Finding right fit for job is call center challenge

Disciplined approach’ required

While building technical infrastructure has been the core issue for hospitals and other organizations developing customer call centers, the emerging trend is a focus on the more human part of the process, suggests Katherine Dean, SPHR, a partner in Banks & Dean, an international professional services firm that has headquarters in Toronto.

The best technology in the world won’t suffice "if you don’t have the right frontline person interfacing with the customer," adds Dean, whose firm specializes in selection and retention solutions for call centers.

Finding the "sweet spot" between productivity and delivering quality service and consistency is the challenge when it comes to staffing customer call centers, she says.

Once they’re past such issues as how calls will be routed and queued, Dean suggests that patient access directors charged with developing and overseeing call centers face what can be a tougher task.

"Call centers have been created to provide consistent service at a reduced cost — more service for less," she says. "The issue is finding the people who are the right fit for that requirement, identifying them early in the recruiting process, training them, and placing them within the call center."

Motivated and trainable

In helping call centers develop a disciplined approach to recruiting and staffing, says Dean, who is based in Milwaukee, her firm considers two characteristics in potential candidates. One is the inherent trait of being motivated to work with people and help solve their problems, she adds, and the other is whether the person is "trainable" in terms of the technical skills required.

"We make sure the person has both, after determining what the client is willing to train on and what they’re not," Dean notes. "We help them get clear about the entire recruiting process."

In developing the recruiting/staffing process flow, she says, the firm helps the client understand the minimum requirements for positions. "Does the access representative need two years in customer service, a medical background? If they’re clear on that, the process can be automated."

Banks & Dean designs an on-line application/ screen to make sure candidates meet the initial requirements, Dean explains, and for those who don’t have access to a computer, there is a toll-free number with a questionnaire. "The purpose of this is to build a pool of candidates, quickly and economically, so you don’t need to spend time reading a resume until [the applicants] are already qualified."

Questions are designed to determine whether the person will be comfortable in a structured environment and whether he or she has a stable job history, she says. Once candidates pass the first screen, they’re asked to answer questions — again on a toll-free phone line — that allow those doing the hiring to listen for enunciation, diction, and speech clarity, Dean notes.

Also, after a successful first screen, the candidate is given a web site address where he or she completes a quality service profile, she says. This is followed by a face-to-face interview.

"Basically, you’re measuring a person’s talent and potential, whether or not [hiring the person] is a good investment," Dean says. If the person is hired, she adds, the criteria used in the screening process are tracked, measured, and benchmarked against the employee’s performance.

If two years’ experience working in a call center was one of the hiring criteria, for example, the system can track whether or not that was a valid restriction, she explains. "Because if you put in restrictions, you limit your pool; so you tie it back to performance."

The setup with each client organization depends on its needs, she says. With an integrated recruitment and career management system, for example, the company would use the system for a prescribed period of time — typically a year — and Banks & Dean would follow up to see if the system is providing the kinds of candidates it needs, she adds.

"It’s their system, and they know how to use it," Dean points out. "We transfer the competencies to them and go back every year and benchmark it. It’s a long-term partnering with [the company]."

Specific recommendations are made on how best to coach and train each individual, including information on who might be likely prospects for supervisory or mentoring positions, she notes.

"The job is stressful, but if you identify the right people early on, you have someone who has a much higher chance of succeeding and staying," Dean adds. "For example, the [quality service profile] identifies people who have an adequate ability to handle stress and conflict."

Because of the nature of the job — people in seats with headphones on for measured periods of time — it also is important to determine if the job candidate is comfortable in a structured environment, she says. "We bring science and measurement to the whole recruiting process."

[Editor’s note: Katherine Dean can be reached at (262) 240-9400 or (888) 241-8198, or via e-mail at]