Monday, May 15, 2006

The Quickest Path to Irrelevance: A Case Study

I recently went through a bad customer service experience (technically, I'm actually still going through it), and it got me so riled up that I was compelled to blog about it as thoughts shot in and out of my head. In fact, I'm going to be doing a new series titled "The Quickest Path to Irrelevance"-- it's a series devoted to things that organizations do on a daily basis that takes them one step closer to...well, irrelevance.

Specifically, this whole experience got me thinking about the recruiting process...because when you boil it down, good customer service IS good recruiting.

For all intensive purposes, let's just say I recently purchased something from a well-known retail outlet (a $2 billion publicly traded firm with over 7,000 employees based in Italy). When I tried to return the item I purchased (because it didn't fit the intended recipient that I sent it to), the course of events that followed truly stunned me. And it is a case study of how NOT to treat customers.

The aforementioned retailer has a very strict return policy. Of course, the sales associates who happened to assist me on that day neglected to mention this fact even after I told them my situation (I was trying to purchase a gift for someone out-of-state). Long story short, when I tried to return the item after having it sent back to me, I was told I would be unable to because of the 14 day return policy.

So I told them to give me store credit. They said no; they didn't do that. I asked if I could get my money back. Again, they said no. So I asked them what I could do. They told me I could exchange it for something else in the store. Given the fact that I didn't want anything they had to offer at the moment, I asked what happens if I didn't want to exchange it.

They said I would have 30 days from the original purchase date to find something I want.

What really irked me was that during this whole process, I wasn't treated as a valued customer who's purchased clothes from this retailer in the past. I was simply given a scripted, robotic answer to all my questions.

And I wondered: at what point do you sacrifice customer service for the sake of efficiency and "store policies?"

I think this same question can be posed for recruiting processes. Think about it: candidates who go through an organization's recruiting process are essentially no different than customers. They experience your firm from the inside out. They are exposed to "representatives" of your firm (hiring managers, associates, etc.). After all is said and done, they're left with an impression after the whole experience.

The question is: do they leave with a good experience? Or a bad experience?

I've seen too many organizations who don't treat candidates like "valued customers." They shuffle people in and out of the recruiting process like they're billable resources. No deep thought is given to the experience. How does your front lobby look like as candidates walk up? Do you make them wait for half an hour before they see anyone? Is it apparent that your hiring managers don't prepare adequately for interview days?

All of these things (and dozens more) make an indelible impression on candidates. Just like customers when they walk through a store and experience its customer service for the first time.

The major retailer in this case still has a chance to redeem themselves even after all that I've been through. Unfortunately, when it comes to the recruiting'll take a whole lot more than a refund (or free gift certificates) to win back people once you've left a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to their career.

What kind of customer service does your recruiting process have?

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