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The Secret to Recruiting, Hiring, and Retaining Superstar Agents

I have seen companies focus so much on employee engagement that they get carried away with things like office decor, food options, fitness classes, volunteer opportunities, and the quality of agent socials. While these perks are fantastic, they have little impact on how engaged agents are with their actual work. According to Forbes, engagement is the emotional commitment the agent has to the organization and its goals. These perks may help attract an agent to your organization, but they will certainly not be the reason an agent stays with you.

In other words, you can't buy love.

Superstar contact center agent

What you can do, though, is recruit the best, let the relationship blossom, and then keep the relationship alive. Here are engagement drivers that should be incorporated into any high performing team.

1. Go after the best.

Always pursue the best candidates for your team. A highly engaged, retained agent starts with a strong hire. To do this, you really need to understand which skills and characteristics are important in the role. Think about the skills of the top performers on your team. Identify what makes them so great and then write an accurate and compelling job description for a potential hire with those attributes in mind. If your job description is ho-hum, you will likely attract status-quo candidates. Change your job description to make the role stand out and to attract the top talent to your team. Perhaps a simple re-framing will do the trick. I recently changed an entry level job description from "Customer Care Representative" to "Career Development Program Associate" and then marketed it to recent college graduates (athletes and those involved with extracurriculars preferred). This simple change resulted in a remarkable improvement in the candidate quality. Take this new and improved job description to all the nearby universities—they will be eager to hook you up with their top students.

Conduct a tough interview and do not compromise your standards. You want the candidate to end up with your organization because it's a good mutual fit. When interviewing, it's helpful to pull together a small group of peers and existing team members to help vet the candidate, much like your parents and friends would do for you and a potential significant other. Put the pressure on this person with many situational and maybe even role-playing type questions. This will provide a wealth of insight into how the candidate will perform on the job. Involve others indirectly, too. For example, how does this person interact with the folks in the front office and with others while touring the office?  These are all indicators about how the candidate might fit into the corporate culture. Screen your candidates for cultural fit and mindset, as well as hard and soft skills. The right candidate will be strong across the board. I always ask myself "will this person help raise the bar for the team?"  If the answer is no, I move on.

After you have identified the right candidate, make a fair offer. And should that person accept your offer, don't go complacent. Get your act together before the new hire arrives. Take it upon yourself as the manager to make sure the agent's equipment is set up and is working. Develop a training schedule, give a copy to everyone involved—and be sure stick to it. I think it’s also nice to grab some freebies from the marketing department to give to the new hire on day one. Another nice gesture is including a welcome note from the team. Remember, constantly set  a tone of excellence and professional camaraderie.

2. Let your relationship blossom.

Once your agent is on board, train him or her well. Too often, especially in a small contact center, training falls by the wayside in favor of the day-to-day, on-the-job tasks. Nothing compromises your standard of excellence (and signals apathy to your agent) like skimping on the training. Set your agent up for success from day one. Along the way, focus on building a strong relationship with the new hire and help him or her connect with peers. One factor that directly impacts your agents’ engagement is their relationship with their manager, so make sure that you are building a solid foundation of trust. As with any good relationship, there must be solid communication. I have found that a 15 minute daily stand-up meeting can be a useful tool to ensure clarity and keep the team up to speed. Make sure that the goals for your team and each individual's expected contribution are clear and understood, as any lack of clarity will create confusion and frustration. Establish an environment where constructive feedback is sought by all and given freely. Listen to your agents, and act on their feedback when appropriate. You will stop receiving feedback from your team and engagement levels will drop if their input continuously falls on deaf ears. If acting on that feedback is not feasible, let them know why—it will help build trust. Encourage your agents and show them you care, but also let them do the hard things. Your job as their manager is to help them overcome barriers that prevent them from doing their work, not to do it for them.

3. Keep the relationship alive.

In a relationship, things tend to get stale over time. To keep any relationship healthy, a constant investment of time and energy are required. Recruiting good agents is relatively easy; retaining them can be especially challenging. By creating an environment that fosters success, you can help keep the relationship alive. As a manager, your agents should be your top priority. Without them, you wouldn't have anyone to take care of your customers and deliver excellent results. Show your agents that you value them and that you have their backs. Growth (and sometimes mistakes) happens when agents step out of their comfort zones. This courage will be stifled if agents fear punishment or job loss, should they mess up. Encourage it and show your agents that you will stand up for them even when they make a mistake. Your belief in their ability will inspire confidence and help agents develop professionally. Continue to look for opportunities to coach your agents and provide support by teaching them to handle change and by giving them progressive responsibility. This is also done by fostering an environment of continuous learning, a growth mindset, and high level of accountability. Be sure agents know what to expect from you as well, by being consistent and fair, and by dealing with conflict and toxic behaviors swiftly. Contribute to your team by projecting a positive attitude, even when you're not feeling so optimistic yourself. Your team will follow your lead. Most importantly, have fun at work. You spend 8 or more hours together each day, why not have a little fun along the way?

Just like any relationship, you want your agents to stick around even when the going gets tough. There will be times when the workload is demanding, stress is high, sales are dismal, or layoffs happen. Unfulfilled or dissatisfied agents may view these circumstances as reasons to move on, no matter how many office perks your company offers. But by hiring the best candidates, letting the relationship blossom, and then taking steps to keep the relationship alive, you will build a resilient team of agents who will weather the storm with you.

Join Erica at Contact Center Expo & Conference! She'll be speaking in a session on building career development programs for millennial employees.