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Best Practices for Hiring, Onboarding Call Center Agents

Shawn Siegel

In this interview, Lynn O’Nell, AVP Customer Experience at New York Life, discusses recruiting and retaining employees in the customer experience space. Lynn, who has spent the last 13 years at New York Life, will be speaking at the 14th Annual Call Center Week.


Shawn Siegel, Call Center IQ: What are some of the ways that New York Life uses scorecards to grade and analyze potential candidates?

Lynn O’Neill: We use a Pre-Hire Assessment Tool. We worked with our vendor partner to establish successful characteristics of existing staff, had those employees take the assessment and then defined our "baseline" for new candidates to recruit for similar characteristics. The tool shows us what areas we should probe during interviews to clarify and ensure culture and job fit.

Siegel: Can you discuss a successful recruiting program that New York Life has initiated within the past few years?

O’Neill: We typically recruit 10-20 associates at a time. We cast a wide net to identify candidates through internal and external recruiting efforts. We've fine tuned our interview process and the questions we ask to ensure a right fit for the candidate to our culture. We really want the candidate to see the environment, understand the expectations and get a clear vision of what a real day will consist of.

Siegel: In your opinion, do you think that most companies focus enough on ‘cultural fit’ in their hiring practices?

O’Neill: It is so costly to make a hire error. It demotivates the existing staff and requires so much of a manager’s time. Our assessment tool puts a lot of focus on the cultural fit through the questions we ask and the overview of our company. What works for us may not work for another company, in terms of the skills that are most important. It's important the applicant understands our brand, culture and what our key strategies are.

Siegel: What are the biggest challenges of reducing employee turnover in the call center environment?

O’Neill: We are very lucky and have low turnover. We always want to focus on our attrition levels and the key drivers. It's important to set realistic, achievable metrics and to ensure that employees clearly understand the expectations. Additionally, our recognition program rewards top performers for their achievements. This keeps all of us focused on a common vision.

Siegel: Lastly, can you discuss any actionable lessons you’ve learned at other call center events in the past?

O’Neill: At recent conferences we've heard that peers are starting to focus specifically on the turnover of their top 20% performers. We are starting to look at this perspective.