4 Ways HR Can (and Should) Be the New Face of Customer Service

J.W. “Bill” Marriott once said, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers, and your business will take care of itself.” The quote continues to be true. However, the definition of taking care of your employees continues to evolve. In today’s fast-paced, technology driven business world, taking care of employees means that the human resources function should adopt a customer service mindset.

If you do a Google search for customer service, it’s defined as “the assistance and advice provided by an organization to those people who buy or use its products or services.” When we talk about customers in a traditional sense, it means providing respect, communication, empathy, and appreciation. We set customer expectations, deliver an experience that’s easy, and thank them for their loyalty.

And when we think about customer service in that context, the candidate and employee experience isn’t much different. At least, it shouldn’t be. The individuals who want to work at our organizations deserve respect, communication, empathy, and appreciation. Our goal should be to set performance expectations, remove any roadblocks to goal completion, and focus on what’s important.

Customers are the key to bottom-line success, whether they’re external or internal. Human resources has an exciting and important role to play in this business strategy.

Who are Your Customers?

One of the biggest challenges an organization can face is getting everyone on the same page when it comes to defining the customer. A basic definition of customer is “the people who buy your product or service.” But that doesn’t mean everyone is a customer. Realistically, customers are those people who fit your organization’s target market. There will be individuals who are not in your organization’s target market or audience. Customers are likely to have an interest in your product or service and they have the means to make a purchase.

Another nuance to the term customer might be individuals who invest in your organization; for example, they buy stock or have an ownership interest. In the case of a non-profit organization, they might provide contributions or donations. They are making an investment in the organization; they are a customer.

This brings us to candidates, employees, and even, former employees. These individuals might buy the company’s product or service, hold stock, or donate. They also have the ability to attract customers or repel them. And finally, they can refer candidates for open positions. Candidates, employees, and (yes) former employees fit the definition of customer.

Treating Employees Like Customers Creates Organizational Value

When candidates are treated well (i.e. provided excellent service,) they will want to work for that organization. According to the LinkedIn Talent Solutions blog, 83 percent of business professionals say a negative experience can change their mind about a role.1 This aligns with the current focus on defining a positive candidate experience. Twenty-four percent of respondents in a recent survey stated that a positive candidate experience makes them more likely to increase their relationship with the employer’s brand and products.2

Once hired, employees who are happy and engaged with their work will deliver excellent customer service. It seems logical. Employees are the closest to the customer. They are responsible for the customer experience. If they’re happy, that feeling comes across in their customer interactions. (The reverse is also true.)

Engaged employees will also tell their friends and family how great their organization is. The work we do is a natural part of conversation. We’re not talking about a hard sell. Over the course of time, employees mention that their boss said something nice or the company did something they liked or the product they worked on is terrific. Others hear those casual remarks and say to themselves, “That must be a good company. Maybe I should buy one of their products. Or maybe I should consider working there.”

Employee Referral Programs

Research continues to show that employee referral programs are the best source for quality hires.3 However, the first step to implementing a successful ERP is having a brand worth referring. What sells an employee to recommend a job opening to their friends isn’t the referral bonus, it’s the company’s employment reputation and brand.

Word of mouth or mouse referral programs should be easy for the company to explain and for employees to use.4 It’s no different from the customer experience. Customers want products and services that are easy to buy and easy to use. Recruiting teams should use the same philosophy to encourage employees to refer talent. Reduce the administration typically associated with employee referrals programs by strategically using your recruiting software to automatically track sources of referral. This ensures the program stays easy (and expedient) for employees to get credit for the people they refer. 

4 Ways HR can Adopt a Customer Service Mindset

Many of us have participated in some form of customer service training. We know the principles of delivering excellent customer service. Sometimes the challenge is applying those tried and true methods to today’s fast paced, technology driven world. Let’s explore four common pillars to extraordinary customer service and how human resources can incorporate them into their talent acquisition strategy.

  1. RESPECT. Treating people with respect goes without saying. However, there are a couple of specific actions that HR departments can take to show respect toward candidates and employees. The first is by respecting a candidate’s time. A recruiter’s goal is to get qualified and interested applicants. Give candidates the information they need so they can decide whether or not to apply for opportunities with the organization. For example: design the company’s career portal to include a realistic job preview.5

    Once a candidate becomes a new hire, create an onboarding experience that makes the paperwork requirement efficient. It’s respectful of everyone’s time. Employees get answers to their questions so they can focus on their new role and managers spend time where it has the most impact - coaching employees.
  2. COMMUNICATION. The candidate is interviewing the company as much as the organization is interviewing them. The way the company communicates tells the candidate how they will be provided information once they’re hired. For example, letting candidates know the status of their application is not only helpful to the candidate, but it sends the message that the company keeps employees in the loop about important matters. Organizations can take it one step further and use their applicant tracking system (ATS) to generate candidate updates or put a “Stay in touch with us!” button on their career website so candidates can become a part of the company’s talent network.6

    Employee communications start before day one with onboarding. Human resources can create a frequently asked questions (FAQ) for new hires on what to expect on an employee’s first day and first week.
  3. EMPATHY. Customers want to buy products and services from companies that they like. So, marketing departments create a buying experience that customers will like. The same is true for employees. They want to work for companies that they like. So, HR departments create a candidate and employee experience that is positive.

    The way to create a positive candidate experience is to envision the experience that you would want to be a part of. For instance, we use our mobile devices for everything from depositing a check to controlling the thermostat in our homes. Organizations demonstrate empathy by creating a mobile recruiting experience that allows candidates to apply for open positions and monitor the status of their application.7

    In addition, companies can use the popularity of video to welcome new hires. It’s very powerful to get an immediate video welcome from senior management and it shows employees that the company cares.8
  4. APPRECIATION. Regardless of the outcome, organizations should acknowledge and appreciate the time a candidate gave to the application process. Again, the candidate is interviewing the company and bringing closure to the process shows respect. Candidates have the ability to influence others. It makes good business sense to put candidates in the position of, “Hey, I didn’t get hired but I was very impressed with the company and their hiring process. You should apply.” The organization can configure their ATS to notify candidates when a final selection has been made.

Also consider asking new hires for regular feedback to improve hiring and onboarding processes. These individuals have firsthand knowledge of the process. Take advantage of their fresh perspective by asking new employees to complete a post-onboarding survey. It will provide valuable information and show that the company appreciates their insights.

Measuring HR’s Customer Service Efforts

Anytime an organization adopts a new strategy, they should measure the effectiveness of that strategy. It allows the organization to step back, review the metrics, and make adjustments that can strengthen their direction. Here are three examples of human resources metrics9 that can be used in an evaluation of customer service efforts:

  • Source of Hire: Organizations track a tremendous amount of information regarding where their applicant flow comes from and the sources associated with new hires. Leveraging the organization’s most effective sources shows excellent communications (in terms of communicating job openings) and empathy (i.e. be where your candidates are)!
  • Percentage of Offers Accepted: It’s one thing to get a lot of applications; it’s another to convert those applicants to new hires. It takes good communication, a respectful recruiting process, and appreciation for candidates. Organizations can use this metric to examine their candidate experience and ensure they are offering the best possible process.
  • Yield Ratios: Sometimes it takes more than looking at a single number to determine what’s taking place. Yield ratios measure from one step in hiring process to the next (example: the ratio of candidates who are given a second interview after the first.) Organizations can use yield ratios to see if there’s a breakdown and focus on the step that needs attention.

However, numbers aren’t the only way to measure customer service success. Organizations should not underestimate the value of a great customer service story. In marketing, customer stories are valuable. Candidates and employees will share their stories and they are equally valuable.

Becoming a Customer-Centric HR Department

Part of the human resources role is taking care of the people who take care of the customer. We can use the same strategies that our marketing function uses to create customer loyalty: be respectful, communicate frequently, have empathy, and appreciate their participation.
Becoming a customer-centric HR department isn’t difficult, but it does take a focused effort. Luckily, we can take advantage of the technology solutions available to us. From mobile recruiting to candidate communications, we can leverage these features to benefit the candidate and the organization.

About Sharlyn Lauby

Sharlyn Lauby is an author, writer, speaker and consultant. She has been named a Top HR Digital Influencer and is best-known for her work on HR Bartender, a friendly place to talk about workplace issues. HR Bartender has been recognized as one of the Top 5 Blogs read by HR professionals by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and best business blog by the Stevie Awards.

Publications such as Reuters, The New York Times, ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, and Mashable have sought out her expertise on topics related to human resources and the workplace. Sharlyn is the author of “Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers,” and ”Manager Onboarding: 5 Steps for Setting New Leaders Up for Success,” which are available in the SHRM Store.

Her personal goal in life is to find the best cheeseburger on the planet.

About iCIMS

iCIMS is the leading provider of talent acquisition solutions that help businesses win the war for top talent. iCIMS empowers companies to manage their entire hiring process within the industry’s most robust Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Built on the foundation of a best-to-market talent acquisition software suite, iCIMS’ PaaS framework, UNIFi, allows employers to expand the capabilities of their core talent acquisition technology by integrating with the largest partner ecosystem in talent acquisition to help them attract, find, screen, and manage candidates. Offering scalable, easy-to-use solutions that are backed by award-winning customer service, iCIMS supports more than 3,500 contracted customers and is one of the largest and fastest-growing talent acquisition solution providers.

1  LinkedIn, 2  Recruiting Daily, 3-9  iCIMS Hiring Insights