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Guest Blogger: Paul Hagen | June 6, 2012

8 Ways to Align Recruitment and Hiring to Build a Customer-Centric Culture

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Editors-Choice.jpgAt Corner Bank, Jana Dawson is the company's CMO and senior vice president of HR. At Volusion, the head of HR reports into David Mitzenmacher, the company's chief customer officer (CCO). Why? Because a company's customer experience (and therefore its brand) depends on its employees. They need to understand it, believe it, and deliver it on a day-to-day basis.

It all starts with who you bring people in the door: recruitment and hiring. It's much harder to train people who lack a customer-focused attitude and passion than to hire the right people in the first place. That's why recruitment and hiring is one of three levers that Forrester Research looks at when firms seek to build a customer-centric culture (socialization and rewards are the other two levers). See "9 Ways to Reward Employees to Reinforce Customer-Centric Behaviors" for more on rewards.

How do firms use recruitment and hiring to build a customer-centric culture?

Start with recruiting materials
Hiring the people to build your culture starts with attracting the right people in the first place and setting the customer experience expectations that the company will have of them.

1. Set expectations in recruiting materials. Unlike many firms that have generic career web pages that focus just on the application transactions, firms like Apple ("Amaze Yourself. Amaze the World"), Southwest Airlines ("Not just a career, a cause") and Trader Joes ("Our managers don't spend their days in an office...they are out on the store floor with their customers and Crew creating a WOW experience!") set expectations for the kind of people they seek. These materials also act as a self-filtering mechanism.

2. Imbed customer experience traits in job descriptions. Often overlooked are the job descriptions that can detail the types of traits critical for customer experience success. American Express pays attention to this aspect; here's an excerpt from a recent job posting for a Customer Care Professional that explicitly articulates how these employees should engage with customers: "In this opportunity, you will ensure extraordinary customer service by promptly and accurately responding to phone calls from existing customers, making it easy for them to do business with us, recognizing their value to us, and solving their issues." Schwab even embeds customer (or employee) experience expectations for IT staff, such as in this job description for a Senior Database Developer: "The Advisor Services Technology organization's mission is to create an outstanding client experience for Advisors [who in turn maintain customer and account information for end clients and manage financial transactions on their behalf], while driving ongoing improvements in quality, efficiency, and productivity."

Leverage existing employees to ensure fit
Skills are cheap...chemistry is priceless. When employees function well with each other, their experience is better...and when their experience is better, so is the customer's. Be careful of simply offering finder's fees, as those encourage finding bodies, not the right fit.

3. Encourage employees to recruit people they'd like to work with. The W Hotel encourages employees to poach people who deliver great service and that they would like to work with from the local hip bars and restaurants they visit. As one manager put it, "We encourage our employees to look for people who are 'fun, fresh, and flirty' to create the atmosphere that we're trying to deliver for guests." Whole Foods has team members vote on whether to keep new hires at the end of a 30-90 day orientation period. The company says that this process "empowers team members to share in the building of a quality team and strengthens communication."

4. Recruit your customers. USAA hires military veterans and their spouses, in its words because "as a veteran or military spouse... you also know our members better than anyone -- and you can share your unique experiences through service to our members." Another retailer seeks to hire its best customers who also test as being extroverted, commenting that "they are enthusiastic; they are good at explaining the products; and the employee discount is very valuable to this population" (see this Wharton article).

5. Watch them interact with employees. Several of the call center execs we've spoken to ask candidates to sit with working agents for at least 30 minutes. Then they observe how closely the candidates listen to the calls and how they interact with the team. Good candidates will be engaged and interested in what's happening around them and will ask the agents questions like, "Do you like working here?" and "What are the customers like?" Of course, cultural fit is a two-way street -- and this part of the interview also gives candidates a better understanding of their potential teammates and the work environment.

Align your selection process to identify traits in your target culture
Most firms are undergoing a big change as part of their customer experience efforts; ensure that your selection process has tuned itself to the new kinds of skills required.

6. Shake up your interview process. Zappos starts its process with a "culture fit" interview and asks questions like "how weird are you?" and "what's the most fun you've ever had at work?" It ends its process by offering potential employees up to $3000 to not take the job (and never apply again in the future), an offer that reportedly 2 to 3 percent take.

7. Assess motivation and soft skills. American Express transitioned from testing for just tech skills to emphasizing those with a "passion to serve." When Time Warner Cable piloted a new high-end service for customers, it rethought the entire service process and how technicians should deliver it. It focused on six soft skills that technicians needed, including active listening, responding with empathy, authenticity, consultative communications, and professionalism.

8. Simulate decision-making. KeyBank uses a virtual environment where frontline staff are asked to respond to situations. All the answers are plausible, but the firm looks for people whose responses naturally fit with the kind of experience it seeks to deliver. Candidates applying to Porsche's Customer Assistance Center in the UK get 10 minutes to read through a brief explaining that they'll play the role of an agent taking a complaint or request from a caller, played by a human resources rep. As the call unfolds, interviewers assess how well the candidate is able to listen to and empathize with the caller, pay attention to key details, manage the dialog, and think on his feet. Toward the end of the conversation, the "caller" ensures that some agreement is reached. Porsche then asks the candidate to compose a letter summarizing what was agreed upon, which enables the team to evaluate written communication skills.

Regardless of the recruitment and hiring mechanisms your company uses, some precursors need to be in place, such as a clear strategy and vision, customer perception metrics, and governance mechanisms that set standards and hold people accountable for changes. Without these, recruitment and hiring won't help.

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About the Author: Paul Hagen is a principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Customer Experience professionals. He blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/paul_hagen

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