Communication and Customer Service: More Important Than Ever

Given this recession and the general slowdown in recruiting, it would seem logical to assume that customer service levels would have improved. But in numerous conversations I’ve had recently, I have been appalled to hear about poor quality service that seems to be getting worse. I have had numerous emails over the past few weeks from candidates who have been laid off and have been struggling to find new positions. They are very angry – not at the fact that there aren’t as many jobs as before, but by the complete silence from us after they submit their resumes and applications. Many of these candidates are the ones we would have been drooling over just six months ago. An acquaintance who was recently “downsized” from a major firm has never heard a single word from over half a dozen firms he has applied to, even though they have active job listings that he appears qualified for. A recruiter whom I have known for many years was on the market a few months ago and found the situation so bad that she now goes out of her way to provide service and communicate with everyone who applies at her new firm. My list could go on, but I think we all are well aware that the customer service levels in our profession are about as bad they can be. We don’t respond at all or else we take a very long time. We almost never give any feedback to a candidate, and phone calls are usually not returned. Maybe we all need to be out of work for a few months to appreciate the great and lasting value a few words can have to a candidate. Our lack of a position does not justify in any way the failure to communicate intelligently and maturely with them. If we don’t have positions right now, we can certainly maintain email or telephone contact and explain what the situation is. We talk about candidate relationship management a lot. More and more software is available to expedite the CRM process and many consultants and experts in the staffing arena are focusing on how to build these relationships, maintain them, and harvest from them when appropriate. Yet, I wonder if we can possibly be successful when we cannot manage the simpler process of basic customer courtesy. Here are three very simple and basic practices I would like to see recruiters and whole organizations adopt as first steps to improving the image of our profession, as well as our success rate. Adopting these will more than likely force changes in your recruiting process and in the software or tools that you use to contact candidates, but that is all for the good. Principle #1: Generally act toward any candidate the way you would want to be treated yourself. We all know what good customer service looks and feels like. And we all know how we would want other recruiters to treat us if we were looking for work. As a matter of fact, some of the complaint letters I have gotten have been from unemployed recruiters! This may mean giving the frontline recruiting administrative staff lessons in customer service or in making sure they know that the relationship between an organization and a candidate is often made or destroyed at the very lowest levels. A discourteous receptionist or an administrative staffer who is curt or unfriendly can ensure you never hear from that candidate again. Principle #2: Get back to every candidate with a response that provides some feedback. Don’t use legal liability, the fact that you are too busy, or company policy as an excuse to avoid feedback. There is a lot that you can say that is perfectly legal and shows respect. Let candidates know that you don’t have open positions or that the ones that are open require certain skills they do not have. Give the candidate some clue as to what they might do to be more attractive to your firm. Be honest if it is unlikely that any positions are going to be open in the near term, and outline your policy toward considering outside people if you have one that considers those laid off first. Principle #3: Develop a communications system – email or newsletters, for example – that will allow you to contact many candidates with a single process. Candidates I talk to don’t mind getting emails keeping them updated on a company or on a position type. Anything that keeps them informed is better than the deep silence that is more characteristic. They would rather get a newsletter than nothing at all. Many new recruiting tools make it easy to stay in touch, and I am certain these will be seen as required tools within a year or two. Broad, general communication to the people who have sent in resumes or filled out applications cements relationships and will make it much easier to recruit people when times get better. Keeping in touch with those who have been laid off and with those who are seeking out possibilities will reap benefits when the economy turns the corner (and that seems to be happening already). A skills shortage remains with us and will for the rest of your career. I have written before about the declining skills levels, the aging workforce, and the increasing demand for people with very specific skills. You do yourself and your organization a long-term disfavor by not having strong customer service rules, processes, and enforcement. Let me know what you are doing about customer service and how you are staying in touch with people who were laid off from your firm. If I get some good responses, I’ll publish them in an upcoming column.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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2 Comments on “Communication and Customer Service: More Important Than Ever

  1. I heartily endorse the message of this article. Though I am no longer in a role that puts me on the front lines of recruiting, I can attest that every maxim you ever heard about customer service and sales applies 100% to recruiting as well, to wit:

    You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

    It takes months to find a customer, and only seconds to lose one.

    A good salesperson listens more than s/he talks.

    Further, I recommend that all companies provide training in customer service to all employees, not just those seen as “front-line” or customer-facing. We need to understand that everyone in every organization has customers, whether external or INTERNAL. Too many companies make the mistake of talking the talk but not walking the walk.

    If you are drilling your front-line workers in customer service skills, yet they are met with curt or rude responses (or no response at all) when they ask their supervisor a question or send an e-mail to the scheduler requesting a shift change, your internal communications are not in alignment with your stated goals.

    Companies that develop a climate of responsiveness, courtesy and service by rewarding and advancing those who demonstrate the right behaviors will be more likely to deliver the same to external customers, and will attract and retain the people who truly model a customer service mentality in all their interactions.

    From a recruiting perspective, see how the following practices will help you succeed:

    1. Hire, train, and retain recruiters who model open, accessible, inclusive and welcoming behaviors. I have seen recruiters at job fairs who don’t smile, who wait for the candidates to engage them, who answer questions with closed-end responses, and other such mistakes.

    2. Speaking of job fairs, if only HR recruiters are attending, you are missing an opportunity. Develop an expectation that the departments who are screaming for candidates need to pony up resources to support recruitment. Have experienced members of those departments (who also demonstrate great interpersonal skills, of course) at the fair and get them connected with the candidates who appear to be a good match. A few minutes talking to someone who does the job can save hours in screening candidates.

    3. Speaking of screening, recruiters need to understand their job is not to screen OUT the unqualified. Their job is to screen IN the potentially qualified so that your selection systems can do their work. Consider the two responses to the same question, “Do you have any openings in customer service?”

    Company A. No. We are just looking for accountants today.

    Company B. At this moment we don’t, however, we may in the near future. Here’s some ways you can stay in the loop about our job openings and some information about the benefits of working for Company B…

    Which company would you cross off your list?

    My two cents.

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  2. Interestingly enough, we have just had our Annual Sales Conference where we brought all our offices together. The main topic “Customer Service”, with more and more Internet Job Boards being accessible to Clients and agencies alike, we need to reinforce the view that we can find Applicants that wont / don?t respond to job boards. Therefore the applicants we deal with are the greatest advert for us. If we treat applicant with professionalism, courtesy and a general “Treat each applicant as you wish to be treated” attitude, they will have no problem referring you to people they know. “Birds of a feather flock together”. These are the folks who are motivated, challenged and generally happy in their careers, but will listen to opportunities, but the only way you will attract these candidates is being a professional, remember if your clients like you, you?re in trouble, they need to love you.

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