More on the Value of Customer Service

Reading Kevin Wheeler’s recent articles on customer service and the subsequent responses have sparked me to continue the discussion with a few additional thoughts. First, I support Kevin’s arguments completely. By accepting a position as a recruiter we have in effect accepted the role of being the face of the company. Aside from what candidates read on the company website or in the media, we are the first impression. Candidates make major career choices based on their experiences with us. Ultimately our actions can make or break a candidates decision to pursue a career with our company. Think about it, poor follow-up by a recruiter could lead the researcher responsible for the cure to diabetes or breast cancer to a job with the competition. Good customer service not only makes good business sense, but it also represents common courtesy. Like Kevin, I have heard many horror stories about people’s experiences during the job search process. I am amazed at what I hear. Aside from the typical “black hole” stories, I have had friends go on interviews where one of the interviewers never showed, leaving them sitting alone in a conference room for more than an hour. I know of an individual that had a day of interviews scheduled but somehow the recruiter forgot to schedule lunch. After sitting in the lobby for 1/2 hour the candidate wandered down to the company cafeteria and had lunch by himself. I know of another individual that was told that he would receive an offer letter via overnight mail. When the letter never came the candidate called the recruiter whose voicemail said that she was on vacation for the next two weeks. While she was enjoying her vacation the candidate accepted a position with another company. The recruiter’s response when she found out that the candidate accepted another offer was, “I told him we were going to make him an offer and he indicated that it was likely he would accept it. Now I have to tell the hiring manager that he is not taking the job and I have to start the search over. I don’t have time for this.” Yes, vacations are an important part of life. A recruiter’s job is extremely stressful and hectic, so I am a huge advocate of recruiters taking two-week vacations without any office contact. However, before they leave they MUST make sure that all candidates who are actively interviewing with their company have a backup contact and that their e-mail has an Out of Office responder indicating the length of time that they will be unavailable. There are numerous stories of recruiters scheduling telephone interviews but never placing the calls. The candidates schedule the time to have a private conversation, wait by the telephone, but never receive the call. When they finally make contact with the recruiter, days later, the typical response is, “I forgot that I had scheduled the call.” Situations like those described above represent poor business practices and leave very negative impressions on the candidates. Rather than focusing their frustration on the recruiter, the typical candidate magnifies the situation to represent the practices of the entire company. The typical candidate response is “I don’t want to work for that company. They are completely unorganized. They never called me for scheduled telephone interviews, did not return e-mails, and when we finally made contact they never apologized or acknowledged their errors.” This may sound like I am saying that all recruiters are poor at managing candidate relationships. Actually, most are extremely good at it. Unfortunately I only hear the really, really bad stories or the really, really exceptional stories. The stories about candidate experiences that ran smoothly usually are not communicated. I truly believe that most recruiters try to do their best to provide great client service and that very often they are working in understaffed departments and are overwhelmed by the challenges associated with maintaining a balance of following up with existing candidates and cultivating relationships with new candidates. However, in many instances it is purely a training and time management issue. In either case, very often the candidate’s impression is that the company is at fault, not the individual recruiter. Whether or not they are offered a position, every candidate should feel that they have had a positive experience with your company. They can become a referral source, a candidate for a future position or even a shareholder. Keeping the candidate warm is one of the most productive things a recruiter can do during the recruiting cycle. Once a candidate is contacted and in your recruiting process it is critical to maintain regular contact. While challenge, opportunity and compensation are all important in the decision to accept an offer, the feeling of being welcome and “courted” often is the factor that finalizes the candidate’s decision. Even if you have nothing to report on the status of a hiring manager’s decision – do not let a week go by without at least sending an e-mail stating that things are still in process. So what do you do when you have too much follow-up and not enough time? There are several options:

  1. Create a detailed plan for your week. Usually, a bit of focused time management will free up at least one hour every day. Designate specific times for email follow-up, telephone follow-up and new candidate contact. STICK TO THE SCHEDULE. Put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” and remain focused. You will be able to accomplish at least double what you normally do when you try to fit follow-up in between meetings and other responsibilities.
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  3. Create templates for standard emails that can be tweaked to each individual situation. Use the “Autotext” function in your email program to automate the process even further. If necessary, pick one or two days a week where you arrive very early, before the general business day to take care of follow-up correspondence.
  4. Consider outsourcing some of the initial candidate contact. Use an outsourced recruiting firm to prescreen all responses to job ads, make the first screening call and manage some of the follow-up. They can also make the initial contact with passive candidates to introduce them to the opportunity and generate interest. This will allow you to focus your time on building relationships with the most qualified and interested candidates.

No budget for outsourcing these highly critical job functions? It is easy to create a business case that can filter to upper management. Demonstrate the financial impact to the company associated with positions not being filled as quickly as is necessary. Saving one or two hefty search fees because your time is freed to court high potential candidates will pay for months of this type of support. Better yet, simply let the CEO or other senior executive experience first hand the impact that disgruntled candidates can have on their business. The first time a friend or acquaintance of a senior executive hears that a referral fell into the “black hole,” never received the scheduled telephone interview call, or was left to fend for themselves for lunch during a full day of interviews, I guarantee you “heads will roll,” and money will become available for you to receive the support that you need. Remember, as recruiters we are the company. Our actions have far reaching impact on first impressions. If this is more responsibility than you want to handle, then start interviewing for another position – and hope that you don’t fall into the “black hole.”

Karen Osofsky (karen.o@tiburongroup.com) is a co-founder of TiburonGroup.com, an e-recruiting consulting firm that provides outsourced recruiting solutions to rapidly growing companies and new ventures. The firm provides a broad range of recruiting consulting, sourcing, screening, and strategy development services to help companies manage the front-end recruiting process. Tiburon Group is a Certified AIRS Solutions Partner.

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