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Imagine yourself in this actual situation: a new Wal-Mart store in Washington D.C. recently was inundated with applications for new associates. The store received over 23,000 applications for 600 available positions.
The retail giant will consequently hire one person for every 38 applications it receives — a hiring rate of 2.6 percent. Their goal is to identify the most qualified 600 people to fill the store’s positions. But this goal is short-sighted. While their skill sets vary, all 23,000 have something in common; each one of them is a potential Wal-Mart customer.
Looking back over our own careers, it is relatively easy to remember those applications we filled out in the hopes of landing that perfect part-time job. Putting on our “interview clothes” and marching into a local retailer, only to experience that cool reception is something we don’t easily forget. Any high school or college student can vividly recall times when he has applied for a job, only to learn that the employer is “not accepting applications at this time.”
Imagine the message such an employer is sending to potential employees. “We’re not accepting applications now because we have the absolute best employees in the world, all straight-A miracle workers!” Or, “We have absolutely no plans of ever promoting our employees, and have absolutely zero turnover, and better still, we’re never going to have anyone quit or die.”
Ask the same high school or college student if she ever applied for a position without ever hearing back from the employer. Again, the message is broadcasted loud and clear: “We have no plans of ever viewing you as anyone but the applicant that you are.”
Hiring as Opportunity
Hiring employees should not be considered a necessary evil. It should be viewed as a customer service and retention opportunity. Just as a customer is not an interruption to, but rather the purpose of, our work.
A number of software applications (apps) have recently been introduced into the marketplace that assists retailers in order to manage the huge influx of potential employees by interacting through these apps to fill a variety of retail positions. Other applications are also available that make the recruiting search much more efficient. At first glance, this can be a real timesaver by screening through applicants and searching for the perfect new hire. But let’s make sure we’re not doing that at the expense of your customers.
Technological progress is continuing at a rampant rate, and those retailers who embrace this movement will enjoy a competitive advantage over those who struggle to keep up. Although some grumble about the advancements that are making their jobs more challenging, the most successful are making a concerted effort to master at least some of them.
Apps are allowing us to do in seconds what used to take hours, if not days, to complete. It is prudent, of course, to approach some of these new apps with caution. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retailing and wholesaling jobs represent the largest number of employment positions in the country. It is very easy to grasp the pull that retailers have when it comes to attracting applicants.
Applicants = Customers
Take into consideration the number of applicants you have applying for retail positions on a yearly, weekly, or even daily basis and this customer-count can grow significantly. Proactive recruiting approaches the objective of finding qualified talent not from a retailer’s perspective, but from a consumer’s perspective. Viewing applicants as potential customers is a lot more manageable than viewing them as applicants.
Common sense tells us that most people applying for a retail position must have some level of interest in that retailer as a consumer. The goal then is to not only view an applicant as an applicant, but as a customer as well. Most retailers pride themselves on their level of customer service and retention.
In today’s competitive environment, it’s difficult enough to keep our current customer base from eroding, let alone sparing the resources to invest in the purpose of attracting new customers.
Treating applicants in this manner does not represent reality for many retailers. Most are unable to claim they treat their applicants as they would their best customers. In customer service programs, it becomes critical to evaluate your applicant base when determining the potential
Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) of your applicants. So what can we do to ensure we are maximizing our efforts in customer service and retention?
Consider the following suggestions:
Identify one employee on duty to be the applicant/store liaison. For the screening process, this should not be the manager on duty, but should be any employee who possesses strong customer service skills. His task is to communicate with the applicant not as an applicant, but as a customer.
Train all employees to play the role of liaison. Communicate to your team that as a progressive and proactive retailer, your plans are to continue to provide the best in customer service and grow our business day in and day out, and the best way to facilitate that is perpetual vigilance in recognizing aspiring new talent.
Ensure that the recruitment process, specifically dealing with applicants, is a customer service responsibility. When it comes to customer service and retention, retailers can’t afford to ignore the applicant’s CLV as a consumer.
Provide a gift to those applicants who apply for a position. This could be a coupon for a cup of coffee, a soft drink, a donut, or 10% off coupon for their time and interest in seeking employment opportunities within your place of business. You’re investing funds to reach your target market, so it just makes sense to distribute these offers to these potential customers.
These recommendations will not require any major changes in your day-to-day operations. But as evidenced by the above example, wouldn’t it be a lot more fun focusing on 23,000 customers and hiring 600 employees?
Doug Clopton is assistant professor of marketing at the University of Central Missouri. He may be reached at: 913-544-6705 or via email.