Senses on Call: Our contact centre recruitment product and related legislation

During the past few months, I’ve had some interesting conversations and various questions with regards to how Senses on Call™ fits within the labour law legislation, in particular with employment equity.
In order to give you the answers, consideration should be given to the employment equity act, 1998; HPCSA regulations, the Professional Board for Occupational Therapy and the Professional Board for Psychology.

Just some information to recap on the background of Senses on Call™ for those of you who do not know the tool.

Senses on Call™ is:

  • a 60-point standardised questionnaire,
  • determining the sensory preferences of individuals and how they respond to their environments.

Some example questions:

  • “Do you go over to smell fresh flowers? “
  • ”I like to wear colourful clothing”
  • ”I stay away from crowds”

It measures sensory thresholds and related responses/behaviours and becomes a management tool to optimise work and living environments for individuals.  I’ve designed it specifically for contact centre recruitment  – using the standardised testing but then presenting a report result to determine sensory suitability and thus environmental fit for the contact centre industry.  It is not a skill, psychometric or competency test.  The nature of the contact centre industry has made this the perfect work environment for this tool; as it is traditionally busy, and noisy and the role of an agent is rated as one of the top 7 most stressful jobs.  I completed my PhD at the University of Cape Town, which correlated sensory processing with performance, absenteeism and attrition within 4 different contact centres in South Africa.

The employment equity act, 1998, states:
Psychometric testing and other similar assessments of an employee are prohibited unless the test or assessment that is being used:
(a) has been scientifically shown to be valid and reliable;
(b) can be applied fairly to all employees; and
(c) is not biased against any employee or group.

Senses on Call™ is generated from the Adult Sensory Profile™, a fully validated and standardised test, designed and researched by two USA occupational therapists and owned by Pearson.  Sensory Intelligence® has electronic licensing of the tool and the results and report format have been designed based on South African research results. Senses on Call™ can be applied fairly to all employees as it does not ask culturally or gender-biased questions.  The test is in English and the standardisation sample does include 3 different age bands, which are considered during testing.  The test is also used for adolescents and geriatrics, therefore the different age bands as sensory needs change when young or old, based on life roles.

Senses on Call™ is not biased against any employee or group.  It measures genetic sensory thresholds, which is part of general neuroscience and the way the brain is wired.  It is not determined by socioeconomic status, gender or race.

HPCSA regulations:
I am a qualified and registered occupational therapist with the HPCSA (Health Professions Council of South Africa) and am bound by firm ethical and professional standards.  All healthcare professions are regulated by the HPCSA and the respective professional boards are regulated by the HPCSA.

The Professional Board for Occupational Therapy:
The Occupational Therapy professional board took a firm stand on the use of standardised tests in Occupational Therapy and clearly stipulated regulations and tests accepted in Document, FORM 242.
“It should be noted that no professional group has the sole and exclusive right to use standardised tests. Tests for functions that fall within the scope of a profession’s activities must be administered by that profession. This does not absolve that profession from being properly trained and qualified to administer those tests. Occupational therapists are properly qualified and will administer tests within their scope of practice.”

The following competencies are met during the training of occupational therapists:
Have adequate knowledge and understanding of psychometrics, testing and assessment which informs and underpins the process of testing. Use tests in an ethical and professional manner. Have appropriate contextual knowledge and skills.
Have good instrumental knowledge and skills in all aspects of the process of testing. Have appropriate communication and interpersonal skills which underpin test administration, reporting and feedback. Have contingency management skills.

The Adult Sensory Profile™ has been submitted to the Occupational Therapy Board for inclusion in their test list.

The Professional Board for Psychology:
The Psychology board has its own set of rules and regulations to rightfully protect its members and profession while abiding by legislation in the business industry.  They have a test classification process by which instruments are added to the current approved list.  With the listing of a test instrument-specific regulations are enforced; some of which are:
“Only persons registered with the Professional Board for Psychology under the auspices of the HPCSA may administer, score, interpret and give feedback on psychological tests. However, interpretation and feedback are limited to registered psychologists, and psychometrics’ registered in the category Independent/Private practice.”

In Summary:
Senses on Call™ is not a psychological test and is not designed by psychologists but by occupational therapists.  It is fully validated, standardised, not in any way discriminatory and belongs on the Occupational Therapy Boards list of tests.

Two big mistakes call centres make

So what are the 2 BIG MISTAKES call centres make?


FIRST BIG MISTAKE – Technology solves all your problems

Call centres are designed by people, managed by people, operated by people and the clients are people too! People are the key to a smart, successful and world class call centre operation.
While technology is important, it remains to be an enabler. It assists management and agents to deliver their customer service/sales/support as effective as possible from an operational and systems point of view. However, the core of customer service/sales remains fundamentally in the hands of your agent.

  1. Can they really engage with your customer?
  2. Are they the best match for your environment?
    Research shows 22.9% of agents are energised and stimulated by the sensory overloaded call centre environment while 28% are distracted and stressed by the same environment.
  3. Are they skilled and motivated?
  4. Are they optimised and managed well?

These are the important questions to ask to shift your focus. With people cost in the industry around 65-70%, it makes total sense to spend your energy and expenditure here. Sensory Intelligence is all about neuroscience – understanding the brain – the seat to human performance and how this can be optimised in a call centre amidst sensory overload and excessive stimulation.

Some of the solutions are:

  • Your recruitment process should be way more stringent and customised – what you put in is what you get out!
  • Regarding your agent pool as an expendable work force should change as they are the key to your customers.
  • Training agents to death for product knowledge in my opinion is a waste of time – this is where technology works well in the implementation of a knowledge base system. Your agents then don’t need to remember complex and huge amount of information which keeps on changing anyway and your customers will get consistent answers from everyone they speak to, every time. Train them upfront yes, but incorporate a lot more of your company values and goals – make them proud and committed to your brand!
  • Further train and coach agents on engagement strategies – they need to know how to listen to customers (and I mean truly listen), speak and respond with attention and commitment.
  • Time and stress management and team behaviours will also ensure agents perform best for longer periods of time.

All of the above is imperative to initiate at team leader level so that they can truly lead and coach (and set an example) beyond imparting product knowledge to your agents. [Look out for our next blog on how training team behaviours improved FCR (first call resolution) from 33% to 74% in 3 months.]

SECOND BIG MISTAKE – Spending extra money on the set-up and design of call centres is a waste

Where organisations invest effort, energy and cost to maximise work spaces it always add to increased growth and profits. Particularly in contact centres where large numbers of people work in confined spaces exposed to stress, targets and constant monitoring, a well-designed and monitored physical environment can markedly reduce this impact on agent performance.

Research shows that performance can be increased with:

  • 8.9 % by correct temperature regulation and
  • 16% with the use of more natural lighting.

This is 2 of the 50 components we incorporate in our sensory audit to help you tick the boxes towards having a world class contact centre that is focused around optimising agent performance. Consideration for environmental and sensory ergonomics factors can save you money and increase performance.

CONTACT US to find our how we can help you optimise your contact centre space, people and productivity.