Competitive customer service Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

In the world of technology and customer service, Fortune 500 companies are finding that customers still prefer to speak with a real person. After all, high touch always exceeds high tech when it comes to influencing customer satisfaction and retention. Not surprisingly, then, talented and engaged customer service associates are in high demand, from retail sales to tech support. Differentiation through customer service provides the greatest opportunity to impact ROI with customer retention and selling new products and services.

Top management in an organization must be aware of the pulse of the organization’s customers. Consequently, call center employees should be valued for their interaction with customers and encouraged to give management feedback on customer concerns.

Smart Business talked with Yvonne Abel, Division President of Delta Dallas Call Center Staffing, to gain some insight into the impact of customer service staffing today.

What are the skills required for customer service call center positions?

Call center positions require a blend of technical proficiency and interpersonal soft skills. Being detail-oriented with good written communication skills is also at the top of the list. Bilingual fluency, especially in Spanish, is a plus. And, since positions vary within call centers, each one has to be profiled to determine the skills required for that position. Some may require higher-level technical skills for providing tech support and analytical skills for problem solving the customer issues. In other positions, sales skills are required for upselling. These positions require people who can multitask while speaking on the phone and working on the computer.

How do search firms assess candidates’ skill levels?

To determine the skill level of candidates, it is important to use a multitiered interview process that includes a first step of prescreening the candidate for applicable experience and verbal communication skills. The second tier is evaluation of computer skills, such as MS Office, data entry and keyboarding, through a validated assessment program. Today’s assessments include customer service soft skills, such as call etiquette, inbound/outbound sales and problem solving. Once the candidate’s skill level is determined, behavioral assessments and interviews are the best predictors for on-the-job performance. Getting to know the candidate’s interests and experience is key to confirming he or she is the right person for the job.

How can search firms help companies find qualified candidates?

By far the biggest recruitment challenge is having resources to continuously attract applicants for call center positions. Many companies use a variety of methods; most do not understand recruitment and use the hit-or-miss process of working with job boards or advertising. These methods can generate a plethora of candidates. However, the time invested by hiring managers detracts from the company’s core functions and results in ‘filling a seat’ versus finding the most qualified and best candidate for the job.

Finding a business partner that specializes in staffing for call centers allows the hiring manager to interview only pre-screened, qualified candidates, resulting in a focus on the specific skills and experience needed to service customers. Treating the recruiting process as a core competency is a necessary step toward meeting and exceeding call center and organizational goals.

What can call centers do to retain employees?

In the call center environment, taking the time to recognize individuals and teams reinforces the performance desired, especially when it is done by a C-level executive.

Career-pathing shows employees that future opportunities await them. Without a clear path for the future, employees will look elsewhere for their next opportunity. Ongoing training is an investment that will provide ROI with enhanced customer satisfaction and retention. The key to employee retention is developing new skills faster so they can take on larger opportunities successfully.

How does all of this positively impact a company’s bottom line?

The enterprise call center can get new customers, keep existing customers and grow profitable customers. Research shows that far and away the biggest single factor for customer loss is poor customer service. Since it costs approximately five times more to attract new customers than to retain current ones, it is easy to see how important the customer service role is to a company.

Hiring and retaining the right people reduces training costs. Statistics show that it costs one-third of the annual salary to train a new employee. Retaining employees with knowledge about customers and products means they can be more creative in providing customer service that differentiates a company from its competitor, resulting in customer retention.

YVONNE ABEL, SPHR, is Division President of Delta Dallas Call Center Staffing. Reach her at yabel@deltadallas.com or (972) 788-2300.