Customer satisfaction is the highest priority in a contact center. If you want to provide top-notch customer service, you need well-trained, competent customer support agents.
However, with attrition rates averaging between 30%-45% in the call center industry, hiring and retaining top talent can be a major challenge.
This means that the hiring process is the most critical step in building a strong and effective call center team. And that’s where a pre-hiring assessment comes in.
A pre-hiring assessment is an invaluable tool in identifying the right candidates, reducing turnover rates, and ensuring long-term success for your call center.
It allows contact center hiring managers to identify and analyze the specific skills and behaviors that are compatible with the call center’s demands, such as excellent communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and customer empathy.
15-Point Contact Center Pre-Hiring Assessment
Here’s a 15-point pre-hiring assessment for contact centers that covers a broad range of skills and traits that you should assess when considering candidates to join your team.
- Typing speed
- Customer service experience
- Problem-solving abilities
- Technical proficiency
- Communication skills
- Multi-tasking abilities
- Stress management capacities
- Attention to detail
- Time management
- Empathy and understanding
- Sales skills
- Teamwork adaptability
- Conflict resolution skills
- Knowledge retention
- Technical equipment reliability
Now, let’s delve deeper into the significance of each point and why it should be included in a comprehensive contact center pre-hiring assessment.
1. Typing speed
Typing speed is a critical skill across all contact center positions. Agents need to be able to type fast so they can:
- Respond quickly and accurately to customer queries
- Document and transcribe conversations
- Listen while typing to accurately record client notes
- Accurately input error-free customer information
The most common way to assess a potential hire for typing speed is by assigning a typing test. These tests are readily available and often free, making it easy to integrate into the hiring process.
These tests measure the words per minute (WPM) of an individual. A good rule of thumb for call centers is to aim for a minimum of 30 words per minute with an accuracy rate of at least 95%.
If a test results in a slow typing speed or a high amount of errors, this may lead to inaccurate information being documented or a slower response time, which can negatively impact the customer experience.
2. Customer service experience
It’s essential to pre-qualify candidates for their prior customer service experience, particularly in a contact center environment. Previous experience can provide valuable glimpses into how a candidate may perform since there are a handful of universal aspects to customer service roles.
Some of these include:
- Adhering to scripts while maintaining a friendly tone
- Superior listening skills to understand customer needs and concerns
- Resilience and patience to handle difficult customer interactions
Having your candidate submit and elaborate on their prior customer service experience can help determine which specific skills they possess. Role-play scenarios help test the abilities of new hires, which involve recreating a real-life call that the future agent may encounter.
Keep an eye out for listening skills, relational candor, and a friendly tone while maintaining compliance with the call script. You can also keep track of the agent’s ability to solve the theoretical problem you’re roleplaying and take note of how long it takes for them to resolve the issue.
3. Problem-solving abilities
Call centers are all about solving problems. From technological hiccups to complex customer issues, agents need to be able to think on their feet and come up with solutions quickly.
You’ll want to assess that your staff can:
- Resolve complex customer issues swiftly
- Handle unexpected technical glitches
- Adapt to dynamic customer needs
You can assess a candidate’s problem-solving abilities with situational judgment tests or role-play scenarios that mimic real-life challenges. For example, you can provide a scenario where the agent must handle an irate customer while also dealing with a technical issue on their end.
Some helpful metrics to keep an eye out for include the ability to respond quickly to unexpected issues, an overall positive demeanor in the face of conflict, and a capacity to generate creative solutions.
4. Technical proficiency
Technology is continually evolving, so you’ll want to ensure that your potential hires are tech-savvy. From making it through the onboarding process to competently operating the best VoIP services, you’ll want your staff to be flexible and comfortable with new software and hardware.
At a minimum, a candidate should know or be able to learn the following:
- Basic computer skills (typing, navigating operating systems)
- Familiarity with customer relationship management (CRM) software
- Understanding of the company’s phone system and an interactive voice responder (IVR) system
Additionally, the potential hire should be comfortable with fielding minor technical issues such as resetting a password, clearing cache and cookies, and updating software.
You can assess these abilities through technical assessments and by providing scenarios where they may encounter a technical problem during a call. For example, you can identify a common problem that your call center experiences with its CRM and ask the candidate how they would solve it.
Keep tabs on how they solve the problem, as well as their attitude towards technology and learning new systems. A positive attitude and willingness to learn are crucial traits for a tech-proficient contact center agent.
5. Communication skills
Communication skills are foundational for proper customer service and reflect a person’s emotional and social intelligence. There’s an art to these skills, as they may require going off script in order to connect meaningfully with a caller.
Look for the following indicators when evaluating a prospect’s communication skills:
- Body language that expresses sincere interest and understanding
- Tonal inflections that denote interest and focused attention
- The ability to make relatable and empathetic connections while remaining professional
- Awareness and care for the caller’s concerns
- Self-awareness for emotional regulation
Multiple choice tests allow you to see how a candidate understands the abstract concepts of communication, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence.
But it’s much more powerful to assess those skills in real-time situations. Play the role of an irate customer, and see how they handle it. Present cancellations, refunds, or other hurdles that real-life calls may offer during role-playing.
6. Multitasking abilities
Time is of the essence in customer service and contact centers, so multitasking is vital for productivity. An employee or contractor who’s skilled in this area can save a lot of time and money by juggling multiple tasks seamlessly. This leads to reduced hold times and higher customer satisfaction rates.
The following are essential multitasking skills that a call center agent needs to possess:
- Being able to listen while typing
- Focusing fully on customer calls in fast-paced or noisy call centers
- The ability to quickly and accurately pivot between tasks
A test project that has 2 or 3 moving parts is a good place to start when creating a multi-tasking assessment. Again, you’ll want to create a test that’s as close to a real-life scenario as possible.
7. Stress management capacities
Call centers are notoriously known for being high-stress environments. Since it can be hard to gauge if someone can stay cool under pressure without actually seeing them in action, you’ll want to assess this carefully.
Here are some ways you can evaluate a candidate’s stress management skills:
- Ask about a time when they had to deal with a difficult customer and how they managed it
- Inquire how they self-regulate and remain calm in tough times
- Investigate what their ideal work environment is to see if it aligns with a call center setting
It may be helpful to use a well-vetted stress test, such as the Perceived Stress Scale, to better quantify the effects of stress as well as identify potential red flags.
Additionally, role-playing can provide insight into a candidate’s ability in specific roles. For example, if you think a candidate may struggle to field calls but excel in problem-solving, put them in a situation where they must solve an issue for a customer rather than cold outreach.
8. Attention to detail
In a call center, the devil is in the details. Even one wrong number inputted on a major order can be a costly mistake. So you’ll want to make sure potential hires pay close attention to details and notice these kinds of small discrepancies.
Assessing for this begins when you receive a cover letter and resume from an applicant. Look for clear indicators that they thoroughly read the job description, followed all of the directions in the application process, and responded to the specifics of the job posting.
Since finding errors is likely the most useful way to determine an applicant’s attention to detail, give a test that will identify their acuity. For instance, you can use an attention-to-detail test that can help evaluate a candidate’s abilities in this area.
9. Time management
There are two important metrics to test when considering time management in a contact center setting: handle time and downtime. Handle time refers to the amount of time it takes for an agent to handle a call. This metric is crucial because it affects your bottom line and customer satisfaction rate.
The other important aspect to test for is downtime, which refers to the idle time between calls. While some downtime is natural and necessary, too much can lead to unproductivity and decreased morale.
To assess these metrics, you can use a call center management software that tracks metrics such as handle time and downtime to evaluate and improve. Offer a test project through this software to see how the candidate performs in a simulated call center environment.
Empathy can be a tricky thing to quantify when it comes to the hiring process, but it’s nonetheless important for ensuring that your potential hire is the right fit for your customers as well as your team.
Let’s try to define what empathy actually is so you know what to look for in evaluating a candidate’s empathy levels:
- The ability to understand another person’s emotions and feelings
- Being able to mentally walk through a customer’s journey
- A genuine interest in other’s perspectives and experiences
The best way to test for empathy is by using open-ended questions, either in dialogue or written. You can ask about specific situations, or prompt the applicant to reflect on the company’s culture and how they would fit into it.
This allows hiring managers to see how a candidate approaches and responds to various situations without leading them to a specific answer.
You can also request character references, which differ from testimonials in that they focus on the reliability, credibility, and trustworthiness of an individual rather than their skills or capabilities.
Keep an eye out for red flags such as impatience when discussing caller issues, a lack of understanding of the importance of customer service, or a lack of interest in the customer’s needs. These can be indicators that a candidate may struggle with empathy and understanding in a call center role.
11. Sales skills
If your call center is sales-focused, this is one of the primary skills to assess when considering an applicant’s potential. And even if your applicant won’t be dealing directly in sales, a general awareness and openness to the sales process can still be beneficial in providing excellent customer service.
If you’re looking to evaluate sales skills, here are some ideas:
- Ask for the results from their previous positions and how they achieved those results
- Provide a sales test that is designed for screening B2B sales competencies
- Look for indications of a competitive spirit or an ability to stay motivated in the face of rejection
Your company may follow a specific method or sales process, so consider catering your sales assessments to reflect that. For example, if you primarily use one selling technique across your business, have the applicant demonstrate how they would sell a product or service using that technique to determine how familiar they are with the process.
12. Teamwork adaptability
While customers are every agent’s first priority, it’s also helpful to make sure that they feel comfortable on a team, and in turn, treat their coworkers with respect.
Naturally, many different types of personalities and temperaments come together in professional arenas. Therefore, personality tests or archetype tests are useful tools for gathering insights that can help a team run smoothly and with minimal conflict.
Archetypes can help reveal an applicant’s strengths and weaknesses, work preferences, communication style, and other traits that can influence their teamwork adaptability. Some popular tests that help with archetype analysis include:
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
- DiSC Assessment
- Enneagram Test
Once your potential agent has completed one of these tests, you’ll be able to determine if they’re a compatible fit with other team members. For example, you’ll be able to determine if they prefer working alone or in a group, if they’re detail-oriented or big-picture thinkers, and other traits that can help build a well-rounded team.
Additionally, asking previous employers about a candidate’s teamwork and collaboration skills can provide valuable insight into their potential in your team dynamic.
13. Language proficiency
Contact centers offer an edge because they have global reach. And because of this, you might be looking for agents with exceptional skills in one or more languages. The first language test occurs during your interview with the candidate, where you can gauge their speaking skills as you converse with them.
If your organization is seeking English speakers but hiring internationally, you’ll need to assign a few different assessments to establish fluency. Not only do they need to master comprehension and speaking, but they should be able to send written communications with impeccable grammar, tone, and flow.
There are several types of language proficiency tests you could enlist in your pre-hiring workflow, from basic grammar tests to interactive speaking tests. But if you’re seeking a comprehensive option, The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is specifically designed for work-related English proficiency.
In addition to language tests, consider providing a practical test such as having the candidate conduct a call simulation in their non-native language or provide a written response to a customer inquiry.
Also, make sure to request any language certifications or programs in the application to get a better understanding of the applicant’s proficiency.
14. Knowledge retention
Many hiring managers confidently hire agents based on performance promises, only to find that in practice, the new hire struggles with onboarding, training, and understanding the overall role they fill.
If your agents are unable to remember, repeat, or stay consistent with daily work tasks, they may misrepresent the company to callers, make mistakes that cause customer frustration, and take precious time away from the team to ask for clarifications or retraining.
It’s best to provide your potential hire with a small amount of information about the company before their interview and ask them to retain and discuss what they learned. If the candidate can demonstrate retention and apply their knowledge in an interview setting, they’ll likely be better equipped to retain the information necessary to perform their job.
You can also consider creating a knowledge base designed for the hiring process and tell the candidate that they should review the information in a set time. Let them know that they’ll be quizzed on what they’ve read, and offer a way for them to share feedback and ask questions to showcase their understanding.
15. Technical equipment reliability
We’ve already covered technical proficiency, but beyond that, can you rely on the candidate to have and work with the equipment they’ll need to do the job? This is especially important with remote setups.
If your call center works with remote agents, ask them the following questions to determine their technical readiness:
- Do you have a quiet workspace with fast, reliable internet access?
- Are you familiar with remote communication tools like Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams?
- Can you provide your own computer equipment and maintain it?
Actually having the equipment won’t be an issue if you’re working in a dedicated call center with a specific setup, as you’ll be providing the equipment for your agents. Still, you can create a simplified technology-related skills test for your candidates to take. Provide them with an overview of your technology and then have them complete a questionnaire or simulated task to assess their ability to navigate basic technology.
Technology is constantly evolving, and new agents have to keep up with the latest tools and processes to provide the best service possible. Consider providing ongoing training and updates on new technology as part of your company’s development plan for call center employees to increase retention and productivity.