For over a decade, I have written extensively about the retail customer experience. In all my consulting engagements, we focused on employees as a key component of that customer experience. However, I missed the boat on how we defined their customer. And you may be too.
Yes, we talked proper training and skills, and even profiles of employees who embodied the brand or desired CX. But never once did I advise a company on how their hiring experience may cost them customers too. Now I’m seeing the effects first hand.
My 18-year-old son needs a summer job before heading to university. So where did he start his search? At retailers he loves.
Anxious to hear back from his favorite sporting goods store or that big box pet store where we’ve taken our dog for five years, he checked his email regularly, but heard nothing. He then stopped by to ask about his application, and was treated rather shabbily about his lack of experience.
Here’s the problem. He knows he doesn’t have much experience. However, now a store where he purchased every soccer ball, his first cleats, and 1,000s of Father’s Day golf balls is suddenly a place where he wasn’t treated well.
In fact, neuroscience shows that the same areas of the brain are activated in rejection as when in physical pain, according to psychologist Guy Winch in his recent TED talk. Now, that doesn’t mean retailers shouldn’t reject applicants. It just means you need to remember those applicants are also current and future customers.
Ajay Patel has 10 years of experience recruiting for top retailers and felt this pain acutely—even garnering a call from the CEO. “When I worked at Advance Auto, we had a customer who loved us. In fact, he’d shopped with us for over 20 years. After applying to one of our stores, he never heard anything back. He eventually sent an email to our CEO, prompting us to reexamine our process so this didn’t happen again.”
If you want to avoid a call from your CEO - or worse, a lost customer - here are a few things you can do:
Communication Goes a Long Way
What turned off my son, and that 20-year customer, was the company’s lack of response. No one enjoys spending time on an application to not receive the courtesy of a reply. Many of our retail customers have over half-a-million store level employees. That means millions of applicants each year. Still, with automation and a clear store process, you can acknowledge each one and thank them for applying.
Each phase in your hiring process should trigger a response, so applicants know they’ve either advanced or are not being considered. Worse than rejection is prolonged false hope.
If you have an applicant tracking system, ensure you automate the person’s name and the position they’re applying for. Our best-in-class customers also let candidates know why they didn’t advance, whether it’s lack of experience or the position is no longer open. Again, these ‘buckets’ can be personalized to avoid sounding like a stock rejection.
Not Today But..
Before you reject your brand advocates, make sure there isn’t another place for them in the company. For instance, while my son might not be ready for a sales role, he may make a great stockroom employee. Or maybe that location didn’t need him, but the one near his university does.
According to Patel, “Ensure your system can look across different locations and job titles. You may be rejecting candidates who would be a great fit for another position. Candidate pools are a lifesaver when you’re dealing with the volume most retailers are.”
The Brand Isn’t BS
Don’t get me wrong. I love Matt Charney and his latest blog “Which Recruiting Trends are Total Bulls*it.” Number five on his list is “Employer Branding.” And he’s right. Most employer brands are as generic as possible. But they don’t have to be.
Rather than slick videos or “shots of employees in action” – make your employer brand about the unique way your organization speaks to people. And keep the voice of your candidate communications consistent with that brand.
Ashley Christensen, a Beard winning chef, founded a group of restaurants. Her brand is an edgy take on traditional fare. In fact, her latest enterprise is called Death and Taxes—pretty edgy, eh? Therefore, a run-of-the-mill help wanted sign wouldn’t do and the sign outside proves that.
Deepen Customer Ties
Often the last engagement a consumer has with a brand or company is the most powerful emotional driver. And what if that is a rejection from you? You can learn from companies like Delta on how to make the last experience a positive one.
Delta airline realized that many of their business travelers booked at the last minute for important meetings. Sometimes this resulted in them having limited seat options despite premier status.
To move the last experience from sitting in a non-reclining, middle seat by the bathroom to something more positive, they started a program called “Middle Seat Mondays.” It was a simple email that said they were sorry for the limited availability and offered additional frequent flyer miles with a link to book their next flight. Voila! Now they have moved the last experience from less than ideal to a positive place.
Retailers are doing similar things. In fact, we had one large customer who sent coupons to applicants a couple of weeks after a decision had been made. That $20 coupon drove over $500K in revenue and ended the application on a positive note that reinforced how much they appreciated them.
Finally, think about your candidate and customer experience like the golden rule. Treat people how you wish to be treated and you may end up with long term customers who become employees or vice versa.