Do Call Center Agents Make Good Call Center Managers?

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Call center companies often promote top performing agents to managerial positions, but is the practice of hiring from within a wise talent management decision?

Research shows that providing a clear career path can be a critical element in reducing employee turnover, but in the call centers, potential career paths are limited. Additionally, the ability to handle calls effectively or to be a top producing sales representative have little correlation to the ability to manage other call center agents. Still, call centers constantly promote top performaning agents to managerial level positions based upon necessity, lack of alternatives or other reasons. So, what steps can call centers take to ensure success when hiring from within?

Three Keys to Hiring From Within:

Hire For The Right Reasons – Are you hiring from within based on “the devil you know” philosophy? If so, you may be shortchanging both your management team and future performance. While ease of hire should not be the deciding factor when looking to fill a management level position, knowing the candidate, their work habits, how they interact with the team can be a powerful decisioning tool. Still, failing to look outside of the company due to time constraints or having too many other projects on deck can be detrimental. In these cases, turning to an outsourced recruiting or staffing company can be an effective and low cost way to augment internal efforts.

Ask the Right Questions – It is critically important to ask the right questions during interviews (both for external and internal candidates). Susan Cantrell, senior research fellow at Accenture’s Institute for High Performance, notes:

Just because you know someone well doesn’t mean you will know if they will be able to perform well in a new job…Assuming you know all the candidate’s skills, capabilities, and potential is dangerous. Most hiring managers find out little additional information about a candidate during the interview; they don’t get to the right level of detail to make their questions meaningful, and they rely too much on subjective, non-criteria based judgment.

So, what kinds of questions should you ask? First, it is fair to push internal candidates to provide answers to questions that fit the realities of your workplace. That is, specific questions about issues that come up in your call center and how the candidate would specifically handle those issues (while fitting into company policy) should be used.

Next, be sure to assess the candidate to ensure they are ready to handle the responsibilities of the role. Just because a call center agent is good at handling problem customers doesn’t mean they will be good at handling problem team members. Also, be sure to check the motivations of the candidate. Do they want the team leader role because they want to lead or because they are tired of taking calls? Amy Gallo, in the Harvard Business Review, suggests that interviewers,

Ask behavioral or competency-based questions that get at the candidate’s motivations, like, What will you need to get up to speed in this role? or Please explain what your plans for the first 90 days in this role would be. Answers to these questions will give you a better sense of the candidate’s thought process and his ability to hit the ground running.

But, even asking the right questions can fall short of determining proper fit. Giving the candidate an opportunity to handle future responsibilities is the best interview of all…as Cantrell points out companies are successfully using work simulation or job preview exercises to assess job competency, saying, “I am a big believer in letting people prove themselves based on doing actual work rather than on what they purport to have in interviews.”

Asses the Impact on Operations – So, your best sales agent wants to apply for a senior management position…what should you do? From a purely economic perspective, the employer needs to make an unbiased assessment of the impact on company financials. That is, will the candidate for promotion have a greater impact on the company financially as the top producing call center representative or as a manager of a team of representatives. At the same time, providing a career path to employees, even when a promotion may hurt company performance, is the leading factor in lowering agent attrition.

If you can determine that the agent has the requisite skill set and motivations for the job by ensuring you are hiring for the right reasons, asking the right questions and previewing the candidate in the job, then moving a top performing agent to a managerial position can have a positive impact on overall operations. The ability of a manager to communicate “how I was successful” can be extremely powerful. In fact, you may see a leveraging effect of the candidates work habits trickling down to their team. That being said, hiring from within just because it is the easiest thing to do can have negative consequences that are not worth the saved effort. So, be sure you are hiring for the right reasons to be successful in hiring call center agents for team lead or manager positions.


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