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Call centres now sell themselves as war for new talent intensifies

Call centres now sell themselves as war for new talent intensifies
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First Published: Tue, Apr 01 2008. 12 04 AM IST

Next move: A focus group discusses recruitment strategy at Convergys
Next move: A focus group discusses recruitment strategy at Convergys
Updated: Tue, Apr 01 2008. 12 04 AM IST
Gurgaon: Nikhil Duggal, a marketing manager at Convergys Corp., corralled a dozen of the company’s call centre agents into a conference room this week to ask for some help.
Next move: A focus group discusses recruitment strategy at Convergys
To advertise their employer.
“Don’t read so much,” he urged his judges, as he passed out the sample recruitment advertisements. “If you can’t get it in 10 seconds, then it’s lost.”
After convening his first focus group in November, Duggal has been regularly turning to the workers to get regular feedback on how he can better sell the idea of working at the company, which is the world’s largest call centre.
“My target audience is right here, and I can pre-test our ads,” Duggal says. “It’s about as scientific as you can get.”
The focus group is part of the firm’s overhaul of recruitment, as it adapts the reality of no longer being part of a sunrise sector that can attract candidates on star power alone. “Five years ago, we would have put up a sign that said ‘now hiring’,” says Tim Huiting, who heads human resources in Asia for Convergys. “They were knocking down our door.”
But it’s no longer a buyer’s market for business process outsourcing (BPO) companies and their human resources departments. In the new war for talent, BPO shops compete with glitzy industries such as retail and hospitality to attract the same labour pool: recent college graduates who can speak English. In an effort to fend off such competition, Convergys is rewriting its recruiting playbook. More accurately, it’s throwing out the book entirely, and replacing it with a marketing one.
The ads that the Convergys staffers contemplated fell into two basic categories. One wanted to attract the students interested in salary and excitement that BPOs had to offer, the other wanted the students who were planning careers. (Duggal summed up the two camps—“young and cool” and “boring and middle-aged.” Or alternately, ”the believers” and “the non-believers.”)
The current agents, too, tended to choose one of the two sides. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t read much,” said one, who appreciated an ad with a picture of a guy and a bike. “It is more attractive,” she said. Her colleague echoed her thoughts when describing another ad featuring a guy in grungy jeans, sneakers and a ski cap, who was on a quest for a new cellphone. “Graduates from college prefer to have pocket money,” he said.
Others, though, decried the ad for the opposite reason. “When I joined Convergys, it was about making a career,” said one agent, “I’m an ambitious person.”
“This ad tells you it’s just quick money and go,” said a colleague, backing her up.
Duggal says he relies on their feedback before choosing one ad to go with. After listening to their comments on a radio spot last month, he says, he meshed two ads into the final one.
The genesis of Convergys’ new campaign in the war for talent is a new general it hired last year. Ashutosh Sinha came on board from Sapient Corp. to head the company’s recruitment efforts in India. (The otherwise mellow Sinha resorts to militaryspeak when talking about recruiting. When he sent a team to Jaipur last month, his parting words were “may victory be yours.”)
His battle plan involved some creative thinking. “Recruitment is both an HR job and a sales job,” Sinha says. “How can we ensure we are selling in the right way?”
At Sapient, Sinha answered that question by collaborating with the marketing staff, but at Convergys, he took it one step further and hired marketing staff directly into the recruiting department. Duggal joined the team seven months ago, and another marketer joined him at the beginning of the year.
One of Sinha’s first moves was to put Convergys ads in places other than newspapers, like on the radio, and in PVR Ltd’s movie theatres. It’s working; Duggal says the number of SMSs the company gets from potential candidates spikes in the days after a radio spot airs.
Another change was to convert Convergys booths at job fairs to focus not just on providing information, but also on providing an “experience”. The booths are dressed up to look like lounges, complete with coffee stalls and high definition television screens.
Sinha also focused on recruiting directly from campuses in tier II and III cities, and branded each of those programmes. After an initial round of interviews, Convergys returns with college alumni—branded as “Campus Stars”—to campaign on its behalf. The idea, Sinha says, is “to make them feel good” and ”get them in early.”
The company set up an employee referral programme with extra rewards during lean hiring months, and branded that as the “Easy” campaign, because it was easy to refer a friend to Convergys.
Sinha also took one of Convergys’ staple recruiting tactics—the direct hire centre—and revamped it to become yet another ambassador of the Convergys experience. At storefronts throughout India, candidates can walk in, go through several rounds of interviews, and walk out with a job. Sinha started treating the walk-in centres as shops, judged them by things like turn-around time, and staffed them with Convergys’ own recruiters.
The company has seen an increase in the number of calls, texts, and walk-ins each ad has generated. Convergys upped its recruiting budget by 13% to pay for more media and more creative input, Sinha says, and saw payoff in a response upsurge of 217%.
Convergys has also tried out other strategies not based in marketing. The company lowered its English grammar and accent cut-offs, and put the additional recruits through another few weeks of training.
The company is fighting the talent war, not just on recruitment, but also on the retention front. There, though, the weapons are things like Diwali parties, town hall meetings, and themed events that have helped to cut outbound migration by 24% in the past two-and-a-half years. (The company refused to disclose its current attrition rate.)
In order to hit both the shrinking recruitment and swelling attrition numbers directly, other BPOs have also started thinking about the problem as essentially a communication one. Genpact Ltd started emphasizing the long-term career prospects the company had to offer.
“Unfortunately the BPO industry has gotten equated with a call centre job,” says Rajiv Wadehra, vice-president of hiring at Genpact. “We are trying to tell people that we are no different from any other industry, with a huge variety of jobs.” WNS Global Services also looked at how to provide recruits full careers, and started stressing the kind of specific industry knowledge new entrants into the job market can develop. The company splits its training and development into the banking, insurance, and travel sectors, and encourages its new hires to pick a field. “They are groomed to become industry experts,” says Aniruddha Limaye, the WNS’ head of human resources.
But they all agree that the answer lies in how they market. “It goes back to the experience piece,” says Convergys’s Sinha, “experience marketing is big. We want to provide that to the candidates.”
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First Published: Tue, Apr 01 2008. 12 04 AM IST