Use Agent Voice DNA to Improve Contact Center Hiring Results

Scott Bakken
Scott Bakken

Providing a good customer service experience is more important than ever. One bad experience over the phone can lead to bad reviews, criticism on social media, and—the worst scenario—loss of business. Research from Accenture found that 68% of customers have switched providers because of bad customer service, which means that people are looking at their interactions with your brand even more than pricing in most cases. So, what do you do when you’re trying to improve your customer satisfaction (CSAT) metrics, but nothing seems to be working?

Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup, once said, “To win the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” Keeping employees and customers happy is nothing new, but the connection between the two warrants more attention.

Your first instinct may be to increase coaching efforts or training to alter agent behavior on the phone. That can be great in theory, but have you ever tried to change someone’s behavior and notice it last long-term? How about changing the behavior of a newly hired agent who had a promising interview but fell flat once he or she got on the phone with a customer? The key is to determine agents’ behavioral tendencies and engagement levels before they get hired, not after.

Prehire assessments that test for skill aptitudes and knowledge are a good start, but if an agent can type quickly and gather information efficiently while still not being engaged on the phone with the caller, the experience will flop every time. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Forbes called employee engagement, “the wonder drug for customer satisfaction.”

Using intuition to guess which applicants will become CSAT superstars is a gamble. Unfortunately, few recruiters give behavioral tendencies enough consideration, and they wind up paying the consequences. Not only does a poor hire lead to lost productivity, lower staff morale and high turnover, it also has a direct impact on your company’s reputation and customer experience. Agents, after all, are the ones speaking to your customers who are calling with a problem that they need resolved. According to Talent Development Advisors, 80% of turnover is due to bad hires, with customer satisfaction cited as a leading indirect cost of poor hiring practices.

The interview itself also plays an important role. Perhaps it is no surprise that Brandon Hall Group’s research brief found that 69% of companies consider their interview process to be the most critical factor in determining the quality of a new-hire. However, many will admit that it’s easy to be deceived by the appearances of candidates, whether in person or through their rehearsed pitch over the phone. Many times, we end up settling for new-hires who don’t have the ideal mix of competence, motivation and skills. Those who are competent but not motivated end up staying short-term. Candidates who present well but aren’t competent or motivated might get hired because you’re in a hurry—but then only stay short-term. And then there are those candidates who lack the competency in needed skills, but show that they are enthusiastic about the opportunity (“…but I’m a quick learner”). There’s no real way to test their aptitude to pick up the new skills needed or their level of engagement.

The question you should be asking yourself is whether you are interviewing the right people who can increase CSAT metrics. The Society for Human Resource Management found that, while 82% of companies use some form of prehire assessment, only 20% of companies are “very confident” in their ability to effectively assess the skills of entry-level applicants by relying on their applicant screening methods. When I see numbers like these, it tells me that organizations know prehire assessing is important, but they still aren’t finding success in the strategy they’re using.

Voice-Driven Assessments Predict Which Candidates Will Provide Best CX

Over the years, while helping companies solve issues with speech analytics, we couldn’t help but notice how the voice qualities of the agent seemed to have a strong influence on each call’s outcome. And evidence has proven that out.

Taking it a step further, we found analysis of the human voice during the prehire process allows recruiters to not only measure for the skills, language ability and problem-solving capabilities desired, but also gives much deeper insights into what kind of employee they would be hiring—before they even reach a human evaluation. Combined with other prehire assessments, voice analysis becomes an even stronger predictor of a hire’s success, retention length, and customer success KPIs. Recruiters can also reduce bias by removing appearance and content from the equation.

Thanks to innovative AI technology that analyzes a candidate’s voice in a virtual interview to determine his or her emotional intelligence and behavioral characteristics, you can now tailor your prehire efforts around predicting which candidates will become the best agents before you even waste a breath on a first-round interview.

How can this all be gathered from a person’s voice? The process is simple: An applicant calls into the system and answers prerecorded open-ended interview questions. Once the responses are recorded, software immediately evaluates hundreds of prosodic cues detected within the voice and matches those with machine-learned behavioral models developed to match the ideal contact center position. Adding voice analysis to your prehire strategies can become a key indicator of which candidates will become successful agents—and which will create successful customer satisfaction experiences.

According to Talent Development Advisors, 80% of turnover is due to bad hires, with customer satisfaction cited as a leading indirect cost of poor hiring practices.

How to Increase Customer Satisfaction through Predictive Hiring

The ideal first step is evaluating your current agents. Every company has their rock star agents. They’re the ones who pick up on training quickly, go above and beyond for your customers, are team players and raise the morale of those around them. Oftentimes, these agents also get promoted to higher positions leaving more open seats to fill. If only there was a way to clone them!

Begin by picking out your top performers and think about what it is about them that is so valuable to the company. Is it their ability to retain information? Is it their empathy on difficult phone calls? One important measurement to consider is their Transactional Net Promoter Scores (tNPS). Other metrics worth reviewing are First-Call Resolution rates, Average Handle Time and Issue Resolution percentages. Spend some time finding these top performers and record what they bring to the table directly (metrics) and indirectly (attitude and impact on culture).

Once you have selected the agents that you would ideally duplicate, ask them to complete prehire assessments that pair behavioral traits found in their voices with necessary skills to understand which ones possess the ideal combination of qualities to produce an ideal agent in your contact center. By determining the “voice DNA” of your overachievers, you can use the results found in your designated top performers as a guide for hiring your future classes.

After those benchmarks have been established, begin to assess actual applicants’ skills and behavioral tendencies to see who falls within the accepted ranges, and use the data to select which candidates should move to the next round in the hiring process. Start with the analysis of their voice, and then factor in skills assessment results deemed important for this position’s success (i.e., language skills, data entry abilities, problem-solving, math knowledge, chat, etc.).

When candidates reach your determined threshold, bring them in for their first face-to-face interview. Not only will you need to interview fewer people because they have already demonstrated they are technical proficient, but the interview process should be shorter because at that point you have assessment results that allow you to home in on specific questions, help you understand which important job-related qualities the candidate possesses, and verify they are good cultural fits.

Prehire Assessment Scores Are Strong Predictor of Superior Performance

Consider one company who selected a group of newly hired agents to undergo a series of Data Entry, Math, Chat, Language Skills and Voice Analysis assessments. The agents who generated the highest composite of assessment scores generated significantly better performance metrics than those at the bottom quartile (See the Table below).

TABLE: New-hires with highest prehire assessment scores outperformed bottom quartile
Multi-Contact Percentage tNPS NPS Promoter Cares Score Issue Resolution %
Top Quartile of Assessment Scores 17.9 52.3 30.0 36.9 74.3
Bottom Quartile of Assessment Scores 20.1 43.1 23.0 27.5 68.3

Your New Prehire Plan in Action

No matter the size of the company, implementing new technology always has the potential to increase productivity, efficiency and performance. Yet, how the technology is introduced can make or break its success. It’s natural to fear the potential challenges of implementing a new process or technology, and some might be under the impression that this added layer may extend the time it might take to truly see changes.

The good news is using AI to analyze characteristics found in the voice is refreshingly easy to implement. You may even be surprised to find it easier and less time-consuming than your current processes—all while widening your talent pool. Because candidates only have to call the system directly to begin their virtual interview process, companies find the setup secure and extremely quick to implement, which is always a top priority when handling recorded content.

I also find that using a prehire assessment which has been statistically validated is often a huge relief to hiring managers working in the ever-complex world of employment law. The fact that this process can be up and running as soon as you decide to implement it and it ensures your organization continues to follow nondiscriminatory strategies for attracting talent, is often music to HR and Operations department’s ears.

And with personal bias removed, there’s less burden placed on HR to spend those countless hours sifting through applications. The simple addition of voice analysis to your prehire strategy automatically identifies which applicants show tendencies of engagement. And because a more engaged employee leads to a more satisfied customer, you can have more confidence in your new-hires before they even begin training.

No More Bad Hires

The more I see organizations embrace voice analysis technology, the more confident I am that high turnover from bad hires who deliver poor customer experiences is a thing of the past. AI technology can identify which candidates to focus on based on prehire practices that are built around your expectations.

If customer satisfaction continues to be a high-priority metric for your contact center, repairing your prehire strategy needs to be the first step. There is a way to know exactly who are the right people to interview and hire, and once you experience the ease of determining who your best agents will be, high turnover and low CSAT scores will seem like ancient history.

Scott Bakken, Founder and President of MainTrax, is a highly respected independent voice in the speech analytics industry.

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline,

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