No matter what your outsourcing project entails, the tasks and responsibilities involved will be carried out by people. The staff will likely be aided by technology, but in a customer care environment, live agents resolve issues and answer questions. Therefore, this is a critical element of the outsourcing equation, arguably the critical element. Doing this correctly is happening in a competitive labor market, changing views regarding the role of work in one’s life, and the challenge of finding good people and keeping them.
There are three primary components involved – ensuring a good fit, open and timely communication, and the applicant experience. These are listed in no particular order; each is a building block of a successful recruiting and hiring effort. In this post, we will cover what goes into those aspects of the process, look at the differences involved in on-site vs. remote work, and consider the impact of the work environment itself and how employee engagement directly correlates to job satisfaction and retention.
Achieving a Fit
Typically, “fit” refers to how an individual assimilates into a new workplace, how well-suited the person is for the work, and how easily that person can mesh into the existing culture. But in the world of outsourcing, there is a different outlook – the question of fit starts with the client. That means the hiring team must first understand the client’s values and expectations. When you know the client needs X and what X looks like, you are on the right path. What does this mean? Here are two examples:
- We have a retail client whose self-image is not that of a merchant but rather, that of a lifestyle brand. It’s not the merchandise that matters as much as the attitude and sentiment behind it. As such, agents work as ambassadors of positivity trained to treat customers as welcome guests or friends. This client’s service model is based on the connection between product and user, and creating a community that happens to enjoy a particular product line.
- The second client provides outsourced IT services, typically tech support help desk matters that range in complexity and are usually time-sensitive. This company has a specific way of doing almost everything, from protocols for troubleshooting to punctuation guidelines for email communication with clients. The client wants to project an image of professionalism and a high level of competence, which means treating the little things with the same level of attention given to big things.
Clients also have varying views toward job-specific skills assessments and background checks, the latter being particularly applicable where customers’ private information is involved. To recap, understanding the client’s definition of ‘fit’ allows recruiters to shape interview questions accordingly and to engage applicants in conversations that reveal things beyond the skills and experience found on a resume.
Chances are you are familiar with ghosting. It’s a problem for recruiters whose applicants have suddenly gone incommunicado, and it is likewise an issue for job-seekers who are left unsure about their prospects. Let’s look at this from the employer side. First of all, ghosting applicants is damaging to the brand. Because this can be a fast-moving job market and today’s great prospect can become tomorrow’s employee with a different company, the entirety of the hiring funnel must be candidate-focused. Even a “no” is better than leaving people in the dark. Plus, it’s rude.
The hiring agent walks a line, not a thin line necessarily, but a line nonetheless, meaning he/she is an advocate for the applicant and the company, as well as being the chief information source for prospects.
Often, the application process is an individual’s first direct contact with a particular company, and it has long since been established that there is one chance at making a first impression. It applies to the corporate side just as much as it does to those seeking work. If you’re not communicating with recruits on the front end, then they will have justifiable questions about what to expect going forward.
Communication need not be laborious. People are accustomed to brief messages these days; someone needing a job is also on the clock, so to speak. Their search has a shelf life, and an unresponsive company runs a risk of losing out on good people for lack of letting them know where they stand. Transparency is always a winning approach, no matter the message being conveyed. On occasion, that message is “not now, but….” as the candidate would likely succeed but, going back to the first point, is not necessarily the right fit for the current positions.
For this part, look at the applicant as a customer. It’s not far off the mark. The applicant is considering whether to buy what the organization is selling. The applicant has gone through the drill before and can likely differentiate a smooth, well-orchestrated process from one that is slipshod. The corporate task is to make this process seamless, starting with the blocking and tackling of the application. Do we need this person’s complete life story upfront, or can that be condensed into the parts that are germane to the position?
While there are online tools that are very helpful for things like assessments, this is also a human-based endeavor. To that end, the applicant should meet as many potential co-workers as possible. We provide candidates with brief exposure to multiple people at different levels in the operational chain. The in-person assessments are then blended with the results of the automated mechanisms, and a picture of the candidate begins to form.
The journey has to be comfortable for both sides. There is a heavy cost for making bad hiring decisions and it goes beyond the monetary. Don’t worry; no company has a lifetime 100% success rating in hiring, but the mistakes have to be minimal. The hiring environment usually reflects the operational environment in an organization, and just as recruiters are evaluating prospects, those applicants are also evaluating the company.
Once You Have Them
Retention is a constant issue and it starts with the training process. We typically hire with a small buffer just in case anyone has a change of heart. The training period is also where consistent communication during the hiring process can yield dividends. The more you talk to employees, the better you understand them, and the more you learn about what motivates them to be their best and what they expect in the future. Compensation matters, of course; no one is hired to work for free, but anyone doing it solely for the paycheck is a risky bet.
People stay and develop loyalty, find support and community, and make a job into a career for multiple reasons. You have to learn what those reasons are. In many ways, it is the single most critical question there is with personnel management. Here’s what that means. You already know that employees have the requisite skills to do the work. In resolving ‘fit,’ you understand how they will do it, first fitting the client’s expectations and then meshing with the rest of the workgroup. It takes a bit longer to determine staff wants – what does their occupational hard-wiring say?
Every employee has different expectations. Some love regular feedback and coaching; others want to be pointed in a direction and turned loose. Some see the job as the first rung on the career ladder; others see it as the entry point to an organization with the possibility of switching paths at some point. There are numerous variables one can insert here. The point is that the more thorough your understanding of staff members’ desires and motivation, the greater the odds of retention.
If you figure out retention, you can put some time into engagement, reinforcing retention. People who like their roles are more productive and they refer other potential candidates to the company. In an outsourcing environment, this has a tremendous impact on customer retention for our clients. Imagine service personnel who not only resolve your issues but also engender a strong impression of the brand they represent.
Home vs. Remote
We won’t belabor this point beyond saying it reflects today’s workplace reality. Outsourced customer support can be provided from a contact center or an agent’s home office. We have clients who use both methods, mainly because they have had to adapt to the circumstances around them. Here, the issue is less about location and more about temperament. Some people work better in one environment or the other. When possible, we hire people to work on-site but also have an “earn your way home” program for those who prefer to work remotely and have demonstrated a high level of performance.
The tools, technologies, and environments of hiring and employment are ever-changing. What worked a couple of generations ago is far less feasible now. The personnel department turned HR office turned talent acquisition department is far past placing ads and screening resumes. Today, it involves a measure of detective work to peel back the layers of applicants. Communication is also vital here – hiring personnel need regular and constructive feedback from the operational departments they staff.
The same culture of “talk early, talk often” used with job seekers must also apply internally. Talent acquisition is not just filling seats; it’s filling seats with the talent that will best serve the client’s needs. Knowing the client’s expectations helps to shape the journey, increasing the odds of hiring people who will succeed. And balancing what the client is looking for with how the company operates shapes the playing field for the applicant.