Using Field Identification to Hire Santa Claus (or Other Customer Service Talent)

If you wanted to hire a great “Santa Claus” (or any other customer service person), would you wait until November 15th and then run an ad? Or would you instead use a more advanced approach? Would you…

  1. Expect that if you hired the top Santa, they would generate as much as double the revenue of an average Santa, thus making a first class recruiting effort a high ROI activity?
  2. Start looking during the season before you needed them?
  3. Send your current Santa’s, your customers, and your employees out searching for the best Santa? Would you reward them for each name they got? For every hire?
  4. Visit local stores and assess (from a distance) which Santa was the best (while they visited with the kids)?
  5. Send a “mystery shopper kid” to sit on the lap of the “finalists” in order to do some in-depth assessment?
  6. Offer them a position well before the hiring season began (for the next year) in order to beat the competitive bidding and the Santa “shortages” that occur around mid November?
  7. Would you expect that if you hired the “top performing Santa,” that other top Santa’s would also want to work with them at your firm?

Unfortunately, most people go about hiring Santa Claus and customer service people using the wrong approach. They place ads in newspapers or put up “help wanted” signs at the beginning of their hiring season. This approach is almost guaranteed to bring in mediocre talent. A superior approach to finding top customer service talent is “field identification.” What Is Field Identification? Field identification (FI) is a recruiting strategy that sends out your employees to visit job sites that employ customer service people in order to identify the best. FI is a “push” process that is designed to go out and find talent that is already working and that is unlikely to respond to want ads or job fairs. It turns out that by sending a large volume of “peers” out as “talent scouts,” they can identify all of the top customer service people in any area in a relatively brief period of time. The basic premises of Field Identification include:

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  • The best customer service people are working in front of the public where their performance can be observed. So they are best found and assessed on the job.
  • It turns out that top-performing customer service people already interact with the public and are relatively easy to identify. Is also true that they are no secret world-class customer service people. Coworkers, customers and suppliers all seem to be able to name them. They standout because of the quality of the service that they provide.
  • Current employees, because they are peers, are the best people to seek out and identify the best customer service talent in your geographic area.
  • By proactively “sending out” your employees to find top talent you increase the number of recruiters looking for talent. Employees can be directly paid by the hour to scout or they can be encouraged to gather the names of the best during the course of the normal life (while at lunch, shopping or on the phone) and get rewarded, based on actual hires.
  • By making “name gathering” a continuous process you can “pre-qualify” talent long before you need it. You can then do “relationships recruiting” and sell the candidate over a period of time.
  • Treating other firms as your “farm teams” will allow you to find the most experienced and already trained talent.

<*SPONSORMESSAGE*> What Are The Advantages Of Starting The Search Early (Out Of Season)? When you begin your search during the traditional hiring period you are likely to find that there is intense competition for the top talent. This competition increases the recruiting costs and might also mean that the salaries of the top talent will be bid up by the competition. If you start early (as early as a year before) you have an opportunity to “cherry pick” the very best before others go after them. If you find them before you need them (pre-need hiring) you can stretch out the assessment process and thereby lessen the chances of making a selection error. Because you are hiring for “the future” you can take your time convincing them. That extra time makes it more likely that you will come up with a winning argument. By pre-identifying talent “on the job” you excite you recruits because you are essentially flattering them by praising their work as a result of your observations. If you want to, you can offer them a bonus for fast offer acceptance. You can also start their employment early (before most competitors would). Although this might cost you some extra money, starting them early might allow them to get adjusted early so that they can then act as mentors and trainers to others when they start. How Would You Find Top Customer Service Talent Want ads tend to attract unemployed people that are actively looking for jobs. Unfortunately only 12% of customer service people are likely to be looking for a job at any one time. That means that the best are NOT looking. Because the best customer service people are hardly ever unemployed, if you want to find top performers the most effective ways are 1. Employee referrals, and 2. Field identification. Top performers know other top performers, so by having an excellent referral program you can easily attract a large number of recruits. Field identification is a more systematic, proactive and aggressive approach. FI is best used in conjunction with (the more passive) employee referral program. What Is The Most Effective Way To Assess Customer Service Talent? Assessing customer service people can be difficult during interviews. An alternative assessment approach, which is clearly superior, is to assess them while they are working in their current job. By having them serve you (either directly or on a telephone call) you can see their skills “live” and better assess how good they really are. What Is The Best Way To “Sell The Job” To Top Talent? When your employees meet and talk to potential hires they become in effect “peer salespeople.” Peers (acting as recruiters) are more likely to relate to each other and thus they can make a more convincing argument than any manager or recruiter can. Does Top Talent Attract Other Top Talent? Top performers know other top performers. If you want to attract a large number of high-quality customer service people an effective attraction tool is to start with a “significant mass” of top talent. Then use that mass as a “magnet” to attract other top talent. When the top join your firm the word spreads to other top talent through word-of-mouth or what is called viral marketing. Does Hiring The Best Produce Increased Revenues? Would the best produce a little more? Average talent is easy to find and recruit. Top talent is even easier to find because their performance causes them to be noticed and talked about. Top talent however is harder to convince because they have so many opportunities. Occasionally, as a result of being in high demand, they require higher pay. The question that arises is… Are top talent worth the extra time and costs? The answer is a resounding yes. Top talent might generate anywhere from 50 percent to 10 times the revenue of average talent. The differentiation is relatively easy to assess by merely looking at the difference in performance levels within your firm between your top and average talent (begin with sales, complaints or output). Use Incentives

  • You can make it a “contest” (find the best waitress) where the “names” are put in a hat and the winning employee receives a prize or a cash award. Although incentives help generate excitement, most employees are willing to do it just to insure that they will be working side-by-side with other talented people
  • Rewards can be given for “names only” or just for actual hires
  • Customers and suppliers can also be rewarded for scouting the competitors

Conclusion It seems fashionable to decry the shortage of customer service talent. But in reality there is an abundant amount of talent… it’s just working across the street at a competitor. Referral programs are great, but they are passive in nature. Field identification is far more proactive. By actively sending your employees out as talent scouts to targeted firms you will find that they can quickly and easily identify all of the top talent within the region. Then you will wonder…why you didn’t try it before?

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

 

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