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Calling All Candidates: Smart Automation For High Volume, High Touch Hiring

by Ron Selewach, CEO, HRMC - September 13, 2017

Calling All Candidates: Smart Automation for High Volume, High Touch Hiring

by Ron Selewach, CEO of HRMC
While no two call/contact centers may be exactly the same, all call centers grapple with the same fundamental problem: maintaining staffing levels and keeping agents engaged.  The high attrition rate exerts constant pressure on HR and hiring managers, as there's a continuous need to fill open positions.  Working as an inbound customer service representative (CSR) has a turnover rate of between 30 and 45 percent.  By comparison, the 2013 average employee turnover rate for all industries in the United States was 15.1%.  Often, expediency trumps the time needed for more thorough vetting, and companies learn to live with the high turnover and associated costs, as though it's baked into the business model.  I refer to this as the SLA Shackles; centers have to maintain certain staffing levels which causes them to hire quickly and retain even poor performers in order to meet staffing levels guaranteed in their service level agreements.  This no longer should be the case, chiefly thanks to the emergence of "smart automation" - or "artificial intelligence” (AI) -- which, when applied to candidate evaluation and processing, allows for both speed and precision in the hiring process, which has significant implications for the way call centers hire and do business.
Smart automation is particularly well-suited for high-volume hiring. Systems can be configured to engage candidates in real-time to assess skills (how well do they handle customer complaints, multitask, etc.), temperament and culture fit.  Hiring call center staff is particularly tricky as you're hiring people based on their ability to perform standard job functions, have the information and agility to capably handle callers/customers, and at the same time function as "brand ambassadors" and provide a superior customer experience.  Hiring automation technology has advanced to the point where the interaction is naturalistic and responsive, closely approximating a live dialogue.  Call/contact center candidates access the system via their mobile device, tablet or desktop, and without needing a resume to pass "go," are immediately engaged, interviewed, objectively evaluated, and automatically moved through a company’s selection process to each logical conclusion and given closure or scheduled for an on-site final interview, around-the-clock, in a single candidate engagement, without needing a pause for lunch or a bathroom break.
Today, more organizations apply automation and artificial intelligence technology to more critical, high-level business functions (driving increasingly precise and responsive customer relationship management systems, powering population health platforms, etc.), HR, however, is among the last hold outs.  Which is understandable, as many view the interview and talent assessment processes as their exclusive province – it’s one of their historic functions, it’s what they’ve been trained to do,  it’s where their years of expertise and judgment come into play and are most valuable.  But smart automation or AI doesn’t have to replace HR’s role in making final hiring decisions – it can be used in the initial stages of a candidate engagement to handle some of the more “mechanical” aspects of the interaction (realistic preview of the job, intro to the company, collecting background data, assessing skills and culture fit). Unlike systems that collect, parse and categorize resumes, this technology allows one to interpret the data – it gets to know the candidate in a way impressions extracted from a resume can’t.  A hiring manager can leave for the weekend and return on Monday with rank-ordered candidate profiles that can include sound clips to assess phone presence, providing a fuller sense of what makes each candidate tick.  It is at this point that the best of the best candidates can be brought in for final interviews, giving HR and hiring managers more time to spend on the critical contribution of making those final hiring decisions and more time to insure that those offers will be accepted.
The following describes in more detail how smart automation improves high volume hiring and allows call center hiring managers to actually have a more hands-on role in making the important, final hiring decisions.
The Benefits of Delegating
Entrusting the initial phases of candidate engagement to a smart hiring system can significantly improve the candidate experience, and your Quality of Hire (QoH).
Improving the candidate experience by simplifying and broadening access expands the talent pool, and by bringing more sessions to completion, yields more data-rich and more revealing candidate profiles.  Since resumes (marketing documents) don’t provide all the information necessary to make a hiring decision, smart systems can interview the candidates specifically for the answers you’re looking for, thereby making resumes unnecessary or pushed to the back of the process.  Smart systems break the need for a resume as a precondition to applying and appeal to passive candidates as well as active job seekers. Bear in mind that hourly workers are not likely to have updated resumes; needing to update or seek professional help to write one can be a major barrier to entry.  This also enables companies to expand their candidate pools and target veterans, the long-term unemployed, and other targeted populations, most of whom would be immediately weeded out via a conventional resume-based process. 
Smart systems can accomplish all the preliminary candidate vetting and processing, leaving the all-important final interview/decision to HR and hiring managers, where their expertise is more warranted.  Really smart systems can help, not hurt, employer branding by offering a resume-free application process, realistic job previews, simulations (having knowledge about something is good, being given the opportunity to demonstrate that knowledge is even better), videos about life in the company/job details/culture, and closure (no more “black hole” leaving applicants wondering).
Smart systems can also improve the Quality of Hire. Yes, smart systems may need some training in what “success” looks like, but for the first time, companies can automatically amass data on how each answer was answered by each candidate – each answer to each question becomes a data point that can easily be compared to tenure, training success, and performance on the floor.  This leads to continuous improvement, more consistency in hiring, and ever improving Quality of Hire, mitigating attrition, and improving engagement.
A good portion of hiring is spent minimizing the risks of making a bad decision... resumes are collected and scanned for keywords,  candidates are invited in, interviewed, and a lengthy, time-consuming period of one-on-one evaluation and "winnowing."  Which begs the question: How much time have you wasted over the years realizing a prospect is not a viable candidate five minutes into a face-to-face interview?  And how many times have you made a hiring decision "with your gut" that turned out to be disastrously wrong?  Further, how many good prospects have you overlooked because they didn’t have a good resume but had the skill, potential, and drive you want, if only you knew?  Smart automation gives you the ability to offer every candidate the opportunity to interview and thereby discover those talents hidden by the limitations of resumes and applicant data.  It eliminates subjectivity, makes the initial candidate assessment phase more systematic, allows for both speed and precision – key for high volume hiring -- while lessening the risk of discrimination. Entrusting it to handle the initial selection phases gives hiring managers time for other tasks and more strategic responsibilities, and in improving the quality of hires, significantly lowers the costs associated with bad hires.  
Perhaps most importantly, smart automation does not replace or diminish the primacy of human decision-making; it simply gives HR and hiring managers the time, luxury and freedom to intervene in the process, i.e., the final face-to-face interview, when their expertise is most needed. 

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