Getting the best workers into call centers is always a challenge.  The job has its unique pros and cons.  The churn rate is high, which means workers often leave before the company even recoups its hiring and training investment.  The recruiting, screening, and interviewing processes are demanding, costly, and time consuming.

Nevertheless, if you don’t put that effort in, then you will not be assured of acquiring the best employees fit for the job.  At least that is the way our modern conventional wisdom has trained us.

But what if there could be a better process?  Xerox Corporation, among other companies, believes it has discovered just that.  Joseph Walker writes about it for the Wall Street Journal (“Meet the New Boss—Big Data: Companies Trade In Hunch-Based Hiring for Computer Modeling” with contributions by Emily Glazer,, 9/20/12).

Some companies are using talent-management software or third-party candidate-screening services to run job candidates through a series of online questionnaires that assess job-fit, personality, professionalism, aptitude, integrity, and behavioral tendencies.  Having amassed large quantities of tracked data over time that link to outcomes, the questionnaires become predictive tools.  The evidence is stacking up in favor of this new approach, as Walker explains:

“For more and more companies, the hiring boss is an algorithm.  The factors they consider are different than what applicants have come to expect.  Jobs that were once filled on the basis of work history and interviews are left to personality tests and data analysis, as employers aim for more than just a hunch that a person will do the job well.  Under pressure to cut costs and boost productivity, employers are trying to predict specific outcomes, such as whether a prospective hire will quit too soon, file disability claims or steal.”

The payback is significant.  Walker cites Ritchfield Management LLC (Flint, Michigan) as just one of many success stories.  Ritchfield reports that since using the new approach, worker’s compensation claims have fallen 68%.  That is significant, especially considering how expensive those claims can be.

In the case of Xerox, after switching all call-center screening and hiring decisions to the talent-management software, attrition dropped 20% in six months.

Companies currently involved in some facet of these services include Kenexa, Exemplar Research Group, Taleo, Evolv, and SuccessFactors.  I predict their numbers will grow.  Walker points out that worldwide, companies spent $3.8 billion on talent-management software in 2011.  That was a 15% increase from 2010.

When it comes to call centers, things get especially interesting.  If a company is looking for the ideal call-center worker, the data show who that person is.  The ideal call-center worker:

“lives near the job, has reliable transportation and uses one or more social networks, but not more than four.  He or she tends not to be overly inquisitive or empathetic, but is creative.”

Technology already contributes a tremendous amount of grunt work to the important tasks of our business world, saving us untold time and expense.  Why shouldn’t we apply these same capabilities to one of the most important tasks we perform—deciding who we invite to come onboard.  As far as I’m concerned, there is no better time than the present to prepare for a better future!

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About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Tyco Integrated Security at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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