Hiring temporary workers for spikes in contact center demand is common. Companies across industries do so during the summer when permanent employees take time off, during the busy holiday season, or in response to large-scale marketing campaigns. Yet the practice is not without its challenges, and many companies struggle with evaluating temporary employees during the hiring process and ensuring that they demonstrate the same level of commitment as permanent ones. To make the most of situations involving temps, companies need to look inward and adopt several practices.
The Hiring Process
Experts agree that before jumping into the hiring process, organizations must have a clear idea of what makes a strong contact center agent, regardless of whether an employee will be hired permanently or for only a short time. Cameron Smith, senior global director of product management–workforce engagement management at Genesys, suggests that one way to determine the ideal agent is by thoroughly evaluating current employees. This, he says, “can give some great insight into what determining factors can and should be targeted when recruiting any type of future employee.”
Smith notes, however, that the process is complex due to the many variables—such as education, location, and previous work history—that can affect employee performance.
Fara Haron, CEO of Global BPS at Arvato, a contact center outsourcing services provider, agrees that “it’s important to keep the desired skill set in mind and make sure you’re screening and testing, whether in-house or through a staffing agency.” She says that while companies should be looking for traits such as good communication skills, computer navigation, data entry skills, and empathy, other factors were important as well. “Especially in a temporary role, companies should identify candidates who are nimble, resilient, and also express a desire to stay with a company long term and eventually become a full-time employee.”
Other experts also assert that companies need to look beyond the traditional elements. Beth Cabrera, executive vice president at KNF&T Staffing Resources, a Boston-based temp agency and staffing company, says that rather than focusing on direct call center experience, companies should instead look for candidates with work experience that draws on similar skills or backgrounds. Examples of this, she says, include retail experience in a high-volume store, telemarketing, or fundraising.
Once companies have identified the candidates they want to screen, Cabrera says, they should “heavily rely upon behavior interviewing” to ensure that candidates understand the nature of the tasks they will be asked to perform and what is expected of them. Companies need to know that any employee hired “will be able to handle the volume, potential issues and, ultimately, succeed in the role,” she says.
For Steve Kraus, vice president of marketing at Cogito, a provider of real-time emotional intelligence software, the most important skill for temp workers in the call center is emotional intelligence, which he says involves the ability to “recognize the signals being communicated by the customer and respond with the proper levels of empathy.”
“As temp workers are learning so many things in a short period of time, it is important they know how to engender trust with the customer and how to leave the customer feeling as if the company they are working with is committed to a high-quality experience. So much of that trust is built on how they are speaking, not just the facts they are communicating,” he says.
To evaluate these skills, Kraus recommends setting up a similar environment to the one in which candidates would be working to see how they function in that environment.
John Loughlin, senior director of client solutions and delivery at HighPoint Global, a company that offers training, content development, contact center optimization, and quality assurance services to government agencies, asserts that the goal with hiring temps should be “to attract and keep great candidates.” The benefits of going the temp route include flexibility and the ability to try out workers before committing to a long-term hire, though he adds that it typically takes about two months to fully train a temp.
A critical part of the hiring process should include temp candidates sitting side by side with current employees to see how the contact center works, Loughlin says. This would also give companies the opportunity to track the questions the candidate asks their prospective colleagues. Candidates in the side-by-side process will often ask the full-time employee how quickly they can get off the phones and into a different role, which Loughlin identifies as an immediate “red flag” indicating that the temp prospect is not invested for the long term.
Randi Busse, founder and president of Workforce Development Group, a training and coaching organization that focuses on improving the customer experience, emphasizes the interview in determining a potential temp worker’s commitment level. She notes that some people might say one thing to pass the interview only to adopt a more laissez-faire attitude once they are hired. They can get in the habit of thinking, “Oh, I don’t have to be nice anymore; I can kind of let my guard down.”
To combat this, she suggests asking “situational-type questions.” As an example, a hiring manager might ask for details about the best customer service experience the candidate ever had, the worst customer service experience that person ever had, and what specifically made either experience good or bad.
“Try and gauge [whether] they even know what a great customer service experience looks like,” Busse continues. “The mistake that a lot of companies make is when they hire people, they teach them about the computer system, about the products and service that they offer, but they don’t necessarily talk about the importance of the customer, what the value of the customer is and how they as a company want to treat their customers.”
To attract the highest-quality temps, Kraus says, companies “need to create an environment in which temp workers feel supported by their managers, [and] have transparent, achievable performance goals and related measurement.” Additionally, temps “must feel they are part of a mission in which the specific work they are doing is contributing to a greater goal.” And so their goals feel achievable, temps “must be given tools that are intuitive to learn and easy to use,” he adds.
While some might argue that these practices are not as relevant for temp workers, who might just be passing through, Kraus argues that in fact “it is even more important with temp workers. The company has such a short time to build the relationship with the temp worker, and temp workers now have a platform—social media—by which to build up the company’s reputation or break it down. Since the companies that leverage temp workers typically do it year after year, it is key [that] they build up a strong reputation for being an organization that is good to work for.”
Loughlin adds that while attracting the best temps is difficult, “the bigger challenge is keeping the great employees.” He says that companies’ reputations are important in shaping the types of applicants they attract. “If a company’s reputation is that they only hire the best employees, often only the best will apply.”
For this reason, he says, companies need to demonstrate that they are willing to invest in employee development and deliver meaningful work.
Cabrera notes that employees today are seeking positions that offer flexibility with scheduling, working remotely, paid time off, or even the work responsibilities themselves. As such, good temporary employees might be drawn to one company or another by what they will learn in the position, how it will help them get their next position, and whether the position can lead to a full-time role within the company.
Busse agrees that having a work-at-home option is a good way to drive commitment. “People that work at home—because they’re so grateful to have a work-at-home experience and opportunity—typically take their job more seriously,” she says.
Where to Look
Busse suggests a number of pools from which companies can pull temp employees. One of these is the company’s customer base. “If I’m an advocate of your brand to begin with because I like what you do, I like the way you treat me, I like your product, who better to epitomize the brand?” she asks. “Tap into your customer base, because they already love you. You don’t have to sell them on the company.”
A related option is to inquire among current employees. “If you’ve got employees that are engaged and committed, go to those people and ask, ‘Do you know somebody who might be looking [for a temp position]?’ Tap into the brand advocates that are in your company, because if you’re a good employee and you have a good work ethic, chances are that the people you associate with are like you.”
How to Treat Temps Once They’re Hired
Experts agree that companies would do well to generally treat temps as they would full-time employees. However, they should still adopt specific practices that support temp labor.
“To motivate temp workers to give the same level of commitment as full-time employees, companies need to invest in those workers and design processes and provide systems tailored to the temp workers’ tenure,” Kraus says.
He goes on to say that companies often take one of two paths with temps: They either attempt to treat them exactly like full-time employees or they “do the complete opposite” and treat them as a “necessary evil,” not providing them with any of the necessary support and motivation.
Both of these are poor choices, Kraus says. Companies should instead adopt a number of practices that focus specifically on the needs of temp workers. These include designing on-boarding and training processes that “fit the temp workers’ limited tenure”; treating them “as important as full-time workers”; and establishing performance goals that “motivate them to perform and be engaged during their tenure.”
Companies should also “make the effort to communicate and involve temp workers in the overall mission of the company” and evaluate work assigned to temps “to ensure that they are likely to succeed and understand how to achieve their goals,” he adds.
Once they are brought on board, it’s important to continue “soft skill” development, working on interpersonal skills such as being a good listener and having empathy, qualities that Kraus says are often overlooked yet critical to their success. “While in the past companies often believed that temp workers either had good soft skills or did not, it has become more of a gray area. Now there are training techniques and tools that can help guide agents’ soft skills, enhancing their chance at success, increasing their job satisfaction, and leading to a positive impact on the customer,” he says.
Haron agrees that companies should make their workplaces as hospitable as possible for temp workers, even offering them incentives, such as bonuses, from time to time. Doing so “will make them feel loyal and see the company as an employer of choice, where they want to stay,” she says.
And to that end, Haron also recommends that companies transition temporary workers to full-time positions whenever possible to “provide stability and security” in their workforces.
Alternatively, Cabrera says that companies should view the temp agencies they use as strategic partners and leave a lot of the motivational work to them. “It is the agency’s responsibility to ensure that they are communicating with their temporary employees to ensure that they are committed, to proactively identify any concerns, or to find creative ways to ensure that these temporary employees are there for the long haul,” she says. “The agency can work with the company to ensure that there are appropriate motivators in place that mirror [those of] full-time employees.”
As all these measures make clear, employee performance is not just the responsibility of the employee—Smith notes that work duties, work environment, the supervisor, and the processes in place “all play an active part in how the employee performs.” In particular, he says that the supervisor “must exercise a reasonable degree of control, assign appropriate responsibilities, allocate adequate time to fulfill responsibilities, and be held accountable for employee performance.”
Smith also outlines a number of best practices for retaining temps. These include developing skills to prepare them for bigger roles; emphasizing the value of the current role, even if it’s a temp position; providing tools to help them evolve and perform at their highest levels; setting achievable goals; offering a variety of career paths; and ensuring that leadership remains engaged.
Going Forward With Temps
Experts agree that temp positions will continue to be an important part of contact center strategies going forward. “Due to the seasonality of many businesses, temp workers play a critical role as the interface between a company and their customers, and often play that role at moments of truth that greatly impact the relationship [between the company and its customers],” Kraus says.
A big part of this involves giving consideration to what motivates temp workers and what makes them successful, he adds.
Then, companies must put the procedures, measurement, and tools in place to support the temp workers’ shorter, high-impact tenure, consider the skills that make temp workers succeed or fail, and train and support them in developing and displaying those skills.
“Companies that do this well will not only have skilled temp workers that return year after year,” he says, “but they will also have temp workers that advocate not only to other temp workers but to customers of the brand.”
And that’s the kind of worker any business wants, no matter how long they are on the payroll.