Where Is Our Customer Service? A Plea for Improvement

An acquaintance recently applied for a job with a major firm. This person is a programmer with several years of experience and a work experience record that is enviable. He never heard a single word from this firm, other than the bounce-back email reply saying that his resume was received. Another friend’s son, a college freshman, applied for seven jobs via the Internet and never received any responses. At the same time, he went to several companies that had huge “We are hiring” signs up and filled out applications, which he then gave to the managers. He was told, “We’ll call you in a few days.” It has been many weeks and he’s never heard a word. 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 we take a very long time. We almost never give any feedback to a candidate, and phone calls are usually not returned. And these service levels have not changed for the better over the past years despite the candidate shortage and the general awareness that good service leads to better recruiting success. While poor service is never justified, back when there were tons of candidates and few jobs it at least was understandable why our response was so bad. What’s our excuse today? 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. Our lack of a position for them 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. At every conference I attend and at every client meeting, I hear recruiters lamenting about the lack of good candidates and how hard their jobs are. Either they have too many candidates to handle, or not enough. They spend millions advertising and sourcing and learning how to use the Internet to locate candidates. In fact, in America we spend more than $200 billion a year recruiting candidates. Yet we have candidates walking in the door or actively pursuing us and we don’t take the time to assess them or give them feedback. It may simply be the case that when you can easily get something it is not as appealing as something hard to get. But this doesn’t excuse our behavior. We talk about candidate relationship management a lot. 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 and 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.

  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.
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  3. Get back to every candidate with a response that provides some feedback. Don’t use legal liability 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. Be honest if it is unlikely that any positions are going to be opened in the near term.
  4. 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 these methods of keeping them informed. 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.

The labor 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. If I get some good responses, I’ll publish them in an upcoming column. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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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