The Lost Art of Customer Service: Unreturned Phone Calls & Emails
I hear a lot of complaints from job-seekers. Obviously, when someone is out of work they encounter a lot of frustrating situations. It’s often said that looking for a job is itself a full-time job. The process of searching and interviewing for a job is actually a sales position. You are “selling” an intangible … yourself! You are selling your experience, your skills, your personality, your talent, and your abilities to solve a potential employer’s problems. [Read “Why Job Hunting is a Consultative Sales Position” for more on that topic.]
Being rejected or ignored is a regular part of the job-seeking routine. It’s the nature of the beast. Professional sales people may be used to facing rejection on a daily basis … but most others are not. Emotionally, that can take a huge toll on a person’s attitude, which is a big problem when maintaining a positive attitude is so critical to a job-seeker’s chances of success. [Read “The Power of a Positive Attitude.”] Professional sales people do not fear rejection, nor do they take it personally. They simply plow forward, knowing that the more times they hear “no,” the closer they are to a “yes.” However, I realize that job-seekers are not all professional sales people, and rejection is much harder for some to handle than others. [Read “The Double-Whammy of Rejection and Isolation” for more on this.]
Of all the complaints I hear from job-seekers, by far the most common one is people not returning phone calls. Not too far behind that is a lack of response from emails sent. The sad fact is, most online submissions go totally unanswered. That’s why savvy job searchers do not rely on simply applying to online job postings, but rather spend most of their time networking, finding ways to go around HR, and talking with actual decision-makers at their target companies. [For details on how to network your way to a job, read “How to Network: A Step-by-Step Guide for Job Searching.”] Most résumés and online applications go into the proverbial “Black Hole of HR.” [Read “Avoiding the Black Hole of HR” for some strategies on getting around this fate.]
I understand why most online applications go unanswered. The majority of those applications go directly to an HR Department that is flooded with resumes and candidates. Sadly, many of those applicants are not truly qualified for the positions they are applying for. Most recruiters and HR people are looking for exact matches to their job requirements, and are under a tremendous amount of time pressure to screen an overwhelming flood of applicants. [Read “The Brutal Truth on How Résumés Get Eliminated” for more on how that screening process works.] They simply don’t have enough time to respond to each and every application they receive. I get that.
However, having said that, what I don’t get or accept is the seemingly total lack of a good old fashioned “customer service” attitude at so many places. There are certain companies that are famous for their top-notch, world-class customer service. Neiman Marcus and Disney are two that immediately come to mind. Those companies are known to bend over backwards to treat everyone who comes in contact with them – both their existing customers and their potential customers – like royalty. People flock to do business with them in large part due to that customer-centric attitude and the positive experience it produces. Executives from Fortune 1000 companies in all sorts of diverse industries fly to Disney’s Corporate Headquarters in Orlando every year and pay tens of thousands of dollars to take Customer Service Workshops from them in order to learn how they do what they do, and to emulate their fantastic model.
Now, when someone sends an application or an email with a résumé to a company, and then gets absolutely no response … what kind of message is that company sending? Do they not realize that every negative impression they create by such non-responsiveness trickles down to their consumer base? Do they not understand that all the dollars they spend on their website and media advertising designed to increase their company’s positive image are undone by such non-responsiveness? Don’t they get the simple fact that totally ignoring an applicant is just plain unprofessional and quite frankly, rude?!
One easy solution that any company could institute is SO simple. They could have an automated program that sends an acknowledgment to each applicant explaining that their résumé has been received, and will be reviewed. It could also include a simple disclaimer that only qualified applicants will receive a further response. Personally, I think those automated responses should also include the name and contact information for an actual live person who is overseeing the search for that position – but I also realize the unfortunate truth that most companies are afraid to identify a specific individual and invite direct inquiries to that person. It’s much easier for them to dodge applicants and avoid the responsibility of returning emails or phone calls if they keep the identity of their HR screeners or corporate recruiters a secret!
I’ve instituted an automated response system like the one described above for any applicants contacting my company, Midas Recruiting, so I know that it’s not that difficult to do. Now I realize that when any company sends an automated “canned email” response saying they’ve received a person’s résumé, it generally means nothing … but at least the applicant knows they received it! Unfortunately, most companies don’t even do that simple thing.
Phone calls are another story. I can understand why most companies don’t return most emails … their recruiters and HR screeners are often overwhelmed with hundreds of emails each day, and simply cannot answer every one. But voice-mail messages? I’m sorry, but I have NO patience for people who don’t return calls. As a recruiter, I always made it my rule to return every phone message I got within 24 hours – usually the same day. In my experience, I’d only get one phone message for every 100-200 emails – an unfortunate sign of the times. It’s so easy to hit “send” and so hard to pick up the phone and actually try talking to someone! I feel that anyone who makes the effort to call me deserves a response. To do otherwise is just rude. I expect the same professional courtesy from the people that I call and leave messages for, as well. Maybe I’m just naïve … but to me, that’s just basic customer service!