[Note: The following guest post was written by Brendan Cruickshank, VP of Client Relations, Job Search Engine. As a specialist in the online job search and recruiting industry, Brendan often gives expert insight on employment and jobs trends in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and US News & World Report.]
A Customer Focus from Top to Bottom: Why and How to Hire Customer Focused Employees for Every Job
by Brendan Cruickshank
We talk a lot about value when it comes to providing customer service, but it starts with valuing the company. Your business must value itself enough to develop a quality company culture, then defend it by hiring employees who will enforce it. Finally, companies must value the employee enough in order to maintain an exceptional workforce … even when it’s tempting to take shortcuts.
Value Your Company
Before you even hit the pavement to seek high quality workers, you need to get a sense of your company culture and how the employee plays into that. This company culture should place high emphasis on correctly addressing customers and responding to their needs. For example, Macy’s trademark customer service feature is the attitude of outstanding. Employees are to answer the phones with: “Thank you for calling Macy’s. How can I provide you with outstanding customer service?” It’s the word outstanding that is the underlying message, and they are encouraged to use the word whenever possible. Customer service isn’t just about language, though, and Macy’s employees are required to communicate the word outstanding in their actions, for example, spending extra time shopping with the customer or calling all the locations in the city to locate that perfect prom dress in a size 8.
The Job Ad
Once the company culture is established, it’s time to populate. Help wanted ads are the first form of communication companies will have with their employees, and it must be done right, a point made by business consultant Adrian Swinscoe. Referencing a help wanted sign, he illustrates what not to do when you’re trying to attract exceptional labor. If you will notice, the sign makes no mention of strong customer service skills as a requirement.
“If you want to deliver a great customer experience, a great place to work, and a great team, then it has to start before your employees start and one of the first places that they will come into contact with you is via your job advertisements,” he said. “This is where your brand and your employee experience starts. This is where you start motivating the right people to apply for a place on the great team that you are building.” In addition to making the statement that you’ll only accept employees who care about customer service, you are setting the stage to attract the right kind of candidates – ones that do care about customers and are drawn to companies that do as well.
It’s not simply enough to ask an employee about previous jobs and superficial questions such as “What is your strongest quality? What is your weakest?” That may be good information to have, but interviewees will expect those questions and you will likely get a fabricated example. Instead, quiz the employee on a specific scenario and see how he or she responds when caught off-guard. Business strategist Kristina Evey recommends this type of interviewing to determine how creative the employee would get to solve the problem, and to what limit would they go to reach a satisfactory conclusion for the customer.
Clues to listen for, recommends Inc.com, are dedication, response to pressure, decision making skills, friendliness, and the ability to handle pressure. Also look to your favorite workers to help determine who you’re looking for. Knowing exactly the type of worker you already like will help you visualize what to seek in interviewees and their place in your company’s culture. Lest you believe this is too much effort, especially if you’re short-handed, remember how much harder it is to gain new customers than keep current ones. Good workers will keep those existing customers, making them an invaluable asset. In addition, you’ll have an easier time attracting new customers.
Value Your Employees
Now that you have the right staff, it’s time to make sure you keep them. Clothing retailer L.L. Bean, reports Businessweek, is the perfect example of valuing employees to achieve premium customer service. In its annual Customer Service Champs 2010, Businessweek points out that free shipping and the loosening of return policies in 2010 did help L.L. Bean’s standing, but it’s what they did for employees that put them a cut above the rest.
Its powerhouse call center in Maine, maybe the top contributor to L.L Bean’s stellar customer service reputation, is arguably the place to work if you want to be treated well. The company declared that it would not trade domestic labor for overseas labor, that it would send home workers to telecommute rather than lay them off to save operational costs. Similarly, when The Ritz Carlton made staff cuts in 2010, not only did it keep 95 percent of employees that directly interface with customers, it ensured their job benefits were protected.