How Would You Describe Your Ideal Employee?

Super BusinessmenOn Tuesday, I had lunch with two friends.  Marilyn was serving our table. At one point, I completely lost the thread of our table conversation because I was watching her interact with another table. Marilyn was laughing so hard, she looked like she was going to cry.  So was the rest of the table.  Later when we turned down the chocolate cake suggestion, Marilyn’s response, with a completely deadpan look on her face, except for the twinkle in her eyes, was “Have the carrot cake then. It’s a vegetable.”

Marilyn was wonderful.  Would she have been for every restaurant?  Probably not. Some restaurants are more formal.  Friendly professionalism is always expected but off-the-cuff jokes and roars of laughter are not appreciated.  And it’s not just that Marilyn may not be a fit for that type of restaurant; that type of restaurant may not be a fit for Marilyn.

As employers, too often, we haven’t clearly defined who our ideal employee is.  Most of us know that attitude is much more important than experience. Skills can be taught; attitude not so much.  But it goes deeper than that. As in my example above, friendly professionalism looks different at different businesses. If you and your customers expect a more formal approach to service, someone like Marilyn may not be a good fit.

Take the time to think about your company culture, your customer’s expectations and then come up with three or four words or phrases to describe the person you believe will more easily integrate into your company and connect with your customer’s in a meaningful way.

These words and phrases can then be used during the recruitment and hiring process. There will be some people who automatically disqualify themselves from the process when they see or hear those words and that’s OK.  It’s better for them and for you to know up front they are not comfortable with the role. On the plus side, there will be some who eagerly jump in because you  have just described them.

Having a deep understanding of your ideal employee is necessary in order to recruit and hire people who will fit the culture. Hiring someone who isn’t the right fit isn’t good for your business, your team or the new hire. After all, it’s not about filling a role; it’s about filling a role with the right person.

Attitude eats Experience for Lunch

Four different poses of one woman waiting for interview. =When I was doing consulting work and helping businesses improve their service levels, one of the things I would look at was their hiring and recruitment strategies.  Some companies didn’t have well-thought out or planned strategies; some did.

A common feature between many companies, regardless of how structured their hiring and recruitment plans were, was the desire to hire people with specific experience in order to reduce training time.  I completely understand that desire.  What we didn’t always agree on was how important previous experience was.

Hiring someone who has worked in a similar role elsewhere may mean less time is needed before tasks can be completed independently. But as we all know, from a customer service perspective, the ability to complete a task in a timely manner is only one part of the customer experience.

Efficiency is good.  Genuinely friendly, empathetic, willing to go beyond what I have to do to what I can  do make my customer feel valued,efficiency is great.

In front-facing, customer service roles, here is a short list of attributes I believe are much more important than years of experience:

  • Can-do attitude: This is someone who looks way beyond the bulleted list on their job description. They would not dream of saying “That’s not my job”.  If they can’t help, they will make it their personal mission to find someone who can.
  • Confidence:  Confidence in self inspires confidence in others, including co-workers and customers.
  • Empathetic:  There is no quick jumping to judgement or pre-conceived notions. Instead, this person has the ability to step back and understand or identify the emotion, even if they don’t understand or identify with the way the emotion is being shared.
  • Positive energy:   People who choose to find the positive in any given situation are a joy to be around and that joy and enthusiasm spreads to others.

Every once in a while (and I believe more frequently to companies with a great reputation) the candidate sitting in front of you has tons of experience, plus all of the above. Sometimes the reason a candidate has lots of experience is because they have mastered both the technical and the inter-personal sides of their job.   Wonderful. But if you have to choose between experience and fair-to-middling attitude or limited experience and great attitude, go with the attitude!

What are your thoughts? What other inter-personal skills would you add to the list above?

Upright and Breathing are not Key Qualities

Tired businesswomanIn the last four years, I have facilitated over 100 customer service training sessions.  By far, the majority of people in my sessions want to provide their customers with great service.  They are excited to learn about the concept of internal customer service; they want to learn how to present themselves as professionals and how to effectively manage unhappy, disappointed customers.  They are eager to share their experiences with others in the group.

But every once in a while, someone will show up in a session who simply does not understand why they should provide some of the basics, never mind go out of their way to make a customer feel valued.  They believe that unhappy, disappointed customers are rude and demanding and refuse to consider using techniques to manage difficult situations.

I had one participant openly admit to spitting in a customer’s burger when it was pointed out to her that the burger wasn’t cooked as ordered.  (I must admit to thinking that was an urban myth.  Nobody would do that, right?  Wrong!!)  Another participant told me he had absolutely no intention of ever apologizing to a customer or trying to find a solution to a problem because “Customers get what they get and if they aren’t happy, they can just deal with it.”

Each time this happens I am astounded at the negativity.  We need customers. Customers pay our bills for us; they pay for our new car, our dream vacation, our children’s education.  Yes, sometimes customers come to our businesses with unrealistic expectations.  Sometimes the customer is “wrong”, but that does not give service professionals the right to treat the customer with disdain and disrespect.

Why do some employers put up with this type of behaviour?

Here are two reasons I’ve been given.

1.  The employee is great at everything else. Because they are technically proficient, they are allowed to get away with atrocious behaviour.

2.  They fill a time slot in the schedule.  Sometimes labour shortages result in the “hey, a living, breathing person who shows up for work at least 80% of the time is better than nobody.”

I understand the temptation to let high customer service standards slide a bit in those situations, but don’t give in!  The reality is that an employee with this type of negative attitude damages your business.  Having toxic, negative, people-haters showing up for work damages your reputation, your current customer leave and potential customers stay away.  Not only that, but the work environment becomes increasingly toxic as the negativity starts infecting previously positive attitude employees who see bad behaviour not being addressed.

Attitude truly does count.  You can teach someone HOW to complete a task, but you can’t train them to complete it with professional and personal pride or to care about their co-workers or their customers.

Upright, breathing and technically proficient isn’t good enough!   Hire people that want to succeed.  Hire people that would not dream of settling for “barely good enough” .  Hire people that actually care about and like people.


Five Things you can do to Improve Hiring Success

Here’s a problem.  By far the majority of business owners and managers want their customer to leave feeling they received good or even great service, but finding the people with the right attitude is hard.

My husband and I were at one of the big warehouse stores this weekend. There were two employees standing at the exit, checking the receipts of all customers on the way out.  One employee held out her hand for the receipt, glanced at it, marked it with her black marker and then gave it back with a very unenthusiastic “have a nice day.” The other employee greeted every person that came up to him with an enthusiastic “And how are you today?”  He smiled and had something personal to say to each customer as they were leaving. He referenced the hockey jersey, the beautiful colour of jacket, etc, etc.  As he said good-bye to each customer, many of them seemed just a little more cheerful than a moment before.

Same store, two employees standing almost side by side, but the customer experience was vastly different depending on which line the customer stood in.  Is this a challenge you face?  If so, you are not alone!  While there is never a guarantee that everyone you hire will be just the right person, you can improve the odds considerably by developing a strong recruitment process.

1.  Create a detailed job description for each and every position within the organization. It can be tempting to dismiss some jobs or roles from this important process because the tasks associated with the position are routine or ‘unskilled.’   Avoid falling into that trap for two reasons: a) It sends the message “Your role is not important enough to warrant a job description” and b) Every role has specific requirements.  Timeliness, attention to detail, physical demands, ability to get along with co-workers, etc.  A detailed job description provides the basis for developing assessment forms and interview questions specific to the position being filled.

2.  Know exactly what attitudes and skills you require and which ones you are willing to train on. It can be tempting to hire the person with years of experience, because that should shorten the training period, right?  But just because someone has been doing something for a long time, it doesn’t mean they did it well.  Even if they absolutely ace the skill assessment, if the higher priority is a person’s ability to keep it together in the face of long line ups or a disgruntled customer, then don’t put too much weight to the technical skill.  Which knowledge, attitudes and skills are must haves?

3.  If interpersonal skills are highly important (and I’m trying to think of a time when they wouldn’t be!), develop questions specific to those attributes.  Don’t ask someone if they are comfortable dealing with conflict; ask them to provide you an example of a time they had to deal with conflict.  What was the scenario?  What was their role / responsibility within that situation?  What steps did they follow? Was the situation resolved successfully? How did they know?  What did they learn from that situation?

4.  Create a hiring process for each role.  When a position needs to be filled, will you look internally as well as externally?  Which channels will you use to get the message out that you are looking to fill a position within your organization? What is the key message?Don’t keep this information in your head. Write it down and keep it!

5. Create assessment forms; one to review the applications and one for the interview(s).  Create your questions, outline what information you need to provide the candidate. If it is a multiple interview process, how will you communicate with the candidates as they move, or don’t move, through the process?

As you develop your  recruitment process, keep in mind that if you want the best of the best working for you, you need to demonstrate why the best of the best should want to work with you!

What are some things you do in the recruitment and hiring process to increase the odds of finding the right person, with the right attitude?