By Adolfo Bonilla
Salt Lake City, Utah
January 20th, 2020
I would like to share with you a story. It was January 2017 when we enthusiastically prepared a recruitment campaign for a new client, out of a nearshore delivery center. For a first time, we would be supporting videogame users from the United States and Europe and could not be more excited about it. With clear specifications, an aggressive timeline and a tight budget, the campaign was kicked off under the scrutiny of all the stakeholders.
One week later, through advertisement on social media, the use of specialized recruitment websites and employee referrals, we had a group of fifteen candidates lined up to be interviewed and vetted by our client. They were all ‘prime’ quality, with multilingual capabilities, extraordinary customer service and plenty of experience in the industry, who had successfully gone through our internal recruitment process and were considered world-class material.
All of them, but one, were rejected by the client. They were not considered a fit for the position by the client’s trainers and operations managers who had been appointed to the task of vetting the candidates. I went home that day doubting everything I had learnt and done in my career for the past twenty years and, along with my team, spent the following four weeks turning our recruitment process upside down to get it right for this client.
For many years, the recruitment and retention of talent for the Customer Care and Tech Support operations while always challenging, was quite uneventful. It was ‘’business as usual”: Recruitment processes were built around job profiles, competency assessments and panel interviews, resulting in the selection of candidates that pretty much were ready to roll and succeed.
During the past five years though, the game has changed. While many programs continue being the traditional kind and require ‘standard’ human talent, many new operations are so unique and peculiar that finding the right fit for them is almost like finding a unicorn and require a whole new set of tools and techniques.
It is not only a matter of having to deal with new factors like artificial intelligence, process automation and the robotization of basic transactional functions, or about having a deep and comprehensive knowledge of technical and procedural aspects. For a customer care representative to be successful at their job in this new environment, they now need to be or become ‘one of them’ from the end-user perspective. They need to understand and be part of the sub-culture where the end users belong, in full alignment with their jargon, social behaviors and preferences.
The talent in our customer care operations is not ‘one size fits all’ anymore. The skill sets have become more specific and diverse, while the interchangeability of the workforce has decreased, giving way to very specialized resources that execute more complex and sophisticated processes and tasks. Elements like idioms, cultural affiliation and backgrounds, software programming languages, generational gaps and social skills have become differentiating factors that determine the success or failure of an employee and a whole program in the industry.
The story about videogames support I shared at the beginning of this article is a very good example of how those elements come into play. In that situation the team soon came to realize that we were not looking for customer care agents, but for ‘gamers’ who wanted to work in Customer Care, and that the challenge was a completely different one. After a lot of brainstorming, debate and negotiations, the team finally came up with a plan that had the support of all internal stakeholders, even though not all of them were fully convinced it would work.
For starters, we needed to educate ourselves. We looked for hardcore videogame professionals who already had big number of followers in social media, and who made a living out of it. We had to learn about their business and how videogame players relate to each other in their fantasy worlds and in real life. We learnt about competitions, challenges, the dark web, bitcoins and even about people that would share their expertise with others who pay them to improve their ability to succeed in their favorite videogame.
We went with our newly found partners to television and radio shows to advertise our job opportunities, and even sponsored videogames tournaments. In a way, we learnt to respect them and their passion for videogames at a level I had never imagined before.
All the advertisement was rebranded, adding unicorns, rainbows, dragons, knights and other mythical creatures to the graphic designs. The response was fabulous and the traffic in social media skyrocketed, with people constantly liking and sharing our posts.
The effort paid off. From one week to the next, we had two thousand resumes waiting to be considered for the job. But the core problem was still there: How do we pick the right ones?
For that purpose, calibration sessions were arranged with the client so that our recruiters would become familiar with the criteria that their trainers and managers used when vetting the candidates, while internally, we identified the ‘gold standard’ in one employee and picked him as a benchmark to accept or reject other applicants.
Additionally, the Operations Delivery team appointed a hiring manager who joined the recruitment team and worked full time with them for the duration of the campaign. This manager became an expert in both managing the client’s expectations and keeping the recruitment team aligned with them.
At last, a specialist in American culture and language was hired and all candidates went through a one-day workshop with her before interviewing with the client. As we managed to get more candidates vetted, some of them would join the group and help with the preparation of new applicants.
From a disastrous start, the recruitment campaign ended up being a very successful one, with a candidate acceptance rate above 90% and high praise and satisfaction on the side of the client. A big lesson was learnt, and our recruitment process was remarkably stronger and reliable after this experience.
Whether the operation is Onshore or Nearshore, the organizations are often required to support multilingual markets and geographies, and when you add high technical knowledge and skills to that requirement, the table is set for a campaign that will require the best people, planning and resources to be successful.
And if recruiting is hard, retention is twice as much. Once other competitors in the labor market realize that your operation hosts such special talent, they will start poaching from your workforce, taking advantage of any weaknesses or omission they may identify in your work environment, compensation model, benefits package or performance management.
It is not just about having a fine-tuned, well-thought recruitment process. It is about keeping the focus on every component of the employee life-cycle, with the right set of tools, processes, experience and knowledge aligned so that, once you get them, their onboarding, development, retention and eventual separation are understood and used with purpose and intent by all the members of the team.
So, when it comes to recruitment and retention in the contact center industry nowadays, these are my take-aways:
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