Customer service in Recruitment. We need to put our money where our mouth is

For all my blog posts see 'The Savage Truth'

Read the websites of any ten random recruitment companies. From any country. In the ‘About Us’ or ‘Our Services’ section, you will almost certainly find glowing and poetic prose about ‘customer service’ and the ‘customer comes first’ and ‘exceptional standards of service delivery’ and many other cliche-ridden phrases. But these claims were not written without sincerity. The companies professing to provide flawless service intended that to be the case I am sure. The desire to be excellent is real in most cases.

It is the delivery on the service promise that is the problem. All companies, in all industries, find it challenging to consistently deliver top service across a broad customer base. Indeed, it takes a very special business to do that.

But recruitment is in a class of its own when it comes to over-promising and under-delivering.

Recruitment and staffing is a special case because we ask our recruiters to deliver on the customer experience, but then we reward them largely for the dollars they individually generate, regardless of how many candidates and clients they burn along the way. So there is a mismatch of message and of motivation.

At Aquent, one of our key global objectives is to demonstrate the best customer service and loyalty in the staffing industry worldwide. But that lofty goal can’t be measured by self-acclimation! It has to be empirical and unbiased. So we have engaged Inavero, a specialist customer-satisfaction survey firm – focussing in the staffing and professional service arena – to survey our customer base, in every one of our 70 offices, every six months

We have introduced a customer service charter across our business, set up local task-forces to drive response times for talent and clients, and now we survey what our customers think of us on a regular basis. And trust me when I tell you it’s a scary thing to do! People don’t hold back, and some individual remarks via the survey can sting! And in some cases, where we have let our customers down, it’s well deserved. But the key thing is that we are able to quickly move into service-recovery mode. Even more telling, we get an overall customer satisfaction score for each business unit, and we can track quarterly improvement and change.

And that is super cool! But we have gone one step further

From January 2010 all Aquent Agents (consultants) in the International business now have a big chunk of their compensation linked to improvements in these customer service scores. So at Aquent we compensate people with a fair base salary, and exceptional results attract meaningful bonuses, as is true of most of our industry. But now our recruiters can earn a 25% “kicker” on top of their bonus, if their Inavero customer score meets the set benchmark of improvement and excellence.

Of course Aquent is a commercial enterprise. Revenue and profit is our lifeblood. But so is brand and reputation and self-esteem of our own staff. And frankly, providing exceptional customer service is directly linked to commercial success anyway. Great recruitment firms will differentiate their offering in two distinct ways, I believe. Firstly, by specialisation and depth of knowledge, and secondly through exceptional customer service.

But talking about customer service can become a stream of so many cliches. Meaningless spin without substance and without any grunt behind it to actually drive better customer experience.

At Aquent we will not be duped by our own PR. We measure what the customers think. We cop what they tell us on the chin. We work out ways to fix the problems.

And then we reward our staff when the customers are happy

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