The Business Case for Virtual Interviewing

By Kevin Hegebarth

Despite improvements in the desirability of contact center work, contact center turnover has changed little over the past ten years. Many companies report turnover of 100 percent or more, which means they are replacing their entire agent population every year. This is expensive in terms of customer satisfaction and the costs to recruit, train, and coach new agents. Contact center operations need to sustain a robust pipeline of qualified candidates with excellent communication skills to handle customer interactions quickly and satisfactorily.

The Hiring Process: Customer service employees form a caller’s first and lasting impression of an organization. Therefore, finding applicants with excellent communication and customer service skills are paramount. Some call centers use screener-initiated telephone interviewing to gather basic information about a potential employee’s qualifications, as well as gauge their fitness as a company representative.

This process can be time-consuming because the screener must often make several attempts to reach a candidate. It is also expensive in that screeners often spend upward of twenty minutes or more on a live telephone interview. What’s more, it is likely to capture only a small subset of quality candidates due to pressures to fill positions quickly, limited time on the part of the screener to perform such tasks, and the availability of candidates to participate in a live phone interview. Using virtual interviewing technologies cannot only reduce the cost to recruit new agents, but it can also increase the number of qualified candidates in the hiring pool and dramatically improve the quality of agent candidates.

Virtual Interviewing as a Recruiting Tool: Virtual interviewing is a simple process that is generally used in place of or to augment the live telephone interview. Hiring companies can post a link for conducting an online interview on a job board or invite candidates to participate via email. Using media-rich Web and voice-response technologies, candidates use a Web browser and their telephone to be guided through a series of text-response and voice-response questions designed to collect their basic qualifications and record their responses to a variety of scenarios they might expect to encounter.

Virtual interviews are typically conducted in two stages. The first part is generally text-based, during which the candidate may be asked a number of questions that are designed to collect his or her basic qualifications for the job. Failure to answer one or more of these questions correctly may “knock out” the candidate from the application process and prevent them from moving to the voice-response stage.

The voice-response stage is designed to allow the candidate to answer a number of questions regarding their prior experience, knowledge of the job, and response to common customer service scenarios. These open-ended, free form questions allow applicants to answer in their own words and with their own voice. Answers can be as long or as short as the candidate desires. The responses are recorded and cataloged for a recruiter to review and evaluate later. The recordings can also be shared with a hiring manager or other stakeholders, as appropriate.

Once a candidate has successfully completed both stages of the virtual interview, a recruiter can review the applicant’s responses and score the interview. This process is similar to the quality-monitoring procedure that occurs in just about every contact center – interactions are recorded, reviewed, and scored against the standards of the organization. A recruiter can greatly increase the number of interviews conducted in this manner, resulting in a larger and better quality talent pool from which to choose.

Reach More Candidates Cost-Effectively: Since recruiters need only to review successfully completed interviews, significant time and labor savings can be realized over traditional phone interviews. Consider that a screener may have to make several attempts to reach a candidate before actually conducting the interview. The interview itself may take twenty minutes or more to complete. Consider also that many interviews start with the screener asking some basic qualification questions. If a candidate is unqualified, the recruiter has wasted valuable time.

Virtual interviewing can weed out unqualified candidates through the text-based qualification stage and never expose these applicants to a recruiter. Furthermore, virtual interviews tend to be shorter in duration – as little as five or ten minutes – meaning recruiters can evaluate many more candidates. This is especially beneficial when there are many positions to be filled or they need to be filled in a short time frame.

Many exceptional candidates may already be working and are difficult to reach during the hours that most recruiters normally work. Virtual interviewing is an “always on” application, which means candidates can interview at a time that is most convenient for them. Companies using virtual interviewing can, therefore, reach many more of these potential employees, thereby increasing the overall quality of the talent pool.

The Many Benefits of Virtual Interviews: Virtual interviewing is not intended to replace every step in the contact center hiring process, but it can provide significant benefits, especially for organizations that have significant hiring requirements. These benefits include:

  • Reduction in recruiter time to conduct interviews: Recruiters often have other valuable job tasks to do such as onboarding, training, coaching, and discipline. Virtual interviewing can free up the recruiter’s time to handle these higher-value activities.
  • Expanded candidate pool: With the “always on” nature of virtual interviews, a candidate can interview even when a recruiter is not available. In fact, in one case, nearly forty percent of the company’s best candidates interviewed outside of normal business hours.
  • Greater consistency: Each virtual interview is conducted in exactly the same way, using the same questions. Any inadvertent recruiter bias is removed from the interviewing process, which means that each candidate is evaluated fairly.

Kevin Hegebarth is vice president of marketing and product management for HireIQ Solutions, Inc.

[From the August/September 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]