It's All About Customer Service
Updated: Sep 16
When I was sixteen years old and leaving my super awesome record store job to take a job downtown closer to my new life as a college student, never in my wildest dreams would I have predicted my employer would a) be my employer for the next 7 years, and b) form the foundation for how I work today.
I am a Nordstrom alumni.
As a recruiting consultant helping early stage startups create good hiring processes and managing their key recruitments from start to finish, I’ve had numerous experiences on the business development side of my job that remind me of who I am, who I want to be, and who I don’t want to be. How I serve my clients and candidates (both = customers) is why I’m successful.
When it comes to recruiting, as I told someone recently, I am successful because of a few key things some of my peers (both persons and companies) don’t focus on (rather, they’ll list fancy charts as to their fancy processes or talk about Boolean strings and crap like that). But here’s the deal. It’s about relationships. It’s about how you take care of them. It’s about respecting them through your own actions. It’s about being transparent about who you are and why you’re there in the first place.
I genuinely love what I do. My goal is not to sell, sell, sell. My goal is not to put “butts in seats”. My goal is not to process and move on. It is to find great matches. It is to exceed expectations in the entire process, from how I interact with candidates, to how aligned we are in the employer/candidate relationship, to how quickly I get them through the process, to how I bring them in the door on their first day.
I have never not responded to an incoming application. Period. Whether I have 400 or fourteen applications, everyone gets a response. If I have a question, I will at a very minimum email you (heads up – only about half, at most, bother to reply BACK to me. If I don’t get a response, I’m not going to chase you down though, it’s a mutual thing.). If I know I’m not going to interview them, I reply right then – I don’t wait til the job is filled. That’s just goofy. Big companies have software that allow recruiters to quickly mass-decline with email template letters – there is NEVER an excuse for the letters that say “we’ll only contact you if we want to interview you.” And I’ve actually giggled when I get them 3 months after the job application – I mean, really? C’mon folks.
You’ll hear from me within 48 hours either way. I want to fill this job. My hiring manager wanted to fill it yesterday. If I see a resume I like (or think has potential), I’ll be in contact within a day or two of your application. Not only is it important to myself and the client, but my reputation is one where no one has to feel like they’ve fallen into a black hole once they apply. (With this, candidates keep in touch with me as well – it’s a great resource for my own recruiting network, and even if I don’t have a place for them with one of my clients, I still believe in referring them to places they might enjoy. Its just good karma.)
As the recruiter, I take ownership of facilitating the hiring process. While there is a hiring manager and a team of interviewers, I’m the face of the hiring process. If a manager behaves badly, or doesn’t show up for the interview, or can’t seem to make a hiring decision? *I* am the one who has to apologize to the candidate in a way that also protects the interests of the company. I’m the one who has to make up excuses when others think it’s okay to wait days and weeks to respond. When I’m owning the process, we meet, we agree on turnaround times, and I take care of everyone – from manager to candidate and everyone in between. Communication is clear and service expectations are high – that is how you keep good candidates in the running. A recent client of mine was a fantastic partner in the hiring process – everyone was stoked to be a part of it, and understood early on that yes, this will be time consuming, but the higher quality and commitment that is shown from the start, the faster they’ll get the help they need. (We filled 3 engineering jobs in 4 weeks – awesome).
I’ve learned that when philosophies differ on service, candidates suffer and jobs go unfilled. One prospective client, in our negotiations, wanted me to duplicate a process that didn’t allow me to do this, and wanted to continue to use their current processes that had caused their pain points in the first place. Money isn’t enough – because my professional reputation is at stake every time I work with a client. If I know they’re not on board with my business model, I don’t move forward, because I know the process will suffer and therefore candidates won’t get the treatment they deserve – and in the end, my business will be affected as I’ll have spent far longer on a recruitment than what was necessary had I been allowed to be that facilitator. (I declined their offer)
I show gratitude to my hiring team, and make sure I’m available to them as needed. Ensuring they are comfortable before going into interviews – knowing what to ask, knowing how they should be treated, knowing how to deal with challenging scenarios or those painful quiet moments – it’s key. If my interviewers aren’t comfortable, how can I expect them to positively represent the company and job to the candidate? I also value getting their perspective on the job to ensure it’s the same as the hiring manager’s, so everyone communicates similarly to candidates. I was recently talking to a prospective client who, after talking to their HR, Executive, and Hiring Managers, quickly saw the gig was viewed in three very different ways – a clear sign of trouble to me. (I declined their offer).
So again, EVERYTHING is customer service – from writing an easily understood job posting to how quickly you facilitate the logistics to the screening and interviewing process (including how you treat them when they are in the building) to how you treat the offer process.
You know people who take pride in giving great service – from that person at the grocery store checkout to the lady who helps you with directions in the street to the people you interact with professionally. Take inspiration from them – it will come back to you tenfold in the end.
With that, I wanted to share an excerpt of Nordstrom customer service philosophies. Now I know not ALL employees there are stellar, but just walk into a Macy’s and you’ll see how their lack of sales staff affects your experience. I am grateful for my time with Nordstrom and the “OF COURSE” we take care of the customer – it’s integral, it’s the right thing to do.
Customer Service 101
Everything begins with the customer!
Do what’s right for the customer – and you have done what’s right for the organization.
Managers create, maintain, and support the corporate service culture. In essence? Stop blaming your employees for problems if you’re a jackass yourself.
Value Your Employees Heroics – give your people a standard to aspire to and to surpass. Reward outstanding acts of customer service (internal & external).
Make customers feel comfortable by paying attention to every detail of the experience. “Walk with a sense of urgency,” they taught me. I love that. It’s about respecting everyone involved.
Make your public voice or face a pleasant one. I‘m always amazed at how people answer the phone at front desks – how about starting the greeting with “hello” or “good morning” rather than just calling out the company name?
Create an atmosphere of helpfulness. Don’t be lazy. Get off your arse and do it yourself, and offer to help others. I still see “it’s not my job” quoted regularly by people who should know better.
Create an atmosphere of professionalism. Snarkiness is not cute. It’s not customer-centric. You can have fun without looking like amateurs.
Educate your customer to make sound choices. Make sure this is the actual job they want – guide them, counsel them, empower them. Give them options.
Inverted Pyramid – Customers at the top; next are those who directly serve customers
Trust the people you hire, trust their judgment and give them freedom to make decisions. Push decision-making responsibility and authority down to the lowest level possible, and encourage employees every step of the way.
Give clients more than they expect. “Above and beyond the call of duty,” they would encourage.
Leave clients something to remember you by. I still keep in touch with customers from 20 years ago – they helped me become who I am today.
Take responsibility. Learn from your mistakes – because you WILL make them. Then forgive yourself.
Work with diversity, not against it. It will make you better – trust me.
I'm grateful for the lessons I've learned, and how those initial years helped me see my professional world as a recruiter, career coach, and small business owner. Behavior is what customers remember. So...walk the talk!