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Monday, March 14, 2011

Hiring Customer Focused Employees To Be Service Champions

Brendan Cruickshank

How passionate are you about customer service? How passionate are your employees? Are they customer service champions?

Two of my Zappos related posts - Customer Experience "Powered By Service" and Zappos: Where Happy Employees Deliver - have generated discussion about hiring and nurturing the right people in an organization including the following article titled "Seeking Customer Service Champions: How and Why to Hire Customer Focused Employees" from Brendan Cruickshank, vice president - client relations of Job Search Engine [aka JuJu].

Brendan has worked in the online job search industry for 8 years in senior client services roles with well-known sites such as Juju.com and JobsInTheMoney.com. Perhaps you've noticed his expert insight on employment and jobs trends in business publications [e.g., the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and US News & World Report [check out Today's Secure Job' Is a Stable Career on Forbes.com] and many blogs [see Four Pivotal Insights on Hiring Leaders from the Ground Up].

About Juju.com, Brendan says:  "In regards to Juju.com, since we give access to job seekers across many other sites, we allow employers to search a wide range of talent giving them transparency to everyone out there looking.  This enables them to compare more candidates and make a more informed decision.  Depending on the industry, different talents are also required for customer service (i.e., customer service at a hotel is much different than at a home improvement store), so our advanced searching techniques also facilitate this."

About his guest article, Brendan writes: "I feel strongly that we need to reestablish the critical bond between consumers and companies, which means having employees who value this themselves - employees who are eager to engage. I see this as the only solution because without true and honest communication and a willingness to go out of one’s way to understand each customer, we cannot expect our corporations to adequately adapt, thrive and expand. In my opinion, this begins with the hiring process which is why I’ve written “Seeking Customer Service Champions - How and Why to Hire Customer Focused Employees” which I think your audience will find intriguing as well as beneficial. I have also delved into several corporations who are doing an exemplary job in this charge and stand out amidst the rest, as well as touching on why these companies are typically better employers as well!"

Seeking Customer Service Champions: How and Why to Hire Customer Focused Employees

"The customer is always right."

This is a phrase we hear all the time. And if you ask the folks who run just about any business, they will invariably nod their heads and acknowledge the saying as a time-tested and obvious truth. But how many companies simply mouth the words and how many actually adopt customer service as an endemic part of their corporate culture? Fortunately, an increasing number of companies are beginning to recognize the need to more firmly establish their critical bonds with consumers and are taking proactive measures to make customer service more than just an empty phrase.

A commitment to customer satisfaction is a lot more than a series of policy statements and office memos. It begins deep in the company's culture and manifests itself in the way employees go about their jobs every moment of every day. It also shows in the metrics that firms consider important and decide to measure. Take for example the average time that an employee spends on the phone with a customer. Some firms think a low number is a good thing because they view it as evidence that employees are thinking about bottom-line profits and are not "wasting" their time. But other companies look at this metric in a different way. They prefer to see high numbers, not low ones. These companies realize that employees who spend a longer time on the phone with each customer are not just talking the talk about customer service, but actually walking the walk.

There are many other ways in which a company can infuse customer satisfaction into its corporate culture. Most people instinctively like to see others treated right. Similarly, most employees of a company, if allowed to act on their natural instincts, are inclined to make decisions that do the right thing by their customers. Firms that are committed to customer service will allow their employees to act on these instincts. For example, they will empower their workers to authorize the issuance of recovery tools (e.g., money back, tangible gestures of remorse, etc.) to rectify a situation where a customer feels he or she was wronged. Another thing they will do is let their employees be themselves and allow their personalities to shine through instead of making them corporate robots who are forced to follow a preordained script every time they deal with a customer.

But probably the most important way in which a corporation can cement service to customers into its cultural fiber is in its hiring practices. In fact, the creation of a true customer culture starts with hiring! But what specific hiring strategies can a company implement to give itself the best chance of recruiting customer-focused workers? Well, for one thing, it can put as much emphasis on cultural fit as on more traditional attributes such as skill and background. Of course, there is no denying the importance of good technical skills and experience in a job candidate. But just as important is a true understanding of customer service. To a customer-focused firm, finding people who are able to demonstrate this understanding is half the battle. The other half is finding people who can successfully implement it...in other words, recruiting people who are friendly!

College basketball coaches have a favorite phrase that they use when describing how they go about recruiting players: "You can't teach size!" What they mean is that a player's height is so important in basketball that big players are always at a premium and that even those who are unpolished are very often recruited with the expectation that their skills will develop in time. After all, skills to at least a certain extent can be taught and practiced. But size can never be. A very successful and customer-focused company has learned to employ a similar philosophy when recruiting new employees. Nordstrom, a famous upscale department store, has long been committed to excellence in customer service. And the commitment starts with Nordstrom's hiring philosophy: "Hire the smile, train the skill!" What does this mean? Simply put, it means that the company's recruiters look for people who are friendly, caring, and who smile a lot. They value these traits even more highly than aptitude and experience because they know that it is much easier to train someone to be a good salesperson, floor manager, or cashier than it is to train them to be nice. Business skills can be developed much more easily than "skills" like a warm personality or a caring nature. Nordstrom's hiring practices are a reflection of its overriding culture of customer satisfaction, a culture which has served it well in terms of business prosperity.

True customer focus is the pathway to a company's growth, evolution, and success. It is much more than a slogan; it is a way of doing business that permeates an entire organization and defines its fabric. And the smart companies are those that are able to recruit people who are able to become not only hard working employees but also customer service champions.

Thank you, Brendan!

What's your experience with seeking customer service champions? Do you hire the smile and train the skill? Or do you focus primarily on skills? What has worked best for you?

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