Shop At Home, Work At Home: Home Shopping Network Tests the Idea With Remote-Worker Assessments

When multi-channel retail giant Home Shopping Network was seeking a better way to meet its customers’ needs at all hours of the day, the company decided to test out the idea of establishing a flexible work-at-home team.

“With our call-center operations, work-at-home agents do sales and service for us,” says Sandy Soto, HSN’s operating vice president of talent acquisition. “We use our own call center and also use part-time remote workers. Our goal is to maintain a high-level quality of call and customer experience. We felt that this would be a better way of controlling quality.”

“We are using work-at-home as a way to be flexible and meet our customer needs and be available whenever they call in to order our products. It’s all about giving the customer what they want, when they want, and where they want it,” she explains.

After about a year of the company’s successful work-at-home program at its St. Petersburg, Florida-based headquarters, HSN decided to expand the remote-worker plan after Nashville, Tennessee-based competitor Shop-At-Home announced it was closing, a company that already had a home-based workforce.

The Hiring Process

About five years ago, the company had turned to Human Resource Management Center to use its Acclaim platform for sorting through prospective on-site candidates. Then, in 2003, HSN upgraded to the enhanced version of HRMC Acclaim to automate candidate screening and talent acquisition for its sales and customer service force. Now, it uses the Acclaim system to test telecommuting workers.

HRMC’s Acclaim system combines phone interviews with real-time Web-based skills assessments, according to Ron Selewach, chief executive officer and founder of HRMC.

From the phone, Internet, kiosks, tablet PCs, and even some cellphones, the system works everywhere, he says, with multiple ways of getting the data.

Selewach says Acclaim, a “resume-optional” hiring process, allows prospective applicants to get reviewed objectively based on their own answers to job-related criteria, which leads to more predictable results. HRMC adjusts the level of questioning to each applicant, and offers the availability of an alternate phone number for hearing-impaired candidates.

“We do this all over the globe, and do it in any language. It’s even more successful internationally, because in the U.S., the emphasis is on the resume. Internationally, they put all of their stock in interviews and the assessments,” says Selewach.

He adds that by removing the resume, it opens up the funnel to hire better people faster, rather than having employers try to read between the lines of a resume. The system asks technical questions, behavioral questions, and poses simulations to test how the candidate responds.

“As Wendell Williams said, knowing is good but showing is better,” Selewach says. “For example, it will ask ‘tell me about a time you had to use an extreme amount of patience; what did you do?’ It moves through the pre-screen, behavioral interview, and assessment, but it only keeps moving the candidate as long as they continue to be a good candidate.”

The Artificial Intelligence Scheduler

When HSN uses the system, the artificial intelligence rank-orders the candidates, lists all the answers provided, and immediately generates a response. Selewach notes that the system is comparable to an applicant-tracking system, but it provides the answers to the interview questions. HSN pays only for the interviews that are conducted.

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“We just recently started using the resume-optional system for fulfillment and cost-center candidates,” says Soto. “The screening is efficient and quickly identifies candidates. It’s a very efficient tool, so that by the time we meet them, candidates are pretty much aligned with what we’re looking for.”

After the test ends, the system will determine whether the candidate should be passed on for an in-person on-site interview or additional testing. The artificial intelligence even handles scheduling, for those companies that opt to include the scheduling feature.

“For example, Home Shopping Network can take 10 candidates and the intelligence will try to balance the number of people scheduled [for an interview] for each of [the day’s] time slots. It’s all real-time. It uses the intelligence to flow the types of questions,” Selewach says.

After a candidate passes the initial assessment and auto-schedules an interview, he or she heads to the HSN headquarters, meets with a recruiting specialist, and discusses scheduling, hours, and pay.

“The recruiter will again role-play to explain the position and give them an opportunity to respond to a call. They take the role of the agent and the recruiter takes the role of the customer to see how the candidate would react to customers’ questions. We’re looking for inflection in the voice, how they handle customers, whether they say ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’ — we’re looking at the whole professional piece,” says Soto.

Soto says she thinks the artificial intelligence aspect is so accurate that it prevents the possibility of rejecting a promising applicant.

“Though it is always possible — and I think that’s one of the reasons we do add the face-to-face aspect to the interview — but it’s a very objective system and black-and-white in terms of knock-out questions. The questions are not intended to reject good candidates. Typically, the only reason a candidate would be rejected is if they object to certain scheduling or did not want to work for our pay rate,” she says.

Pinpointing Productivity

Soto says her company assesses the remote workers the same way as on-site workers: through indicators such as a review of customer handling time, close-out sales, and objective metrics.

She notes that some calls are occasionally listened to for quality as well. “We have a very committed workforce. It’s very stable, and that goes a lot with job satisfaction. Overall, we’re very pleased,” adds Soto.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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