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Staffing – The Worst Customer Service Process in the World?

Applicants may also be customers:

“Don’t call us…we’ll call you” is a phrase from customer service “hell.” This commonly used phrase is just one indication of how many employment processes are “arrogant” in their approach toward candidates. Often employment takes a “it’s my way or the highway” approach to applicants. “We frequently say we want creative, ‘out-of-the-box thinkers’ and risk takers in our organization but in practice our selection processes are often so rigid that we end up scaring away anyone that varies even a little from the norm.

Enlightened HR professionals realize that candidates are also potential customers (as well as potential strategic partners of our firm). As a result, we need to begin to treat all applicants with a high level of courtesy and respect. We can no longer afford to treat applicants as people that “bother us” with questions. HR needs to learn how to duplicate the level of customer service that is usually provided by our sales, customer support, and product service departments.

Poor treatment might have consequences:

Treating applicants poorly might result in an indelible mark (about our firm) in their minds that may not be easily removed. Michael McNeal of Cisco Systems coined the phrase “staffing – the graceless process.” I think that in some cases he is being kind because we routinely drag out the selection process for months while at the same time keeping candidates in the dark. We often fail to even ask the applicants if they were satisfied with the process. If Baldridge Award examiners were to look at the customer service aspects of most recruiting and staffing process they might actually laugh. Part of the reason staffing is not customer service friendly is because most staffing processes were developed when the unemployment rates were high and employers could demand anything from desperate applicants. That has all changed now so it’s time to treat our applicants like customers. Lets look at how to make the staffing process more customer friendly.

What is excellent customer service?

The basic elements of excellent customer service generally include:

  • Gathering information on the customers (applicants) expectations and needs and then exceeding those expectations
  • Providing the customer with information without them having to ask for it
  • Rapid, honest, accurate, and friendly responses
  • Assessing whether we actually met their needs during and after the process

What employment must do to become a customer service champion:

  1. Tell applicants up-front what they can expect: inform them about the steps they must endure and forecast how long the process will take.
  2. Ask candidates what their expectations are and then periodically ask them “how are we doing?”
  3. Respect the applicant’s time when we request information from them.
  4. Tell applicants in advance clearly what we are looking for in a candidate so we don’t confuse and frustrate them.
  5. Shorten the selection process so that instead of taking an average of two months it takes two weeks or less.
  6. Don’t treat all applicants the same. Make all applicants feel special but realize that top performers demand a higher level of customer service than the average worker.
  7. Give the candidates periodic updates on where they are in the process and include feedback on how they are doing. If necessary, give them an “ombudsman type” process to alleviate any of their concerns.
  8. Train recruiters in customer service and use “mystery shoppers” and questionnaires to help assess how well they are doing in the customer service area.
  9. Never keep applicants in the dark or force them to call you to find out how they are doing. Add a web page (with password security) so applicants can check on their own progress.
  10. When they complete each step in the process tell them what they did right and what to do more or less of.
  11. Make the process user friendly. Don’t make them guess. Tell applicants how to dress, what kind of questions they can expect, and generally make the process less adversarial and more of an “information sharing process among equals.”
  12. Cut the length of application forms, reference checks, approvals, and interviews to the minimum so you don’t waste applicant’s time.
  13. Use profilers and other “resume-less” systems to make it easy for those without updated resumes to apply.
  14. When we reject them tell them what they can do to improve their chances next time at our, or at another firm.
  15. Ask rejects (and those we made offers to) whether they were treated with respect and measure their satisfaction level with the process.
  16. Survey the managers involved to see if they were satisfied with the process and the output.
  17. When you reject someone, don’t cut off all communication with them. Put them on your newsletter mailing list, offer them product discounts, etc. For “soon-to-be qualified and those that reject our offers continue to send them firm / product information and job openings electronically.


Think of the employment department as a retail store. As “customers” come in, we need to give them information, answer their questions, and make them feel like they have made a wise investment of their time. If you treat applicants with class they might even re-apply at a later date (when we have an opening or after their skills increase). Satisfied applicants may later become customers or may someday be in a position to recommend our firm or product to others. Job applicants are much like restaurant visitors, they quietly remember their good experiences but they go out of their way to tell others about their bad experiences. Abandon the “my way or the highway” approach to staffing and begin to treat all recruitment as a form of product sales and brand development!

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