Customer Service, the Follow Up: Volume Is No Excuse

Talk about a hornet’s nest! Last week’s column on the lack of customer service in our industry got responses – lots of them. While most of the comments were supportive of my stand – that we need to provide a higher level of customer service to our candidates – a few posed a difficult question: How do we reply to a high level of response with a small staff? For example, one respondent said, “A client of our firm had a need for one desktop support person and we received over a thousand resumes – many of them exceedingly overqualified. It was impossible to give a personal response to every submission.” Another said, “…we also process 25,000 resumes per year for 500 open positions with three and a half recruiters, and we operate more efficiently than most staffing departments. There is no possible way we could get back with every person who applies for a job other than with a standard email…” Yet I still contend that good customer service should exist no matter the quantity or quality of the respondents. Good service is about mindset and values. Organizations that value candidates will find ways to provide good customer service no matter the level of response or whether the response is qualified or not. Assuming that we all agree in principal that a personal, or at least semi-personal, response to every candidate is a good thing, how can we make it happen? The choices are not as limited as they may seem. We can add staff, which is rarely possible or desirable. We can use some sort of auto responder that gives a candidate a message, albeit far from personal and not very meaningful. Or, we can look at the issue from a slightly different perspective. Suppose we changed how we advertise positions. Most organizations use a mass communication technique where every position is advertised to as many people as possible. In the 20th century this was the only real method we had to get the word out, short of direct mail, which required a significant investment of both time and money, or word of mouth. The mass media was cheap, even if it produced far more quantity than quality. The advertisements were short, to save money, and usually generic. The requirements for positions were vague and we all knew, through experience, that the requirements listed in most job postings were pretty flexible. The subsequent high volume of response led recruiters to throw up their hands in despair and to the sloppy customer service we have today. But, imagine running an ad for some product in the same newspaper. Would the staff complain about too many responses? Imagine that retailer not answering the phones, not providing feedback on orders, not answering customer inquiries about the products with the excuse that they couldn’t possibly respond to that much volume! Any firm that acted this way would be out of business very quickly, but it accurately describes the attitude of many recruiters. They pass off their lack of customer service as the candidates’ problem! There are solutions: 1. On the Internet, interaction and feedback is key. Newspapers are evolving or dying and the days of mass advertising should be waning. The Internet now allows us to be far more specific about our positions and the interactivity of the Internet makes it possible – easy in fact – to ask anyone logging on to our websites to provide a small amount of personal information. This information can be used to steer candidates to certain positions and can limit the number of positions a candidate ever sees. Many ATS and screening software firms offer simple ways to screen and communicate with candidates and raise the likelihood of making good matches. Unbelievably, many recruiting departments do not implement these tools even when they have them because they feel it takes too much time! 2. Targeting advertising and writing tighter job descriptions also helps. The Internet provides ways to send messages to targeted candidates and to reduce the mass communication methods that lead to too many unqualified responses. Job descriptions can be more focused and, when competences and specific skills are identified, candidates can be immediately pre-screened without anyone getting involved personally. Candidates would rather be guided to a position than be left to almost randomly submit their resumes for positions that seem to match their skills. I have not found any resentment to short and carefully done job screens. In fact, candidates feel that they are being taken seriously and appreciate the immediate feedback. It is far better to have the choice of going through a screen than to simply submit a resume into the void. The feedback, while coming from the computer, is specific to a candidate and is seen as personal by the candidate. I believe that we perceive something as “personal” when it is specific to us, as opposed to generic. It doesn’t necessarily mean person-to-person, as we often think. 3. Candidate Relationship Management technology is vital to the future. Whether we like it or not, the Internet and its associated applications and tools are becoming the core of a sound recruiting strategy. The applicant tracking tool itself is a behind-the-scenes necessity much as is the chassis of your car. It holds everything else together. You should be placing your focus on the superstructure that sits on top of that ATS. The superstructure comprises the candidate relationship management tools, the communications modules and the targeted marketing capabilities that make customer service possible to any number of people. As we move further into the 21st century, we will have to figure out how to provide perfect customer service and how to respond to everyone who seeks us out. Arrogant self-pity about how hard we work and about how unqualified our candidates are is not an option.

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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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