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Sally Cordwell Customer Contact, MERJE Front-Line Talent

We are delighted to unveil our latest series, called MERJE Markets. This is where we interview our market experts across our core disciplines to break down the current landscape, latest hiring and market insights and what they predict the future holds for their respective specialist areas.

In the first instalment, we talk to MERJE’s principal Front-Line Talent specialist, Sally Cordwell to discuss the latest developments across her sector, in particular the ramifications of the ongoing health crisis.

Sally joined MERJE in 2018 and represents the Front-Line Talent brand. Sally’s team specialises in sourcing Contact Centre professionals from agent level up to team manager, including more niche roles, such as resource planning analysts, quality analysts and back office type positions.

Sally’s main area of expertise is in volume recruitment, where she designs and delivers bespoke assessment centre packages for clients looking to recruit in larger numbers.

What is the current landscape of your market and how has it been affected by COVID-19?

Once the lockdown rules were announced by the Government back in March, MERJE’s Front-Line Talent team had a busy time cancelling interviews and pre-arranged assessment centres. We had around 70 candidates booked in for group interviews with various clients for permanent roles. All of the assessment centres were cancelled due to the new social distancing rules and the majority of the permanent roles were put on hold. We also saw a couple of offers being retracted, which was really upsetting for the individuals affected, as those candidates had already resigned and were working their notice in their current jobs.

Whilst we saw a reduction in permanent recruitment initially, it wasn’t long before the demand for temporary workers increased, and the Front-Line Talent team spent the following eight weeks recruiting multiple agents into a COVID-19 related contact centre.

We wanted to try and keep in line with our usual recruitment process, which is to assess on behaviours as well as skills, so we adapted our assessment centre to be conducted in smaller groups on FaceTime and WhatsApp video calls. We put together a more in-depth telephone screening process, then invited the successful candidates on to a virtual assessment centre. The majority of our candidates were experiencing a FaceTime interview for the first time, so it was a great ice breaker for them to talk amongst themselves about how they had kept busy during lockdown, which made them feel comfortable from the start.

In the past few weeks, we have seen an increase in permanent recruitment and have been involved with a number of projects with Financial Services organisations and some busy Online Retailers.

What advice would you give to clients who are trying to stand out from their competitors in a COVID-19 related market?

We advise them to manage their online and social media presence wisely, by posting positive updates around offering flexibility during this time and the option to work from home where possible. We also encourage them to talk about long term goals as they focus on the future growth of their business.

It is essential to build a positive profile around COVID-19, providing examples of what management teams and the wider workforce have learnt from it to move forwards and how it has impacted their business for the better. This could include quotes and testimonials from employees around how the company has supported them during difficult times or posting positive news and updates which celebrate both staff and overarching commercial success. These could later be developed into case studies which help people to better understand the principles of crisis management, whatever form this might take, in the future.

Businesses should also clearly communicate the plans they have in place to bring staff back into the office after COVID-19 and the safety measures they will follow to ensure this is managed well.

They should use potential quieter times to focus on making job opportunities sound more exciting by refreshing and updating old job specs, some of which might be a few years old and may have changed considerably over the years.

Do you have a specific example of a client who is going above and beyond when it comes to looking after their employees at this time?

I caught up with Jackie Reid, Operations Manager for the Ombudsman Services and she gave me some brilliant examples of what they had been doing to keep their home workers engaged and motivated. She spoke passionately about how they had been going above and beyond during these challenging times.

Jackie said: “The wellbeing of our colleagues has been a key focus for us during these strange times. If our colleagues are in a good place, we know they will be able to support our customers.

“We were able to send 100 percent of our people to work from home ahead of the official Government lockdown and all teams have continued to operate remotely. Communication has been crucial and we have a daily briefing from our Senior Leadership Team via our internal social media channel to keep colleagues informed.

“We have held 1:1 wellbeing meetings every six weeks with all employees, involving our leaders and HR colleagues, as well as running virtual ‘Town Hall’ sessions and staff briefings. We’ve run a series of activities and sessions to keep our colleagues engaged and motivated, as well as giving people the chance to speak to an independent confidante.

“A new mental health app for colleagues is about to be launched. We’ve used regular surveys to gather feedback and insights and this will continue as we plan our journey back to business as usual and a safe return to the office for everyone.”

What advice would you give to businesses which are recruiting during these times?

They should look to provide an excellent candidate journey from start to finish. This will mean that people are more likely to buy into a business and its ethos, adding value from the very beginning of their career pathway. Even if they are unsuccessful, they will always remember a positive interview experience more favourably than a negative one

It is vital to offer candidates a fair salary and not assume they will accept a lower amount of money because they have invested time interviewing and building relationships with a business. If the salary offered is lower than expected, all the hard work a hiring manager has done to create a positive candidate journey will inevitably be wasted and the candidate may accept a role with a competitor who is offering a bit more. The additional money a business could have offered to that candidate will then be wasted on trying to recruit another person for the job. Try to stretch the base salary to exceed their initial expectations as this gesture will go a long way.

Businesses that require the services of an agency need to align with one which is experienced, well networked, has unrivalled market knowledge and is able to attract the right candidates.

In addition, a well-respected onboarding company will be able to manage any vetting or screening which needs to be carried out for candidates prior to starting a job. Don’t forget about the candidate journey once they have started in their role. This could include lunch after week one, regular catch ups team meetings, even if for now this is via video conferencing apps such as Zoom. Attracting a candidate is one thing, retaining them is another.

What do you think will be prominent in your market post COVID-19 and beyond?

My predictions post COVID-19 are that we will see recruitment growth within the financial services sector, with collections and lending probably having the biggest impact.

I am already seeing a number of collections roles being advertised and have had discussions with several Financial Services organisations who are recruiting customer service agents while offering an extended service for their most vulnerable customers.

Other areas where we have seen a rise in business is amongst Online Retailers, which I am sure will continue as members of the public continue to follow lockdown regulations and stay at home. Once the travel restrictions are lifted, we may see an increase in the travel industry as people start to rebook their missed holidays from 2020.

What advice would you give to anyone seeking a career in your market?

The advice I would offer any candidate who is looking for their next career move is to ensure that their CV stands out from their competition. As I mainly recruit for agent level positions, the advice I would specifically offer that type of candidate would be to keep the CV simple, so no fancy fonts or graphics, preferably on word or pdf. Include an eye-catching personal profile which gives a brief and positive overview of past experiences, outlining a good work ethic and explaining why they are looking for their next opportunity.

Ensure that all dates of employment are accurate, as well as including role responsibilities, key achievements in that role, for example employee of the month, salesperson of the year or any projects completed. Any time gaps should be explained clearly and make sure that any courses completed are relevant to the job which is being applied for.

After submitting a CV, people should follow up several days later if they have not heard back. It may just be that the recruiter has not yet got round to reviewing their CV if they have been inundated with applications. Once an interview is secured, make it count. Take the time to find out what the interview format is and prepare accordingly. If the job is being recruited through an agency, ask them for advice or to run through a draft interview to help refine the answers. Research the company thoroughly beforehand and, last of all, relax during the interview. The interviewer will be keen to find the right person for the role as much as the candidate wants the job itself!

What do candidates who work in your market expect from an employer?

The majority of candidates I deal with are agent level, working in sales, customer service or administration based roles. Candidates looking for their first customer service job are usually bought in by being given a fantastic customer journey and a fair starter salary. Experienced candidates who have multiple offers on the table will also take the following into consideration:

  • Salary: Is this a fair offer and an increase on their current salary? If not, how can this be increased and in what timescales? Make sure the candidate is aware of what they need to do.
  • Commission opportunities: Are they clearly outlined in the offer and are the earning potentials realistic? Give real life examples.
  • Opportunity to progress: Is this outlined in detail at the interview and offer stages? Use examples of current employees.
  • Flexibility and trust: Is there an option to work from home when required, for example due to family commitments? What has already been agreed with current employees?
  • Benefits: How good is the package on offer and how does it compare with other companies?
  • Communication: Being upfront and honest with employees from the start is key, even at the recruitment stage. Providing an accurate job spec and advising them of shifts and training expectations will help to seal the deal.
  • Job shadowing: Where possible, give the candidate an opportunity to listen to calls and sit down with a member of the team before offering/accepting a job in order to bring the role to life.

If you would like to discuss the current market and your Customer Contact and Front-Line Talent hiring requirements in more detail, please contact Sally by emailing: scordwell@merje.com

Please stay tuned for the next instalment of MERJE Markets, which will include more key industry insights from our expert team.