Customer Service Mistake #3

This is the third in a series of five posts in response to a client's question; "From your observations and consulting work, what do you think are the top customer service mistakes companies make?"

Customer Service Mistake #3 - Hiring the Wrong People

If an ideal employee is a company's most valuable asset, then the wrong employee is its albatross, its anchor. So, why do companies often hire the wrong person? I think it is because they never really determine what they're looking for, or wait until they need someone before they start looking, and therefore hire quickly from a panic mode. I've had hiring managers say to me, "I just needed the body." And that's exactly what they got. When a company hires the wrong person, everything gets harder. These same managers readily admit it would have been better to wait, pay overtime to cover the void, and ensure the right person is ultimately hired.

How do some companies get their people to be so friendly? The answer is that they hire friendly people. You can't teach someone to be friendly, empathetic, detail-oriented, etc. Those are "talents" that someone either has or doesn't have by the time they're old enough for a job. Admittedly, someone might go through a life-changing experience that alters their life view, but it's not a good idea to count on that happening. While skills, such as running a register, driving a bus, etc. can be taught, the applicant must bring the desired talents to the table. Through training, coaching, and experience those talents can be enhanced, but they can't be taught.

I know what some of you are thinking - "There aren't enough good people out there! I can't find qualified candidates! I really do need that warm body!" That's a cop out. In every industry there are companies who find and hire stellar employees (without paying any more than their competitors). The difference is that those organizations are committed to hiring right fit talent and they keep the applicant pipeline full. They are always on the lookout for potential outstanding employees and don't wait until a position is open before they start looking. Now, you can't legally interview someone for a job you don't have, but you can certainly be on the lookout for talent. If you're looking for a service representative and receive excellent service from someone in a similar position, offer your business card in case the person is looking for a career change. Anytime the local newspaper announces a business closing or layoffs, meet with the company's HR department to identify potential, high performing applicants. Keep the pipeline full!

So, world-class service organizations hire for talent. They clearly identify the talents needed to excel in the job and are committed to only hiring those who possess those talents. They don't rush, they don't panic, they don't settle - they find the right person.

Keep in mind that the person who can flourish in one business environment, though, may not be a good fit at another company with different values. I've been in wonderful high-end restaurants with quiet, decorous atmospheres where my server, though technically good, was off-the-wall bubbly and chatty. It just wasn't appropriate for that restaurant. But he might be a wonderful employee at a less formal restaurant or business where that kind of behavior is appropriate. It's all about knowing what talents you're looking for and designing your recruiting and interviewing practices around those talents.

 What can you do to increase the likelihood of hiring the right person?

  •  Learn the unique qualities of your best performers - Identify those employees you would most like to clone (wouldn't that be nice?). Spend time with those individuals in order to understand what makes them successful in their jobs and differentiates them from their peers. Observe their behaviors as they do the job and contrast those behaviors with those of average performers. Ask them about their thought process in accomplishing their duties.This information becomes the foundation for designing a thorough behavioral interview for the job. While there are some wonderful organizations that can help with this process, such as Profiles International and Gallup, it is invaluable for you as a leader to personally understand the qualities that lead to high degrees of success in those positions that directly report to you. It takes time and effort, but selecting the right people is the top responsibility of any manager.
  • Enlist the assistance of your top performers in the interview process - Since you want more employees with the qualities possessed by your top performers, let your top performers spend some time with candidates. You will clearly need to conduct some coaching with these individuals, discussing the questions you would like them to ask and the aspects of the job you want them to discuss with the candidate. The point is that they know what it takes to do the job in an excellent manner and can communicate the realities of the job to the candidate in addition to helping you decide if the candidate possesses the qualities you're looking for.
  • Model the organization's service philosophy during the interview - Training actually begins the moment an applicant says, "I'm here to apply for a job." Throughout the interview the applicant is picking up clues regarding the culture of the company. There are no second chances with this. You can discuss your corporate culture with the applicant, but if it doesn't match their actual experience, the experience will prevail. For instance, if responsiveness is said to be valued, and an applicant is treated as an interruption or the interview process seems disjointed and inefficient, this will tell the applicant the true culture regardless of what you say. The process must be carefully orchestrated, and everyone must know exactly what to do and say when someone announces, "I'm here to apply for a job."

While the actions outlined above are time consuming, they are far less time consuming than being in constant crisis mode due to an "employee revolving door." The big payoff comes over time, when consistent application of a disciplined selection process results in a reputation for hiring individuals who possess the qualities that deliver on the promise of your organization's brand.

To avoid Customer Service Mistake #3, create an interview process designed to identify those applicants who possess the talents you are looking for.