How To Guide: 3 Essential Steps For Hiring A Quality Frontline Employee
Customer Experience and Expectation in the Post-Pandemic World
The past year has been fraught with change. The “new normal” has taken a toll on individuals, businesses, and society as a whole.
As individuals, we’ve had to adapt to new and ever-changing health and safety guidelines. Our businesses have faced physical closures and have been pushed online. As a society, we’re still trying to define what the next “new normal” will look like once the pandemic finally ends. Despite the massive changes brought on by the spread of the novel coronavirus, the rule of supply and demand has allowed the wheels of commerce to keep spinning.
While some industries have languished in the face of physical distancing measures, many have flourished. Digital platforms and omnichannel solutions allowed businesses to quickly adapt to fluctuations in the supply chain and to the changing demands in consumer order fulfillment. The pandemic accelerated the shift to digital, where consumer experience is now king.
Towards the customer-centric approach
Successful companies have maintained their customer focus and continued to deliver excellent customer experiences despite the challenges they faced.
With in-person experience playing less of a role, attention to Customer Experience (CX) across every touchpoint throughout the journey is essential to staying competitive in the post-pandemic world. Research shows that most companies are already predominantly competing on customer experience across Omni-channels and 86% of the consumers say they are willing to pay higher for that experience.
Consumers want to be treated well. That is nothing new. What is new is the staggering number of touchpoints today’s brands need to maintain and optimize to meet heightened consumer expectations and the degree to which one bad customer experience can proliferate negative feedback online.
It’s a brave new world that requires businesses to have the right strategies, technology, and people to stay alive.
What Does This Mean For Hiring A Frontline Employee?
Online, consumers are faced with infinite choice. The internet has created a worldwide marketplace where there is always something better, cheaper, or more suitable available at the click of a mouse. International shipping is no longer out of reach, and thanks to companies like Amazon, next-day delivery is becoming the norm.
If a consumer can’t get exactly what they are looking for from you, and in the quickest and most convenient way possible, there are many welcoming competitors they can turn to instead.
In this new reality, customer experience matters more than ever.
According to the Global Customer Experience Excellence Report 2020, due to COVID-19, the differentiator on product or service choice for 63% of consumers is value. Value includes not only the price and quality of the product but also how valued you make your customers feel.
In today’s competitive marketplace, “...what was previously considered to be a great customer experience has no longer been good enough, and almost all businesses have been thrust into reorganizing their approach to customers.” Reorganizing your approach to customers requires different things depending on the industry you’re in, but almost universally demands an investment in technologies that contribute to a more streamlined shopping experience, updating order fulfillment capabilities to create an “endless aisle” experience for shoppers, or hiring high-quality candidates to fill support roles where customer experience is at its most critical.
With competition shifting to a laser focus on creating experiences that engage, surprise, and delight consumers, hiring quality frontline employees has never been more vital.
5 Must-Have Traits For A Quality Frontline Employee
Suppose your customers find themselves frustrated and in need of assistance. At that point, it won’t matter how nice your website looks or how polished your marketing materials are—the most recent experience a consumer has with your frontline employees will forever define how they perceive your brand.
Below we’ll look at the five traits our research has shown are essential to ensuring consumer interactions leave a positive impression of your brand.
One of the most important traits your frontline employees can have is the ability to adapt to new situations and requests. Every consumer is different—with different backgrounds, circumstances, and needs. To problem-solve effectively, frontline agents should possess the ability to adapt their approach to the needs of the situation rather than trying to apply cookie-cutter solutions.
If consumers feel they are not being heard and are being fed a boilerplate response to their concerns, your brand’s reputation is at stake. Even if your frontline agents have delivered the same lines to hundreds of customers before, each new conversation should feel personalized. It’s important that each exchange feels honest and authentic to the caller.
Frontline workers need exceptional listening skills to genuinely hear the customer’s problem, to read between the lines of what is left unsaid, to imagine how they would feel if they were faced with the same frustration, and to find a solution that will leave the customer feeling valued and well-served.
Frontline employees need to be natural-born problem solvers who find satisfaction in troubleshooting complex issues for your customers. This natural predisposition towards one of the most vital components of a frontline role will motivate them to come to work each day ready to face new challenges and give their best effort.
Most people who call a call center are doing so because they have exhausted all of the self-service options available to them. They may have given up trying to figure something out on their own or been unable to find a particular resource on your website. In most cases, customers will be frustrated when they call to ask for help and will grow increasingly frustrated if they are left on hold for more than a few minutes. This is why it is vital that frontline agents can stay calm, be patient, and set a positive tone for the call as they work to resolve the customer’s concern.
3 Steps : How to Hire Quality Frontline Employees?
Hiring quality employees, and doing so quickly, are two of the biggest challenges companies face when hiring for the frontline. As customer experience matters more than ever to your bottom line, so does the performance of your new hire. These frontline employees are a frustrated customer’s first point of contact to your company and are your company’s greatest asset. Unfortunately, they are generally the most overlooked employees and often receive the least amount of attention from your talent acquisition and development teams.
We already know that the frontline job has become increasingly complex. According to Sheri Petras, CEO of CFI Group, "in the world of self-service, customers now reserve only the toughest problems for the contact center agents.” This is a trend you may have observed in your call center. The “simple questions are now handled by the customer on the company website, saving the complicated, frustrating questions for contact center agents.” Because call center agents are tasked with solving problems for frustrated callers, it is essential to ensure that you’re hiring for the right skills and providing adequate training to support their success.
As the role of the call center work changes, so too has recruitment become more challenging. New approaches to the recruitment process, and new tools to assess candidates, are required to produce consistent service excellence. The challenge is not just to fill seats, but to fill seats with candidates who will meet or exceed expectations.
We’ve detailed the key to quality volume hiring in the article below. expectations.
Whether you are hiring 50, 500, or 5000, the steps to hiring quality candidates are the same. While the barrier to entry for call center jobs is still low, that doesn’t translate to an endless pool of suitable candidates. Many applicants may lack the language or communication skills required to excel in the position. At the same time, qualified candidates may hold preconceptions about the job that may make them avoid applying.
Additionally, job descriptions need to be written with an eye towards both the accurate representation of the requirements of the role and the ability to entice candidates. But the recruiting process doesn’t stop there. Once you get someone to apply, how do you know if they have what it takes to thrive?
Over the past two years, we’ve tracked the performance outcomes of all candidates hired using Learning Branch assessments, giving us data-backed insights into the three most important steps to hiring good quality candidates.
Keep reading to learn what they are and how you can use them to improve your hiring process.
1. Focus On The Skills That Matter
A great support specialist should be focused on the needs of each caller. They must establish a rapport to uncover important information that will help them find a solution to the customer’s problem as quickly and efficiently as possible to boost customer satisfaction.
So, if you are hiring for CX, your focus should be on hiring for the skills that drive customer satisfaction. As per the Global Customer Experience Excellence Report 2020, 90% of consumers regard resolution as their most important customer service issue.
In addition to the traits listed in the previous section, there are measurable skills that can serve as key indicators of an agent’s ability to resolve customer issues. For a quality frontline employee the skills we have found to be the most in-demand are as follows.
The ability to get an idea across as clearly and compassionately as possible and to be understood.
Agents need to be able to think outside of the box to approach complex problems that aren’t easily solved with curiosity and enthusiasm.
A key skill for anyone working in a contact center is the ability to listen to understand rather than just to be heard.
Problem Solving Ability
To be able to get to the crux of the customer’s complaint as well as help them troubleshoot and find a solution to their problem.
The ability to navigate various knowledge bases and websites in the relentless pursuit of relevant information is an essential skill for customer service representatives.
To complement the automated systems in place and humanize the service experience, recruiters should choose candidates who can quickly understand a detailed client issue and articulate a clear, concise response. Hiring on these foundational communication competencies directly targets improvements in First Call Resolution (FCR), Average Contact Handle Times (AHT), and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores.
We have found that candidates who score well on the HiringBranch Assessment have
- 20% Higher FCR Scores
- 20% Lower AHT
- 10% Higher CSAT Scores
If you are hiring for an outbound role, choose candidates who can establish rapport, have good conversational fluency, and use friendly, positive language.
Hiring on these foundational communication skills targets improvements in Net Promoter Scores (NPS), Call Duration, and Sales.
Call duration KPIs can give you an overall picture of how well your team is performing and how quickly they can resolve calls. The benefit of improving sales is self-evident, while the value of increasing your Net Promoter Scores is immeasurable. Your NPS, is often heralded as the gold standard of call center metrics, speaks to your agent’s ability to leave the caller feeling happy, satisfied, and likely to recommend your brand to their friends and family. The higher your NPS, the more word-of-mouth advertising you generate, and the more positive word-of-mouth advertising you generate, the higher your sales.
This direct relation further highlights the importance of agent-to-caller interactions, and putting these skills and targets at the very front of your hiring process ensures consistent focus on the metrics that drive performance.
2. Measure Performance
Performance measurement is an essential parameter for monitoring customer service growth and improvement in the long run. Providing existing frontline employees with the opportunity to upskill improves engagement and retention.
Furthermore, measuring the performance of all of your frontline employees allows you to establish a performance baseline and identify your highest achievers. The traits that these high achievers possess can be used to provide a measurable metric when you’re assessing new hires, which we will talk more about in the next section.
Measuring performance at pre-hire is just as important as measuring the success of your existing agents. The best way to assess if a candidate can articulate a clear, concise response to a client issue isn’t to look at their resume for evidence of prior experience. It’s to give them a problem and evaluate their spoken or written response directly. Provide a holistic score and a breakdown that is meaningful for placement and training. Additionally, don’t guess skills through multiple-choice questions or abstract elements if the response quality can be measured directly.
Contact centers spend hundreds of millions on language testing to certify candidates on basic, discrete speaking and writing skills, such as grammar and pronunciation. However, these tests do not measure nor fully capture the high level of communication skills required of today’s CX associates.
Assessments that measure speaking and writing skills in context have been shown to pass different candidates than do standard language tests. Research shows five critical gaps in standard language tests that lead to the wrong candidates being hired.
Standardized language tests are administered to quickly assess the language skills of a large group of people—whether job applicants or students applying for international visas. Despite their prevalence, however, standardized tests often don’t paint an accurate picture of someone’s language skills and can result in ‘false positives’. The format in which they are delivered doesn’t allow for real-world circumstances that speakers will have to face. This lack of real-world application means that even when applicants pass a standardized language test, they may struggle with the following and would not result in being a quality frontline hire.
Five gaps left by standardized testing
Standardized Language Tests focus on language proficiency but often ignore vital aspects of real-world communication skills like acknowledging the customer’s concern, ability to perform under pressure, and using positive language.
Fluency is an important component of ‘intelligibility’, or the ability for a listener to easily understand a speaker without having to ask for clarifications. It is separate from accent or pronunciation and is a key factor in how smoothly a spoken conversation can be conducted. Standardized tests typically lack the capacity to separate accents from intelligibility, potentially disqualifying many strong candidates.
The format of most standardized tests does not allow them to take reading and listening comprehension into account. During the speaking portion of a standardized test, a candidate might be capable of reading and pronouncing the words they are prompted to read, but that doesn’t tell you if they understand what they are saying. A call center agent needs to interact with your customers, not just parrot a standard reply.
Attention to Detail
Another area where standardized tests fall short is their ability to measure a candidate’s attention to detail. Attention to detail is a key component of an agent’s ability to actively listen to a caller’s frustrations and leave them feeling like they were heard, and reassure them that their problem will be solved.
Studying for an exam with a set of standardized questions doesn’t assess one of the most important skills needed for carrying out a conversation—the ability to think critically about what is being said, read between the lines, and respond accordingly.
Download our white paper “A Practical Guide to Choosing a Language and Communication Assessment for your Contact Center” to learn more about the gaps left by standardized testing.
3. Benchmark and Standardize
The only way to know which skills distinguish high-performing employees in your organization is to measure and benchmark them. Abilities like language skills, technical skills, and soft skills are common factors you might consider when selecting a candidate, but 70% of organizations don’t have the tools to identify the required competencies. Pre-hire assessment tools like the call and chat simulations offered by Learning Branch are excellent resources for helping you identify suitable candidates.
You’ll also want to look at your call center floor. Who are your top performers? What skills do they possess?
Once specific measurable skills are identified in the top tier of your current frontline employees, you can work backward to determine which component skills can be assessed at pre-hire, at 90 days, and once on the floor.
Are there skills that pre-hires might not be expected to have yet? Of course. That is why it is so important to build a framework of skills from foundational to expert-level that you can use to determine the employability and predict the success of each candidate you consider. A pre-hire with good attention to detail and the ability to articulate clearly will be more likely to achieve a good FCR score than a pre-hire who misses the point and struggles to express their ideas.
Use the skills and achievements of your all-stars to set the benchmark for the new candidates you hire and standardize performance standards across the entire team. Working towards this goal will help you boost productivity and reduce costs long-term.
Putting It Into Practice
Implementing a data-driven process for benchmarking existing frontline employees and assessing new hires means you can track a framework of skills throughout the employee’s life cycle from pre-hire to associate. When assessing new candidates, consider the personality traits that would make someone well suited to the role alongside the core skills they need to meet their KPIs.
Following the steps outlined above will help you hire quality frontline employees, provide a better experience for your customers, and elevate your brand. You can further refer to HiringBranch's comprehensive guide for more details on hiring and managing frontline employees. Use the HiringBranch AI platform to assess candidates using a scientifically proven framework and proactively train existing employees with the communication skills needed to deliver exceptional customer service, time and again.
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