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Hiring For Call Centers: Interview Questions, Tips & More

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Since call center employees can work from anywhere in the world, their job interviews are often conducted virtually, which can make the hiring process more challenging for employers. To help you find qualified call center agents, we share best practices for hiring call center employees, including how to handle virtual interviews and key questions to ask.

Demand for call center employees is on the rise, as the global pandemic accelerates long standing trends toward online shopping, working from home, and use of digital tools such as video chat and collaboration software for work. As people increasingly shop, work, and even seek entertainment from home, businesses are relying more than ever on call center representatives to meet customer needs.

Like so many other workers, these call center reps often work from home themselves. That creates a great opportunity for hiring companies, who can recruit call center reps from practically anywhere. It also creates challenges in the interviewing and hiring processes, much of which have become virtual out of necessity. 

As commerce and customer service evolve into virtual experiences, call center employees become increasingly critical to your company. The voice of your brand, they are often crucial to determining whether a customer comes away with a good experience or a bad one. Your call center reps can shape the lasting impressions customers form about you (and share by word of mouth and on social media).

As much as customer service is going virtual, so too is the hiring process. The ability to hire remote workers in any location or time zone typically expands the pool of job candidates, but lack of face-to-face interview opportunities can also make the hiring process more challenging. 

To assist in that process, and help you identify the best call center agents, GoodHire has compiled the following best practices for hiring call center employees.

How To Hire Call Center Agents

Conducting interviews remotely poses challenges for HR teams and hiring managers. Lack of in-person interaction limits interviewers’ ability to read and react to nonverbal cues and to gauge overall ”chemistry,” for instance. But in another sense, conducting interviews by phone or video chat when hiring for virtual customer service jobs provides a great sense of candidates’ comfort levels, skills and “presence” using those media. (If you expect a candidate to use email or live-text chat to address customer needs, making these media part of the screening process might make sense as well.)

With that in mind, here are some top-level guidelines for approaching the call center hiring process:

Imagine Your Ideal Candidate

Before you start poring over resumes and conducting interviews, it can be helpful to envision and describe the ideal candidate for your call center representative. Make a list of the competencies you’d hope to find, taking care to include both “hard” and “soft” skills that would equip a candidate to do a great job.

“Hard” skills may include industry knowledge and experience, knowledge of your product set or service sector, and the ability to “talk shop” with customers with specialized interests or needs. “Soft” skills encompass attributes such as patience, aptitude for problem solving, and the grace under pressure sometimes needed to satisfy an unhappy customer.

Consider ranking these competencies by priority, bearing in mind how much information you expect a new hire to bring with them, versus how much you will arm them with via training, customer management system (CMS), and other resources.

Ask The Right Questions

A successful interview should give you a sense of both what the candidate knows and how they’ll handle problems that arise in the often unpredictable world of customer service. Open-ended questions can help you get a sense of the way the candidate approaches different problems, and the confidence with which they go about solving them. It’s usually best to avoid questions aimed purely at throwing the candidate off-balance (as that’s likely to sour promising candidates), but presenting a “no-win” hypothetical—and letting the candidate know that’s what it is—may help you understand the candidate’s thought processes.

Make a list of questions you plan to cover as a guideline, but try not to use it as a script. (That can get you thinking ahead to the question you’ll be asking next.) Listen carefully to the response to each question, ask follow-up questions as appropriate, and try to cover your list in the course of a natural conversation.

Use Role Playing

A great way to gauge the effectiveness of a potential call center agent is to have them tackle sample customer service challenges. Work with existing customer service staff to identify some of the most common inquiries they receive, and also to dig up a few difficult customer service scenarios. Consider using some examples that worked out well and others that were less successful, and have the candidate try to troubleshoot the issues. 

Check References

Along with employment verification checks to confirm whether a candidate was employed by the past employers they cite, it’s a good idea to conduct a professional reference check on your candidate. Contacting past supervisors, HR reps and coworkers can help you understand a job candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, attitudes and motivation, and suitability to working at home, with relatively little managerial supervision.

Conduct A Background Check

A background check for all job finalists is a critical step in helping you make the most informed decisions about the people you hire to represent your company. A background check can uncover issues of concern about candidate competence and character, and it can help prevent unpleasant surprises and even corporate liability, in case of a hire that misrepresented their level of experience.

When conducting background checks, it’s important to ensure your pre-hire screening process complies with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which specifies detailed requirements for notifying candidates and obtaining their authorization for all background checks. In addition, when hiring for a remote workforce, it’s critical that the background check process adhere to any local hiring laws that apply where each candidate lives. An accredited background check provider such as GoodHire can screen candidates thoroughly while providing broad local and federal compliance expertise.

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Call Center Interview Questions

Just as there is no perfect job candidate, there is no perfect list of interview questions—and there’s certainly no list that’s applicable to every call center job opening. The following list is intended as a starting point, and should be adapted as appropriate to suit the requirements of your organization, your customer base, and your phone support requirements.

The following are open-ended questions aimed at getting candidates to reveal not just what they know, but how they think and feel about the job they’re applying for, about your company, and about customer service in general. It’s possible to imagine responses that would disqualify a candidate, but strictly speaking these questions have no wrong answers. Candidates’ responses to them, and to role-playing scenarios specific to your organization, can give you a pretty solid sense of a candidate’s approach to a call center job, and whether they might be a good fit for a position within your customer support organization. 

Why do you want to work here?

Responses to this question offer a glimpse into the job candidate’s goals, and can also provide insights into their understanding of and compatibility with your company’s values and culture. Listen for indications of misunderstanding or confusion about the nature and purpose of the job, the needs and priorities of your customers, and/or the mission of your company. If there seems to be a disconnect between the candidate’s understanding and the nature of things, it can be helpful to offer the candidate a better explanation of what the job entails, and reframe the question to explore any areas of misunderstanding or incompatibility.

Can you give me an example of a time you received great customer service?

A discussion of the candidate’s personal experience of excellent customer service can naturally expand into an exploration of how everyone wants a customer to feel after engaging with your customer service department: What makes for a satisfied customer, and how would the candidate go about delivering a great experience?

Can you give me an example of a time you received bad customer service?

A candidate’s views on poor customer service performance can provide a glimpse into their approach to troubleshooting. After listening to the candidate’s description of a bad experience, consider asking how they reacted as a customer to the poor service, and how they might have turned the situation around if they’d traded places with the customer service agent. Along with insights into the candidate’s approach to unhappy customers, their description of their reaction to poor service may also offer a peek into the way the candidate handles frustration.

What did you like most about your last job?

Responses to this question help provide understanding of what motivates the candidate and what they find fulfilling. If the candidate’s last position was closely aligned to the call center opening you’re trying to fill, you may be able to discern whether the candidate takes satisfaction in making customers happy. 

What did you like least about your last job?

Responses to this question can highlight potential problems related to your job requirements. Frustration over issues that are likely to come up frequently with your customers would obviously be a red flag, for instance. Additionally, an answer that disparages a supervisor or coworkers could indicate a tendency toward negativity or issues dealing with authority.

Describe a time when you handled a difficult situation well.

The answer to this question gives a sense of the candidate’s approach to problem solving, and the degree to which they find it fulfilling to make things right with a challenging customer. Responses to this question can also reveal candidates’ thresholds for what constitutes a difficult situation in the first place. If the candidate’s sense of what’s difficult falls below the level of complexity or urgency expected in your call center opening, that’s probably an area worth probing further.

It’s often productive to follow up this question with some role-playing based on real problems faced by your customer-service team.

Do you have any questions for me?

Thoughtful follow-up questions, especially arising out of issues raised for discussion in the course of the interview, can be an indicator of good listening skills. It’s also a sign of engagement with and commitment to the call center application process.

Tips For Hiring The Best Call Center Employees

Conduct an in-depth interview and take good notes

It’s important to give the candidate your focus during each interview, but be sure to jot down your impressions as you go, using key phrases that you can expand on later. Allow ample time for each interview, so that there’s no pressure to finish one interview to move on to the next candidate, and to leave time to flesh out your impressions immediately after each meeting. 

Look for relevant experience

Call center staffers may be considered “non-skilled” employees, but even if you use a highly automated CRM, detailed scripts and decision trees, not everyone is a good fit for the job. Hiring individuals with past call center experience, even if it’s not directly relevant to your business, can help rule out restless or irritable personalities ill-suited to fielding calls all day. And while the sample questions listed above can be helpful when screening any candidate, answers to many will be more relevant if they are grounded in past call center experience.

Look for good communicators

Call center reps, even when they’re following screen prompts, need to connect with customers and deliver information clearly, pleasantly and confidently. When interviewing candidates for call center positions, watch out for candidates who seem excessively ill at ease or tight-lipped. If the candidate will be expected to serve customers via text-chats or emails of their own composition, be sure to get a sample of their written communication as well.

Additionally, following up after an interview with a thank-you note or email is a sign of thoroughness and maturity, and the correspondence may give another view into the candidate’s written communication skills. 

Screen your candidates

Running background checks on finalists for any hire is prudent. It’s even more important when hiring reps who’ll serve on the front line and be the face and voice of your company. And background screenings are more crucial still when hiring for remote positions, for which managerial oversight will be limited. Verifying that each call center hire is who they say they are during the job application process provides reassurance that you’ve made an informed decision.

Depending on the nature of your business and your customers’ needs, confirming past employment, education and employer references can also be critical to your staffing decisions.

Find The Right Team For Your Call Center

The era of remote customer service and work-at-home call center reps make it vital to recruit and hire qualified staffers with the skills and temperament to represent your organization with confidence and competence. A carefully planned interview process, followed up with a thorough background check, can help you find the call center agents you require—and that your customers need.

As the leading provider of best-in-class, legally compliant background checks, employment and education verification services, and other pre-employment screening services, GoodHire is available to support your search for the best call center team you can build.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

Jim Akin is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor with experience in employee relations, media relations, and social-media outreach. He has produced content and managed internal communications, business-to-business outreach, and consumer-focused campaigns for clients including Experian, VantageScore Solutions, Pitney Bowes, Medtronic, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola.