For Best Results, Treat Candidates Like Customers

For Best Results, Treat Candidates Like Customers

Most of us are aware of how important customer experience is, and how a positive or negative experience can affect customer retention. In recent articles, we’ve been looking at a different kind of experience – the one that a job applicant goes through when they’re trying to get a job at your company. In many organizations, it seems like there’s a strong focus on customer experience, but less focus on candidate experience. Let’s unpack the reasons why, and explore some of the ways in which candidate experience can get as much recognition as customer experience.

What is candidate experience vs. customer experience?

Most know this, but to quickly qualify:

  • Customer experience is the process a customer goes through to buy something from a company, be that an e-commerce portal, a series of research they consumed, trade shows, etc. It speaks to the relationship between the sales arm of the company, some account managers, and the person buying whatever is being sold.
  • Candidate experience is the process someone goes through trying to get hired at that company. This involves job ads, the ATS, the interview process, the offer stage, and the onboarding process.

Why does customer experience seem to get more attention, then?

The way most organizations are structured, rank-and-file employees are closest to the actual work and deliverables/projects. Senior leaders are typically closest to the perks and the financial metrics. This makes almost no sense at one level — how can you run a company if you’re unclear on what actually happens day-to-day? — but it makes perfect sense at another level, because (a) it’s how we’ve always done things and (b) you get a higher salary when you assume a greater slice of responsibility.

Because of the way we structure organizations, most senior leaders care about financial metrics above all else. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad: they want to be seen as successful in their roles, and the No. 1 metric most companies use to define ‘success’ is growth, or CAGR, or something around financial targets being hit. Also, if there’s no money flowing in, they don’t get paid and their colleagues don’t get paid. So, yes, we need a focus on financial metrics.

Problem is, for many senior leaders, the focus on financial metrics is all-consuming. For example, most people abhor meetings — but senior leaders tend to love meetings where financial metrics are discussed. They love to breathlessly analyze how much is coming in — or, if not enough is coming in, they want to figure out ways to right the ship. Go-to-market strategy! Revenue plays! Etc.

There is nowhere you see a bigger disconnect between “what senior leaders say they care about” and “what senior leaders actually care about” than the hiring/recruiting space. A senior leader will almost assuredly tell anyone who will listen that they want “the best people” and “the best team possible” and quite possibly add that “people are everything!”

This is admittedly an older Forbes article by Liz Ryan, but the title kind of says it all: “Is It Really That Hard To Hire Good People?” This one paragraph nails the whole issue:

I hope you don’t make your customers and prospects create their own records in Salesforce! You value your customers too much to make them unpaid clerical help, and you need to value job applicants that much or more.

Right. A company would never force a customer to fill out screens and screens of data to be qualified as a lead. At most, they enter their email address once to get a whitepaper sent to them. But we do it to candidates every hour.

Customer experience gets more focus because it has a more direct tie to revenue. That’s the plain and simple reality of it.

But shouldn’t customer experience and candidate experience be similarly important?

Yes. If you have bad people internally, you won’t do much well in the eyes of customers.

The easiest way to change this thinking is to think of the vocabulary differently. Start telling senior leaders that employees are “internal customers” (they are) and need to be treated and strategized about the same way that external (traditional) customers are.

And hey, while you’re at it, start referring to talent sourcing as a “supply chain.” They will understand that vocabulary better too.

Language/vocabulary is a huge issue at work, because different departments and silos talk about work concepts in different ways. If you can change the vocabulary even a little bit, you can start making inroads.

What elements of customer experience can be applied to candidate experience?

The big ones:

  • Communicate consistently
  • Solve problems when they arise
  • Make sure the process is intuitive
  • Make sure it’s mobile-friendly
  • Have people at the ready to respond to questions the candidate – the “internal customer” – is going through
  • Be nice
  • Instead of showing that your company is a great place to purchase from (customer experience), show it as a great place to work (candidate experience)

It shouldn’t be as hard as some organizations make it. Silos are a big issue – candidate experience is a HR thing, and customer experience is an operations/customer service/sales thing – and may contribute to some of the reasons why customer experience has outpaced candidate experience. But with a few simple vocabulary and process tweaks, both experiences can be paramount.

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