Screening Tools Help AAA Select Best Agents

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As call centers continue to wrestle with how to recruit skilled agents in a tight labor market, several chapters of the American Automobile Association have turned to automated techniques that include using a toll-free hotline to screen job applicants.


Through a partnership with AlignMark, Maitland, FL, a company that provides telephone and video-based screening tools and recruitment and training consulting services, AAA offers its chapters automated systems that help eliminate unqualified candidates before they come in for interviews, allowing human-resources staff to focus on the top candidates, said Patricia Basiliere Kleinfeldt, director of quality and educational services at the association's headquarters in Heathrow, FL. Some chapters that have used the tools have reported drops in the time it takes to fill positions by as much as 40 percent, she said.


For chapters that use the full set of tools, the program begins with Accutel, a 24-hour interactive voice response unit hotline. Callers are asked a few general questions designed to tests whether applicants have the basic competencies to work well in a call center environment.


AAA chapters that require specific skills of their call center agents, such as bilingual skills or familiarity with specific computer programs, can add their own questions to the recording.


Callers' answers are electronically scored, and based on their results, candidates are automatically put on an A list or B list. The top, or A-list, candidates are told immediately at the end of the recording that human resources staff will contact them soon to arrange the next stage of the interview process.


"Because the hotline is available 24 hours a day, it has helped widen the net of candidates we can reach," said Kleinfeldt. "We're not only accessing candidates who don't have jobs, we're accessing candidates who do have jobs but are looking for something more."


In addition, Kleinfeldt noted that because the recording includes a description of the position, applicants who are not interested can simply hang up rather than take up time of interviewers.


Some chapters add questions to the recording that ask callers how they heard of the job line, allowing the chapters to better target their advertising by understanding which ads attract the most A-list candidates.


Questions posed to candidates through the program vary little from year to year because the Accutel system and other AlignMark automated tools test for basic competencies rather than specific skills.


"We want to make sure that people have the right behaviors for handling the position, and if they do, they can be trained on computer programs and other skills," said Greg Leonard, account manager with AlignMark. "Basically the process involves assessing skills, hiring to a set of behaviors or core competencies and training for specific skills. Then later it involves assessing how well employees perform."


Questions, which were developed by a team of experts including industry psychologists, are designed to evaluate behaviors such as handling irate customers, judging or assessing customers' needs, and upselling and cross-selling abilities.


Some AAA chapters have followed Accutel with the AccuVision tool, a video test that provides a more in-depth measure of the same core behaviors evaluated through Accutel. The video includes job-simulation vignettes and uses multiple choice questions to ask candidates how they would handle themselves in the situations featured in the video. Like Accutel, AccuVision is scored electronically.


"Typically what would happen before is there would be an ad in the paper and candidates would come in to be interviewed," said Kleinfeldt. "Now the first stages are all handled and scored electronically. For the human resources staff, not having all those different forms to fill out has saved a lot of time on paperwork."


Some chapters in areas with particularly tight labor markets have hired candidates from the B-list and have reported that the difference was noticeable, said Kleinfeldt.


"One club told us they tried B-list candidates and they weren't going to do that again," she said.


Not all chapters are required to use the system and some with consistently high customer service ratings and low turnover have not needed it. However by offering the system to chapters that struggle with turnover and staffing issues, AAA has been able to ensure more uniform levels of quality around the country.


Some chapters also have used AccuVision as a training tool, administering it to call center agents to assess in which areas the agents need further development.


Similarly, AAA recently worked with AlignMark to develop a computer-based assessment tool for evaluating aspects of the job in which agents required additional training. The test, called the Emergency Roadside Assistance test, evaluates skills such a map reading that are specific to AAA call center jobs.
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