Periodic Potpourri: Customer Service and Communication

Customer service levels in the corporate recruiting environment have fallen to new lows ó if that is even possible ó given my conversations with many jobseekers as well as the evidence from our recent survey. I define customer service simply: Good customer service happens when every applicant feels that they have been fairly considered for a job, knows why they were not qualified/chosen/further considered for a position, and has been able to communicate with someone in the company about their application. Most recruiters I speak with feel that this is an impossible goal given the volume of resumes they receive and the time they have to fill positions. Most candidates feel that this is a minimum acceptable level of service and are increasingly upset over the lack of response. Our recent survey indicates that most organizations send out a “bounce-back email” ó the automatic response that is generated by the ATS or equivalent system letting the sender know that their resume was received. Candidates indicate that they know these are automatically generated and thus give them little weight or importance. They are not considered “communication” in the true sense of the word. I was actually surprised to see that 26% of the respondents say they send out a personalized response. I wonder if the computer also generates those? Time is also a factor in good customer service and it appears that a rather long time lapses between communications. Almost half the surveyed organizations say they take from one to three days to respond to the candidates in the automated or impersonal manner described above. And over 16% don’t ever respond to all candidates. This is very hard to understand. Logic would say that if we have as much trouble as we say we have in finding good people, we would try our best to look at all resumes and respond. Or, if we can’t do that, we would try to find ways to limit the number of resumes we receive by using targeted marketing, better written job descriptions, and front-end screening on our websites. Volume does not seem to be something we are seeking or are equipped to deal with, yet we continuously post on Monster and other job sites that are generic and have broad appeal. We continue to write almost generic job descriptions that allow a much too wide array of people to feel qualified for a position. The cost to us of doing this is lower and lower levels of customer service and an increasing number of people who will remember how they have been treated ó over the past few months, especially. Talent Pools Many of you have talent pools; just over 80% of the surveyed firms feel that they have pools of somewhat qualified candidates they can tap. These talent pools, once built, should reduce the need to advertise or to post on job boards. They should provide the organization with most of its talent and should be the crown jewels of your sourcing system. To ensure that the talent pool stays fresh, committed, and available you need to keep it informed about your firm and the jobs it has available, and you need to continually market to the people who are in it. I was surprised to see, once again, that communication frequency was low. Over 21% of survey respondents communicated with the members of their talent pool only every couple of months or so, and another 13% did so only every four to six months. I think that weekly communication and marketing are required to keep up the levels of interest and awareness that are necessary to make hire quickly. Here are four tips on building better customer service:

  1. Target your marketing to job boards, groups and associations where the kind of people you are seeking might look for a job. For example, if you are looking for an HR person, advertising on the local chapter of SHRM’s job board would make sense and would probably lead to high quality candidates applying. If you are seeking an electrical engineer, chapters of IEEE would be appropriate places to seek them out.
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  3. Rewrite job descriptions to be more specific and to list exactly the requirements you need for a job. Time spent upfront in analyzing the job and defining requirements pays off in less work at the backend in screening out candidates who may have felt very qualified for the job you posted. Make sure you know who your best incumbents are and make sure you write descriptions that would have qualified them for these positions.
  4. Figure out how to let every candidate know if they are qualified our not, if they are being considered or not, and what their status is. Keep in communication with candidates on a regular basis, even if you have no news. By reducing the number of people applying and by using technology better to screen candidates, you should be able to get control of the communication process.
  5. Apply technology to the task of screening and communication. Your corporate website can be the first step in screening candidates. You can create questions that screen out those who do not possess basic qualifications; you can make submitting a resume enough of a chore that only interested candidates will do it; and you can offer job previews and other information that will help some decide not to apply. By making it too easy to apply you encourage too many to submit resumes. By simply building in a little screening you can significantly reduce the number of unqualified people who apply.

Customer service will be the most critical element in successful recruiting as we emerge from this economic slowdown. Communication is the key to good service, and most of us need to improve significantly on it to be competitive.

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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