. We utilised 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