In this blog series pulled from our eBook - Using an Interview to Select Frontline Job Candidates, we discuss types of interviews, delivery methods, and effectiveness. In part 1 of blog series, we discussed types of interviews.  In part 2, we discuss ways to deliver an interview.  In part 3, we review standard benefits and challenges associated with the interview process.  In part 4, we discuss how the interview adds value.  But how can the interview process be improved?

Ways to improve the interview process

The interview can add value to the candidate selection process.  By addressing risk points in the interview process, you can improve the interview process and increase the predictive relationship between the interview and job performance. 

  • Provide interview training - Your interview process can fall apart when your interviewing team is not properly trained to conduct interviews, especially structured behavioral interviews which are the most predictive types of interviews. Make sure to create interview training that includes practice interview sessions with observers also rating the interview to drive consistency.
  • Align interview questions with job competencies - Do not allow random interview questions in your process.  Not only do they increase legal risk but they most likely do not add value. Make sure your interview questions are related to your job competencies. 
  • Track and store interview scores by interviewer - Many organizations do not systematically track and analyze interview results.  Make sure to track scores and then correlate them back to new hire job performance and retention.  If possible, track this data at the interviewer level.
  • Identify inconsistent interviewers - By tracking interview data and results, you can also look for interviewers that need coaching.

 

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In this blog series pulled from our eBook - Using an Interview to Select Frontline Job Candidates, we discuss types of interviews, delivery methods, and effectiveness. In part 1 of blog series, we discussed types of interviews.  In part 2, we discuss ways to deliver an interview.  In part 3, we review standard benefits and challenges associated with the interview process.  But how helpful is the interview in the selection process?

Does the interview add value?

If structured correctly, the interview can provide value.  Choice of interview format is the critical first decision. Research and practical results suggest that the structured behavioral interview is the right interview form to use. In addition, interviewers must receive consistent, constant training on interview administration. And, interviewers must undergo frequent quality assurance testing to make sure that the variance between interviewers is controlled.

In addition, including the interview, via phone or in-person, adds an ideal opportunity for candidate engagement.  Technology is allowing significant improvements to the hiring process. From removing cost, speeding processes, and improving overall hiring results, the gains from technology cannot be disputed.  However, recruiting is still a contact sport.  Candidates expect some type of personal interaction. 

Technology also allows disgruntled job candidates to post comments about negative experiences, blast unfriendly hiring processes, and quickly join forces against some companies.  The interview, by allowing interaction with the job candidate, creates an opportunity to diffuse some of those issues and engage the candidate.

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In this blog series pulled from our eBook - Using an Interview to Select Frontline Job Candidates, we discuss types of interviews, delivery methods, and effectiveness. In part 1 of blog series, we discussed types of interviews.  In part 2, we discuss ways to deliver an interview.  Now that we have introduced some common forms of interviews, we can review standard benefits and challenges associated with the interview process.

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In this blog series pulled from our eBook - Using an Interview to Select Frontline Job Candidates, we discuss types of interviews, delivery methods, and effectiveness.  In part 1 of blog series, we discussed types of interviews.  In part 2, we discuss ways to deliver an interview.  With technology, the interview delivery has changed over the years. 

Delivery Methods

Recruiters now have multiple options to manage the interview process.  Technology is creating multiple channels to deliver an interview.  Each option has trade-offs and should be carefully evaluated for the candidate experience, recruiter experience, effectiveness, and legal defensibility.  Keep in mind that the interview is a test just like a personality assessment, problem-solving test, or simulation. 

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Technology has made it easier to automate the interview process but keep in mind how the candidate may perceive the interview process.  

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The in-person interview is a common step in the hiring process.  In fact for many recruiting leaders, it is the only job candidate evaluation conducted for frontline employee hiring.  But how effective are interviews?  In this blog series pulled from our eBook - Using an Interview to Select Frontline Job Candidates, we discuss types of interviews, delivery methods, and effectiveness.

Types of Interviews

The interview can take multiple forms.  Before we discuss the interview's effectiveness, we should briefly understand the types of interviews being used by recruiting leaders today.  The interview is a selection process designed to predict future job performance on the basis of applicants’ oral responses to oral questions (McDaniel, Whetzel, Schmidt, & Maurer, 1994). 

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How does your interview compare to these types of interviews?  Unstructured, structured behavioral, or somewhere in the middle?

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Most call centers experience high turnover – as much as 20 percent – leading to decreased sales growth and an increase in the cost of replacing employees. Instead of hiring people with no connection to your products for customer service positions, companies should hire people who are already customers, according to research by Customer Service Investigator, a website that reviews software and helps companies find the right technology.

One reason that companies have trouble retaining call center employees is that they lack a clear career path. Kixeye, an internet game producer with its own customer service center, has found that hiring customers reduces turnover because they are more likely to want a long-term career with the company and seek out opportunities for advancement.

Another reason is that call center employees rarely feel a strong connection to their coworkers since many of them don’t intend for it to be a long-term job. Hiring customers ensures that employees have at least one thing in common – an appreciation for the product or service the company provides – which leads them to have higher rates of job satisfaction than non-customer employees.

Read the full article here to see how hiring customers leads to more motivated employees and reduces recruitment and training costs.

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According to IT consulting giant IDC, nearly 310,000 home agents will be working in the U.S. by the end of this year – up from 112,000 in 2007. Studies by other entities reveal similar growth in the contact center work-at-home arena. While it’s great that so many organizations are embracing the home agent model, most organizations aren’t realizing the full potential of their home agent program. Picture3

Why not? Because they insist on ‘tethering’ their home agents – adhering to a “hub & spoke” approach that places rigid geographic restrictions on the virtual initiative and keeps it from truly burgeoning. 

With today’s technology, a home agent located in a neighboring state or across the country can handle customer contacts just as easily and effectively as an onsite brick & mortar agent can. And the contact center can monitor, coach and manage the aforementioned home agent just as easily and effectively as it can a brick & mortar agent. 

Granted, managers and supervisors can’t exactly give far-away home agents an actual slap on the back for a job well done, or an actual kick in the pants for a job done atrociously, but that’s no reason to keep home agents confined to the same or similar zip code as the contact center’s. “Keep you enemies close and your home agents closer” is not a thing. It’s time contact centers stopped acting as if it were.

Reconsidering Traditional Policies

One of the main reasons why the vast majority of home agent programs are so local is that most contact centers don’t allow new agents to work from home until they have proven themselves in the brick & mortar center for at least six months. Such a policy is reasonable, but customer care organizations that want to separate themselves from the competition by building a truly talented and engaged frontline need to start being a little unreasonable. 

By requiring all agents to first work inside the facility prior to flying the contact center coop, companies limit themselves to a workforce comprised only of job candidates who reside in the immediate region. In contrast, by opening its arms to a nationwide workforce, a company exponentially increases the chances of finding top agent talent during the hiring process. And because adopting such a progressive hiring policy essentially means letting new-hires work remotely (few candidates are going to relocate across state lines for a agent position), the number of interested applicants will be even larger still, as workers everywhere are clamoring for work-at-home opportunities. 

In addition to attracting a much larger and talent-filled candidate pool, abandoning the hub & spoke mentality enables companies to retain valued and experienced brick & mortar agents who may have to move out of the region due to spouse’s/significant other’s job transfer, or to be closer to an ailing family member. I know of one large vacation and cruise company that changed its policies to hold on to three of the contact center’s best agents, all of whom had to move a few states away within a few months of one another for reasons already cited. Today, that company has a truly virtual workforce – roughly 60% of the company’s 500+ agents currently work from home, many of whom live nowhere near one of the company’s physical contact centers. 

But Does Truly Virtual Truly Work

Good question. If you ask one of the organizations that has already gone truly virtual, the answer is a resounding “YES”. All you need to do is take a look at one of the rapidly-growing virtual outsourcers, like Alpine Access or LiveOps, and you’ll see that the truly virtual model truly works. Via the use of web-based pre-hire assessment solutions, e-learning solutions, quality monitoring solutions and performance optimization solutions, these and other customer care organizations can effectively hire, train, evaluate and continuously improve agents who have never (or have rarely) set foot in one of the organization’s actual contact centers. And these agents are easily kept in the loop and connected to peers and supervisors via phone, email, chat, SMS, and video conferencing – technologies that ALL of us already use to do the majority of our communication today anyway.

And all of the alluring benefits of home agent initiatives – better employee engagement and retention, better performance, more flexible staffing, decreased facility expenses, smaller carbon footprint, et. al. – well, those benefits apply whether the home agents are working in a house down the block from the contact center or across a couple time zones. In fact, many of those benefits are increased once the organization lifts its geographic restrictions and sheds its short spokes. 

 


About Greg Levin

Greg Levin, Founder of Off Center, is one of the most unique and refreshing voices in the customer care industry. He has been researching, reporting on and satirizing contact center management and customer care since 1994 – first with ICMI, a leading consulting and training firm, and now as an independent writer, speaker and rabble rouser.

Greg offers a wide range of valuable and compelling resources – all aimed at educating, empowering and entertaining contact center professionals worldwide. Most notable is his popular weekly Off Center blog and his critically acclaimed ebook, Full Contact: Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact.

To learn more about Greg and what he brings to the table, go to:

www.offcenterinsight.com.

 

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Great customer service and support doesn’t happen by accident. So why do so many contact centers hire “accidental” agents?

Not familiar with that term? That’s because I just made it up – but it’s a fitting one.

Most contact centers rush through the recruiting and hiring process in order to quickly fill agent openings, and, in doing so, end up with agents who never intended on working in customer care but who applied anyway because times are tight and decent jobs hard to come by. In other words, these agents landed in their job by accident. You can’t fault these individuals for their aimlessness. You can, however, fault contact centers for theirs. shutterstock 110191754

If your center’s recruiting and hiring program is characterized by a “ready, fire, aim” approach, expect accidents to occur. More often than not.

There are plenty of viable and passionate agent candidates out there – people looking to embrace a career in the contact center and to create positive and memorable customer experiences. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a team of inspired agents who truly want to be in your center rather than a bunch of placeholders just biding time until they find another job “on purpose”?

In order to build such a team of agents, centers need to embrace the following recruiting and hiring practices:

1) Actively encourage and incentivize employee referrals.  “Old school” as they may be, employee referrals remain one of the best recruiting methods at the contact center’s disposal. A hiring practices study conducted by the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) revealed employee referrals to be the most common AND most successful recruiting method used by contact center professionals. 

Not surprising. After all, who knows the agent position and what it takes to excel in it better than your existing agents? Those with a passion for the job enjoy sharing their experiences with friends, and are thrilled to help bring those with talent into the fold. To help pare down the number of unqualified referrals submitted by staff, many contact centers offer small cash incentives (or other alluring perks) to agents whose referrals end up being offered and accepting a job. In some centers, additional incentives are provided when the person the agent referred performs at a high level, stays with the job for a pre-determined minimum amount of time (six months, one year, etc.), and never once cries on the phone. 

2) Strategically use social media to attract agent talent. The most progressive contact centers use social media not just to respond to customer complaints and queries but also to recruit the center’s future stars. Concise and captivating tweets like “Hot job for customer-focused folks” that include the right hashtags along with a link to a compelling job description can go a long way toward attracting highly qualified and social media-savvy agent applicants. What are the right hashtags? I recommend using at least one or two of the following: #custserv, #cctr, #contactcenter, #callcenter, #custexp, and, of course, #jobs. It’s also a good idea to tag your city (e.g., #Seattle), and to include a good subliminal hashtag, like #leaveyourcurrentcenterandworkforus.

Twitter isn’t the only social media e-cruiting tool contact centers can use. Many centers announce jobs on their Facebook page as well as in Linked In groups dedicated to contact centers and customer care – all of which feature a “Jobs” section.    

3) Partner with colleges and trade schools that offer contact center/customer service curriculum. A growing number of post-secondary schools have created contact center and customer service-related programs and curriculum for students who have always dreamed of owning their own headset. Many forward-thinking contact centers have partnered with these schools – helping to create course content and even teaching some classes in exchange for getting first crack at graduates. In many programs, students complete internships with partnering contact centers, where they handle basic calls in a controlled setting. In essence, the center gets to “test drive” these aspiring agents at little risk (and the student gets to see if they really want to work in a contact center environment). Successful internships typically result in job offers, thus the center ends up with new, well-trained and committed agents who are workstation ready.

4) Invest in a pre-hire agent assessment solution. Adopting the recruiting practices recommended above will certainly help you to avoid hiring “accidental agents”, but you still need to test each qualified applicant to ensure they truly have the goods to effectively handle your customer contacts and abuse. The best way to do this is via a good pre-hire agent assessment solution. Today’s assessment solutions are primarily web-based product suites with a range of modules and reporting tools that contact centers can customize to fit their specific business environment. The leading solutions feature tools that assess agent skills, personality, work habits, level of motivation, and likelihood of spontaneously combusting during peak calling periods. 

5) Track the effectiveness of each recruiting method – and take appropriate action based on the results. Contact centers that consistently acquire and retain talented and dedicated agents have a holistic recruitment tracking process in place, one that not only tracks how many qualified applicants each recruiting method brings in, but also how those applicants who accept a job perform during training and beyond – and how long they stick around. By continuously keeping tabs on which recruitment methods give the most bang for the buck and which ones need to be improved or perhaps eliminated, these organizations continually maintain a focused and cost-effective hiring program that sets them – and their agents – up for success long into the future. 

There are a host of applicant recruitment/retention tracking tools and software on the market that contact centers can use, many of which don’t require a large up-front investment, and all of which will help keep managers from going insane while trying to track recruiting effectiveness manually. 

Does your contact center utilize any of the above recruiting and hiring practices? What other kinds of things do you do to avoid staffing the center with “accidental” agents? Please share in the comment box below.

 


About Greg Levin

Greg Levin, Founder of Off Center, is one of the most unique and refreshing voices in the customer care industry. He has been researching, reporting on and satirizing contact center management and customer care since 1994 – first with ICMI, a leading consulting and training firm, and now as an independent writer, speaker and rabble rouser.

Greg offers a wide range of valuable and compelling resources – all aimed at educating, empowering and entertaining contact center professionals worldwide. Most notable is his popular weekly Off Center blog and his critically acclaimed ebook, Full Contact: Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact.

To learn more about Greg and what he brings to the table, go to:

www.offcenterinsight.com

 

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Organizational culture refers to a set of shared beliefs, values, and norms within an organization that shape the way its members perceive, interpret, and react to various environmental and relational conditions. Put simply, organizational culture represents a shared viewpoint that permeates an organization and it members. Because culture provides guidance to organizational members on appropriate perceptions, behaviors, and values, it can dramatically influence organizational effectiveness and employee morale. When organizational culture is not well aligned with strategic goals and employee needs, negative consequences are likely to result. 1 30 12 blog post image

When Good Intentions Go Wrong

Consequences of misaligned, dysfunctional cultures are particularly relevant in the context of contact centers, as culture can often be a source of dysfunction in these contexts. This results, in part, due to the nature of the work. Customer contact roles lend themselves to performance monitoring on a number of easily observed metrics (e.g., average handle time, repeat calls, sales per call, calls transferred, etc.). These metrics can be invaluable in providing insight into the success or failure of work policies and procedures. They can also be indicative of individual employee performance and can be used to set work goals, which can be extremely motivating when they are properly implemented and well aligned with other performance targets and organizational policies. However, an exclusive focus on call metrics can come at the expense of other important factors. When organizational policies and decisions are driven solely by these numbers, contact center representatives may infer that these are the only important elements of their performance. For example, representatives may be less likely to engage in extra role behaviors (e.g., helping a co-worker, providing non-required support to customers, etc.), which can lead to a negative workplace culture. Further, constant performance monitoring and an exclusive focus on metrics may communicate distrust on the part of the organization, leading to a culture which does not encourage employee empowerment and involvement. The following details some common consequences of a dysfunctional organizational culture in the context of a contact center.

Employee Morale

Dysfunctional organizational cultures can exert a negative impact on employee morale. Research indicates that these types of cultures lead to lower levels of job satisfaction and higher levels of both job strain and stress1. These factors are particularly important in a contact center environment, as contact centers often require employees to work during unfavorable hours, engage in repetitive tasks, and interact with disgruntled customers, each of which can also contribute to lowered employee morale. A positive organizational culture can help to mitigate these factors, promoting a healthy and satisfied workforce.

Employee Withdrawal

Given the strong impact of culture on employee morale, it should come as no surprise that dysfunctional cultures can also result in higher absenteeism and attrition. Research has confirmed the link between culture and withdrawal behaviors2. Employees who experience work dissatisfaction, stress, and strain as a result of poor organizational culture are likely to avoid work by calling in sick and eventually resigning. This can result in lost productivity, additional strain on remaining employees, and, as Rob Stilson explained in his blog on achieving retention, lost resources, in the form of training costs.

Performance

Organizational cultures can also impact employee performance in a number of ways3. Contact center culture serves to emphasize the important aspects of performance and foster motivation for high performance levels. The following represents a list of some of the contact center performance factors which are negatively impacted by dysfunctional cultures:

  • Customer Service – Contact center representatives will be less likely to provide exceptional customer service when the contact center culture either does not promote customer service as a value or has led to lowered morale.
  • Compliance – Similar to customer service, organizational culture will provide guidance to contact center representatives on appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. If rule and procedure compliance are not emphasized as organizational values, contact center representatives will be less likely to engage in these behaviors.
  • Reputation – The reputation of an organization can also suffer when organizational cultures do not promote employee morale and customer satisfaction. Contact center representatives are in direct contact with customers. They have the ability to appease dissatisfied customers, promote organizational products and services, and maintain customer loyalty through their interactions with those customers. The opposite is also true; when representatives have negative impressions of their organization, those impressions are likely to influence their interactions with customers which can lead to negative customer impressions. 

Creating a Positive Organizational Culture

Just as negative or misaligned organizational cultures can produce undesirable results, positive organizational cultures promote effective organizational functioning. Creating a positive culture involves a thoughtful and strategic plan for the communication of organizational values and norms. The following suggestions are designed to get an organization started on the road toward a positive and effective culture.

  1. Leadership – Consistent messaging and behaviors from contact center leaders will help to shape and reinforce the culture. Ensuring that leaders understand, accept, and promote organizational values and cultural initiatives will go a long way towards creating an effective culture.
  2. Metrics – A careful review of performance metrics and goals should help identify performance areas that are missed by the current performance evaluation system. These areas should be promoted and emphasized to ensure representatives are aware of other factors that also contribute to performance.
  3. Rewards – Employees make inferences about organizational values and culture based on the types of behaviors that are rewarded or discouraged. When rewards are linked to positive work behaviors, the culture will set a tone of recognizing and appreciating employee work and accomplishments.
  4. Involvement – As Rob indicated in his blog on retention, involvement is a key factor in contact center functioning. When representatives have the opportunity to become involved in the development and modification of work processes and policies, they will feel more committed to the organization and its values. 


Resources:

  1. Parker, C. P., Boris, B. B., Young, S. A., Huff, J. W., Altmann, R. A., Lacost, H. A., & Robers, J. E. (2003). Relationships between psychological climate perceptions and work outcomes: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 24, 398-416.
  2. Sheridan, J. E. (1992). Organizational culture and employee retention. Academy of Management, 35, 1036-1056.
  3. Petty, M. M., Beadles, N. A., Lowery, C. M., Chapman, D. F., & Connell, D. W. (1995). Relationship between organizational culture and organizational performance. Psychological Reports, 76, 483-492.





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Contrary to what I used to believe before I immersed myself into the contact center arena, contact center roles are complex and difficult jobs that require representatives to bring an array of skills, abilities, and personal characteristics to the table in order to perform successfully. The role of a contact center representative is not simply to answer a phone and follow a script.  Instead, successful contact center employees are highly trained and skilled individuals who are ready at a moment’s notice to manage any type of (often emotionally charged) customer interaction, on any topic, that comes their way; they process large and complex amounts of information in often noisy environments, under high time pressure, while their performance, communication, and efficiency are continually and closely monitored; and they must navigate a complex array of systems to help them identify, understand, and resolve customer issues quickly and effectively, all while listening to and communicating with customers to keep them engaged and satisfied.describe the image

Given the complex nature of contact center roles, the task of identifying candidates most likely to succeed in these roles also can prove difficult.  In our experience, many contact center organizations over the years have developed or identified effective methods of evaluating applicants’ job relevant capabilities (for example, Reasoning, Learning Aptitude, Numerical Ability) and personal characteristics (for example, Dependability, Rule Compliance, Friendliness, Composure).  In fact, many well developed and widely validated tools, such as cognitive ability and personality assessments, are available on the market today.  Assessing a contact center applicants’ job relevant skills, however, is another animal entirely and typically proves much more difficult.  Below, we outline the most common and critical skills that contact center applicants must possess in order to perform successfully on the job, as well as the best method for assessing those skills in the most accurate way possible.

Critical Contact Center Skills

Though surprisingly little detailed information is publicly available regarding the most critical competencies needed by contact center representatives, FurstPerson’s own research can help shed some light.  We have collected subject matter expert (SME) ratings on the importance of 50+ competencies from over 3,000 SMEs across 100+ contact center jobs in 16 countries.  Across six different types of contact center roles (service, inbound sales, outbound sales, technical support, retention, and collections), our research showed that 15 competencies (for example, Compliance, Composure, Tact, Integrity) universally emerge as critical for effective agent performance.  

Among those 15 competencies, three essential skills stand out as important for virtually any contact center candidate to possess:

  • Computer Navigation:  Candidates must demonstrate basic computer navigation skills prior to being hired.  Not only during training, but also on the job, representatives must interact with a computer, toggle between multiple screens, use the internet, search databases, etc. 
  • Keyboarding Skills:  Keyboarding skills are also essential, as candidates must quickly and accurately enter data or notes into the system in order to properly search, document, or notate information related to a customer’s inquiry or account. 
  • Multi-Tasking:  Multi-tasking is perhaps the most widely touted skill in the contact center world; industry experts almost universally recognize the importance of contact center candidates demonstrating the skill to perform multiple activities (e.g., talk, type, listen, engage, search information) all at the same time to effectively and efficiently resolve issues and manage customer interactions.

Assessing Skills Accurately

The most accurate way of assessing a candidate’s job relevant skills in any role is to audition candidates, or ask them to actually demonstrate those skills in a realistic, work-like setting.  Modern technology and authoring tools allow for the development of sophisticated, multimedia assessments that simulate the job itself, allow a candidate to interact with systems, technology, and tools similar to those they would actually use on the job, and measure every action taken by a candidate in the performance of the job tasks during the simulation.  Building a contact center job simulation that requires candidates to exhibit their computer navigation, keyboarding, and multi-tasking skills during simulated customer interactions is therefore the best and most accurate way to evaluate applicants’ skill levels.

Though certainly still time-consuming and costly to develop, these realistic job simulations can provide substantial competitive advantage in identifying top quality contact center candidates and produce significant ROI.  In addition, these simulations often provide the candidate with a realistic job preview, as they tend to be microcosms of actual contact centers, complete with training, dashboards, performance monitoring and branching technology that leads to escalation or de-escalation of a customer’s emotional response depending on the candidate’s actions and demonstrated skill level.

FurstPerson’s own research shows that the CC Audition® contact center simulation predicts four common contact center performance dimensions – Call Quality, Customer Satisfaction, Sales, and Average Handle Time – as well as cognitive ability tools (typically found to be the best predictors of performance universally across jobs) and better than any other type of tool on the market today.  In fact, one large telecommunications organization, since incorporating the CC Audition® simulation into its hiring process, has experienced 33% improvement in Average Handle Time, 52% increase in First-Call Resolution, and 14% reductions in attrition.  These performance improvements represent 8,588 fewer hours of handle time and 16,200 fewer repeat calls per month, for an overall return on investment of approximately 3,300%.

As highlighted above, hiring candidates with proven job relevant skills can provide contact center organizations with a significant competitive advantage, and we know from published research that hiring unqualified candidates can lead to dire organizational consequences such as costly attrition, more repeat calls, longer call wait times and handling times, and overall customer dissatisfaction.  The use of a well-developed, high-fidelity, multimedia simulation, however, can result in that competitive advantage and provide organizations today with the most accurate way on Earth to evaluate applicants’ contact center skills.



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