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Hiring for the Multichannel Contact Center

Imagine for a moment dropping onto earth from another planet. Your task is to explore our economy—jobs, what we produce, and how we hire and train people for those roles. You’re not familiar with precedent, history, or what’s transpired to this point. You simply look around and take note of what employees do, the skills required, the challenges they face, the value they create. Teachers, actors, pilots, managers, and others. In your journey, you discover an intriguing profession, those tasked with serving customers through communication channels (not face-to-face).

The services these professionals provide are as diverse as the verticals they are part of—finance, healthcare, utilities, software, manufacturing, et al.—yet they share common challenges. For example, customers are diverse in their needs and wants; they access services on demand and expect quick response. They’ve most likely tried other alternatives before contacting the organization, e.g., through search, the Web, social channels, or mobile apps, so questions tend to be complex. Agents must be proficient in a wide range of systems internally, and be able to help customers with the channels and technologies they use. Products, content and policies change continually—this world is on the move. And when all is said and done, customers share how well things went through ratings, social channels and various surveys (much of this input is readily available and commonly used by other customers and prospects).

Easy jobs? No way. Important to customers and the organization? Yes, more than ever. To all but those shaded by perceptions formed in simpler years gone by, or those who haven’t recently experienced this kind of setting, this is likely evident. Here are six rules of the road when hiring for the multichannel contact center:

1. Rethink everything you’ve been doing.

Many of these jobs are completely different than they were even a few years ago; the hiring practices of the past just don’t cut it. Think multi-channel, multi-system, brand-impacting complexity.

2. Define and characterize the job accurately.

This involves analyzing job tasks, identifying the skills and knowledge required, developing robust job descriptions and describing the performance you expect as specifically as possible. In recruiting, characterizations of the job should be as accurate and realistic as possible.

3. Recruit through multiple sources.

 This should include external career websites, sourcing companies, social channels, your own easy-to-find postings, and employee referrals (which many managers agree bring in the best candidates), among others.

4. Assess applicants through a variety of communication channels.

For example, screen candidates through phone, email, chat, video, social channels, et al.—it’s essential to get a read on how they come across in the channels you will need them to use. No, you can’t expect them to be experts before they go through training, but you’ll get a good sense of their comfort level and cultural proficiency in manners and approach.

5. Give prospects side-by-side experience as soon as possible.

To really understand these jobs, you must experience them firsthand. That’s a plea we often make to senior level execs—sit next to your agents and observe what they do. And the same is true for potential or new hires. Some will walk out the door and never look back—it’s just not their thing. Better now than later (and in fact, some organizations offer new hires a stipend to leave if the recruit believes the job is just not a fit).

6. Track recruiting results.

For example, correlate recruiting source to performance and tenure over time (6 months, 12 months and so on). Sometimes clear patterns emerge—e.g., maybe the local college produces candidates that outperform and outstay all other groups; maybe referrals by existing employees excel. This intelligence can help shape and prioritize future recruiting and hiring efforts.

7. Hire nice people.

That’s the way I heard a successful leader put it recently. Starkly simple, and, I am convinced, absolutely correct. When all is said and done, this is a people business. Above all, we need employees who love helping others. Another successful manager described the secret to his organization’s success this way: “We hire the passion and train the skills.”

These recommendations are part of a new ICMI study, The Multichannel Agent: A 2014 Contact Center Roadmap Research Report and Best Practices Guide.