Tapping Talent First is the Mission of Call Center Solutions Firm FurstPerson
ooking for labor is usually the first job of any call center. Jeff Furst of FurstPerson, a Chicago-based call center solutions company, looks to fill that need by tailoring labor searches and finding, hiring and keeping the right people for customer contact centers. FurstPerson acts as an on-site recruiting firm and concentrates in creating recruiting tools tailored to call centers and their labor requirements. These tools include web-based systems and automated phone screening systems. A former AT&T employee, Furst started FurstPerson in 1997. The firm now has offices in Chicago, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Site Selection spoke with Furst regarding the significant issues effecting Call Centers today.
Site Selection: What are the pressing issues for the call center industry today?
Jeff Furst: It is still labor and it will always be labor. You have to keep this constantly in mind when locating a center. You want to locate near an area where you can recruit high-performers, and be able to select for those high-performers on a consistent basis. This will increase productivity, cut turnover, and get folks through training faster, year after year. This should be the most important thing to executives, not whether they spend an extra thirty minutes in the car everyday.
SS: How does your firm look at the labor market and analyze the available labor pool for a call center in an area?
JF: There are plenty of site selection firms that do labor analysis. We specialize in looking at applicants and evaluation. Job performance can be classified into four categories: thinking ability, planning ability, interpersonal ability, and lastly, attitudes, interests and motivations. We consider these as the can-do factors - such as skills and attributes. Attitudes, interests, and motivations are the will-do factors we look for in an applicant. We look at all these attributes and attitudes and predict how an applicant will do. Where we go beyond the norm is trying to get as customized and specific as to what this call center and each specific job entails. That's the kind of job analysis or success factor profiling that we do up front.
SS: So you are not necessarily looking for a highly skilled work force?
JF: In this labor pool we aren't necessarily concerned with who has a college degree. We've found that may or may not be a good predictor in some instances of who will be a successful candidate. We believe in hiring folks with the competency to work and training them. That's what we think is a good predictor of a successful candidate. That may be in socio-economic areas where these people have little computer skills, but given them two weeks of training, and they may prove very successful.
SS: What is the most important function you perform for your clients?
JF: Originally we acted as a temporary staffing tool. We started looking at our results and realized -- wait a minute, something's not right here. We started to realize our clients would be better served if we went in and helped them implement staffing tools. We function as recruitment outsource for them. We will run the recruiting strategy for them. We'll also handle the phone scheduling and interviews. We have access to different tools which can be dropped into their systems which will allow them to predict the can-do and will-do applicants, so that their human resource team does not have to build all of that infrastructure on their own.
SS: Can you give us an example of a plan your firm has worked on?
JF: Currently we are working with Wrigley's Chewing Gums on a project here in Chicago. They have redesigned a call center to a business-to-business center and changed the overall use of this particular center. We are involved in all three facets of our business for this center; the professional recruitment, staffing and selection, and assessment. We have also built for Wrigley a Web-based tool called the Call Center Hire Assessment. This model is designed to look at cognitive skills, thinking skills and attitudes, interests and motivations. We also created a real-time scenario for Wrigley's to screen applicants. We give the applicants thirty or so minutes to review material. They call into a screener and the screener pretends to be a Wrigley's distributor customer and the applicant is the call center. We gather all the scores and send on a select list to Wrigley for the final list. We'll also work with them on the final questions and how to conduct the final interviews.
SS: How has the current economy effected the call center Industry? Are call centers consolidating?
JF: Rather than trying to build mega-centers such as more than 600 seats, we are seeing our clients build several 250 to 500 seat centers throughout the country. That way you're spread out geographically and this reduces labor reliance in any one area. Of course there's no ideal city or site for a call center, and as soon as you identify one -- bingo there are suddenly three call centers there.
SS: What do you see happening in the Call Center industry in the future?
JF: Call Centers are becoming more of a customer contact center with highly skilled, technically trained labor. You are going to see more specialization in these centers, and as the move towards specialization increases so will the demand for highly-skilled workers. Salaries will increase and so will the demand. Call Centers that are successful in the future will be able to attract individuals that are high performers and want to work there. This will create an employment brand and a buzz in the community. Once this happens, it becomes less of an issue where you locate your centers, because everybody wants to work for your firm due to your reputation.