Client or Candidate - who is the real customer here?

Is the client or the candidate the more important customer? When working for a staffing firm I can recall having this argument many times. It usually started when the candidate wanted more out of the client thus making some negotiations necessary. It was a two-way street, though, and the salespeople made their argument loud and clear when the client made similar requests.

So who really is the customer? The client? The candidate? Both? If both, who takes precedence during tough negotiations? Not to ruin the punch line, but I firmly believe the answer is that both are equally important.

On the client side of the equation there are several obvious reasons why salespeople not only consider them to be a customer, but consider them to be the only customer. First and foremost, clients pay the bills that keep the lights on and the paychecks coming. To many people that is enough of an argument to roll out the red carpet and be done with it. There are other reasons why clients should be treated as a customer (although I would further argue they should be a partner, but that isn't the debate at hand). The client is on the receiving end of a service provided by the recruiter or firm. The client has the ability to determine whether or not your product or service is worthy of their purchase. The client can cut you off for any reason or no reason at all. Perhaps most importantly, though, there are far fewer clients than there are candidates. This, combined with the bill-paying argument can be put together for a mean one-two punch.

Arguing that the candidate is the customer comes at a disadvantage to begin with, since client is essentially synonymous with customer. Additionally, candidates don't pay you the way clients do, and there are [almost] always more fish in the sea if the first one doesn't work out. However, a recruiter firm in his or her beliefs can mount a pretty impressive rebuttal.

Obviously the candidate plays a pivotal role in the process. Without an interested candidate who meets the requirements and is willing to take the job offer, the firm or recruiter never gets paid. This is usually the biggest ticket item and most elementary of arguments. There are other reasons why a candidate should be considered a customer, though. For one thing, the candidate has a lot to do with building your reputation with the client. If the candidate is not truly happy with the position he or she is placed in, major problems can occur such as not lasting for the guarantee period, being under motivated, or simply not living up to expectations. As such, the candidate must be treated as a customer and placed in a role that he or she will be truly enthusiastic about! Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, a candidate can lead to future business by way of referrals, heads-up on new positions, future placements, or if in a hiring role can select you as a supplier. A good recruiter-candidate relationship will lead to future business in a number of different ways, so that relationship needs to be cared for and treated with respect!

While it is true that the client is the customer that cuts the check, the candidate is the customer that drives the business. Without one, the other will mean nothing to your business. It is a delicate balance to keep, but each side must be catered to when possible, and roped in when necessary in order to honor their counterpart's requests.

Views: 164

Comment by Slouch on February 12, 2009 at 10:19am
in my opinion, the client is most important. It's hard to make a placement without one.
Comment by Gino Conti on February 12, 2009 at 10:36am
Nearly impossible, in fact! Perhaps I'm just a sucker for the candidate experience, because even though I am the client now, I still think the candidate is just as important. If the candidate isn't taken care of appropriately I have all sorts of retention, morale, and quality issues to worry about.

It really could be an endless debate when you get into it, though. One could make the argument that placing a perfect candidate who is fully invested in the new opportunity is, in fact, being done solely for the benefit of the client and the benefit derived from the candidate is the result of being mindful of the client's needs. I think that is getting too much into symantics, though.

At any rate, the client pays the bills at the end of the day, so I can't honestly say I think you're wrong for feeling that way! Thanks for putting in your 2 cents!
Comment by Slouch on February 12, 2009 at 10:46am
no such thing as a perfect candidate and certainly there is no such thing as a perfect job.
Comment by Gino Conti on February 12, 2009 at 10:55am
Touche - nobody is perfect and there is always room for improvement on the job side as well. Perhaps I should watch my use of superlatives a bit more...
Comment by pam claughton on February 12, 2009 at 11:27am
I think they're both important. You might fill the job with one candidate, but the relationships you create with other candidates during the process could lead to additional placements, and even additional clients. If you treat everyone well, it will come back to you. Candidates that I haven't placed have referred business to me and have even becoming hiring managers. Today's candidate could be tomorrow's client. :)
Comment by Gino Conti on February 12, 2009 at 11:30am
Thanks for the comment, Pam! You're definitely on the same wavelength as me on this one.
Comment by Kristy on February 13, 2009 at 12:12pm
You bring up excellent points for both sides. I am currently working at a staffing agency in Boston and have been on both the client and candidate side. We wouldn't be in business without either, so I think they are equally important. It's our job to be the mediator and find a winning compromise for all parties.
Comment by Martin H.Snyder on February 13, 2009 at 1:44pm
I think an important value to attempt where possible (and out of the realm of poetry) to select words with the closest direct match to the idea you wish to convey. I Googled the word, and here are some results:

Definitions of customer on the Web:

someone who pays for goods or services

A customer refers to individuals or households that purchase goods and services generated within the economy. ...

a patron; one who purchases or receives a product or service from a business or merchant, or plans to

Groups or individuals who have a business relationship with the organization--those who receive and use or are directly affected by the products and services of the organization. ...

The person or group that is the direct beneficiary of a project or service. The people for whom the project is being undertaken (indirect beneficiaries are probably stakeholders).

means the party to which the goods are to be supplied or service rendered by the supplier. May also be referred to as the 'User'.

means the person whose order for the Goods is accepted by the Company:

the person firm or company who purchases the Goods from the Company;

A subscriber of any of the Services provided by the Company.

usually meaning the purchaser, organization, or consumer after the sale. Prior to the sale is usually referred to as a prospect.

any Person at whose request or on whose behalf the Company undertakes any business or provides advice, information or services

As identified in the order confirmation.

The company which pays the money due under the factored invoice. Also known as the account debtor.

A person who receives services given on behalf of and for the benefit of a client.

the customer named on the Order;

This is the person and/or company entering into the contract

"customer" any outside entity from whom you receive money (or hope to receive money). ...
Comment by Gino Conti on February 13, 2009 at 1:57pm
Well put, Martin, and thanks for the response! The problem is, many of the definitions support both sides of the argument. Clearly some are focused on a customer being the person or entity making payment, thus making the hiring company the obvious choice. However, many of the definitions refer to a customer being on the receiving end of a service, but makes no mention of payment. By these definitions a candidate is just as much a customer as the company they are placed in. That is, of course, unless you don't feel recruiters add value or provide a service to the candidate. The fact that the definition of customer is relatively broad and doesn't always include mentions of payment being made is why I find this debate interesting!
Comment by Jim Durbin on February 13, 2009 at 2:41pm
I think we're forced to say that candidates are our customers because we don't want to be in the business of buying and selling people, and if the client is paying, then the candidate is a commodity they are purchasing.

Add to the fact that our commodity has a mind of its own, and you simply can't break it down to who is the client. No matter the situation, someone is on the losing end.

If you step outside the paradigm, and look at your business as matching instead of placement, you can make the decision to work only with people of quality on both sides of the equation. If you look at your job as matching two equally worthy people to work together, rather than a client company and candidate, you could sidestep the issue. Some recruiters (people like Harry Joiner) do an excellent job of making just this distinction.

The problem of course is that you better be really good at your job to take that kind of risk. We've all worked with people we didn't particularly like - sometimes actively, sometimes maybe there just isn't any personal connection, and it's all business. To my disappointment, I've made far more money and done a better job overall with those who were just business connections than those that were friends as well as clients.

Playing nice and being extra super special sounds good, but when it's time to pay the bills, can you afford to eat platitudes and attaboys? Candidates aren't required to do as I say - they look out for their best interests. Clients do the same, but at least they pay if I successful do my job.


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