The contact-center industry lacks visibility into job applicants’ capabilities across verticals and geographies. Brent Holland, EVP at FurstPerson, walks us through research on data captured from global contact-center applicants to help close the knowledge gap and provide insight into the relative strengths and limitations of talent pools.
Contact centers are an efficient, cost-effective vehicle for businesses to communicate directly with customers. A contact center is usually either a bricks-and-mortar facility or home office from which a person interacts with consumers via telephony and other technologies (e.g., live chat, email, and social media) while accessing real-time data to answer questions, solve problems, solicit new business, and myriad other activities.
Contact center agents draw on a vast array of skills to produce the customer engagement, contact handling efficiency, win-back percentage and revenue production companies expect. Although most industry-insiders recognize the complexities of these jobs and the unique skills sets required by employees to execute duties effectively, finding and hiring the right talent remains elusive in many contact centers. The sobering truth is that every company can improve the way in which it evaluates applicant potential for on-the-job success and matches people to the ideal job(s) and environment(s).
It is especially important to improve the process considering as much as 40% year-over-year increases in turnover among the hourly employed at an average cost of $4,284 per person1.
Before companies can improve quality of hire it is essential to understand the relative strength of the applicant pool in their respective markets – critical intelligence that has thus far remained elusive. FurstPerson’s 2017 Global Benchmarking Study sample consisted of 1,237,654 English-speaking job applicants who applied to contact centers between 2014 and 2016 in 293 locations distributed across 13 countries; sample sizes ranged between 587,558 (USA) and 294 (Dominican Republic). Job applicants applied to seven different types of contact center jobs, though not all jobs or contact center skills’ assessments are represented in every country. The study measured contact center skills using a variety of assessments and work-sample simulations. Note that the research summarized below has been standardized to permit direct comparisons across markets.
This research explored three socioemotional factors (Fig. 1) that underlie success in many contact center jobs. Results across eight countries portray important differences that could impact service quality. Colombia, Mexico, and Philippines achieve the lowest scores on Emotional IQ, suggesting that the candidate pools in these geographies are more vulnerable to stress and pressure than candidates in other regions. Interestingly, however, the Emotional IQ tendencies do not correspond to a substantially higher likelihood of burnout, suggesting that Emotional IQ could be more influenced by cultural factors and, therefore, may not have the same implications for job performance across geographies, though additional research is needed on this topic. It is important to note, however, that El Salvador achieves both the highest Emotional IQ score and a 17% lower score on potential for burnout than other countries. Creative problem solving illustrates the strength of applicants in Canada, El Salvador and Mexico in terms of identifying new solutions to everyday problems.
Figure 2 summarizes four assessments used to measure contact center skills critical for common jobs. The tools include a written English skills assessment (1stScribe®), an inbound customer service simulation (CC Audition® Service), an inbound sales simulation (CC Audition® Sales), and a live chat simulation (CC Audition® Chat).
In terms of written communication skills (Fig. 3), the United States, United Arab Emirates, and Canada outpace other countries by a sizable margin. El Salvador and Philippines’ applicants demonstrate below-average performance on constructing complete sentences (34% and 35%), grammar (41% and 39%), instructional writing (41% and 43%), and overall writing skills (39% and 35%), though candidates from both countries outperform applicants from Columbia, India, Mexico, and St. Kitts. Columbian, Indian and Mexican applicants score similarly on most dimensions.
Inbound sales roles are critical in contact-centers. By accepting incoming customer inquiries, representatives are presented with the opportunity to identify a need, educate the customer, position an offer, and close a sale. Those representatives with the greatest likelihood of success possess strong multi-tasking, data-entry, computer, and job-specific sales skills. One implication is that the best inbound sales representatives tend to draw on a broad skill set that allows them to perform multiple tasks simultaneously, such as searching for account or promotional information while interacting with the customer, to create a seamless, engaging experience.
Across the four markets with sales-related skills’ benchmarking data (Fig. 4), the USA (52%) and United Kingdom (49%) achieved the highest overall sales scores; it is important to note, however, that Filipino applicants came in a close third. Applicant scores showed the most variability on Data Entry Accuracy, with a range of 21% (Mexico) to 52% (USA) whereas scores appeared more consistent on Multi-Tasking – 42% (Mexico) to 51% (USA). The relative weakness of Mexican applicants on Computer skills is important and points to a critical development need if the country’s contact-center industry wishes to remain competitive for inbound sales jobs.
In Figure 5 the markets show the most consistency in terms of computer ability. For example, Philippines’ applicants demonstrated computer skills equivalent to applicants in the United States. Conversely, chat applicants from Canada, Columbia, and India scored slightly lower than the Philippines and United States.
The data varies across geographies on the data accuracy scale. Applicants in Canada, United States, Philippines, and Dominican Republic achieved comparable scores. However, Columbia and India perform at a significantly lower level on this dimension. One implication of these findings is that chat programs based in India and Columbia may struggle with quality assurance and efficiency-related metrics compared to programs in other markets.
Scores on service orientation and multi-tasking show a similar pattern across markets. The United States, Canada, Philippines, and Dominican Republic achieve the highest scores on service and multi-tasking scales, reinforcing their position as the strongest chat-related markets in this study.
The pattern across all four scales is virtually identical (Fig. 6). India, United States, Philippines and Canada perform best across the scales; the lone exception for for India is Accuracy, with the score falling below the United States, Philippines, and Canada. The results reinforce the strength of international markets’ technology and engagement skills, though the simulation does not take into consideration English language accent or conversation ability.
As companies extend the footprint of their global operations, the markets they choose for expansion will impact their ability to recruit individuals with the skills necessary to perform at a high level. The above results suggest that El Salvador-based applicants perform best on Emotional IQ and Creative Problem Solving while Philippines’ applicants possess the lowest Burnout Risk. In terms of core contact center skills, United States’ applicants perform best on English Writing and Inbound Sales, India does best on Inbound Service, and Canada achieves the highest score on Live Chat Skills. Job candidates in the United Arab Emirates and Canada (English Writing) and United Kingdom and Philippines (Chat and Inbound Sales) perform nearly identical to those in the United States on specific skills. This blog offers a summary of which regions would perform best with which channels and in which particular roles, but for a deeper understanding of who your center should be hiring, and where, feel free to get in contact with FurstPerson.