Applying For A Job? Apply The Five Pillars Of Great Customer Service
If you're currently out of work, that's ridiculous, and I want to help you get a job.
So read this long but informative post about happy interviewing and submitting your happy resume and cover letter, since you probably have time right now, and let's see if it helps you land a happy gig.
If you're employed, then please read along for fun, over your lunch hour.
First, here a story I've told 293.7 times, but if you haven't heard it, it's, as NBC once said, new to you...
Back in 200o-ish, a friend of mine had a friend who worked in the HR Department of Principal Financial's Downtown Des Moines office.
The friend of my friend complained to my friend, who then told me that Principal was plagued by chronic turnover. No great surprise, considering its size, but still, he said, the company was spending boo-coo bucks on recruitment ads to fill positions that were then being vacated faster than fleas jumping off an electrocuted skunk.
The Des Moines Register loved it.
Crack open the "Help Wanted" section in The DMR any day of the week at that time, and you'd find it crammed full of 16 font bold headlined Principal recruitment ads, screaming for Accountant; Quality Assurance Analyst; Meeting Planning Consultant; Development Director; Product Specialist; Driver, VP Bus To Hooters.
It wasn't, and isn't, just the cost of the ads. The money invested in hiring and training those employees was, and is, staggering, especially when your worldwide payroll exceeds the population of Ankeny.
How to stop the revolving door?
My friend wondered if I had any ideas. I lied and said yes, which led to an invitation to meet with some of Principal's HR people, at their downtown office.
At the meeting, we talked about Principal's hiring process.
A resume and cover letter submitted to Principal Financial Group is scanned into their database.
Each position at Principal has a job description, and a list of educational background requirements and skill sets needed for that position. When that position comes open, these words and terms are used are used to search and filter through the resumes and cover letters stored in the database. Those that have them are set aside, and then filtered again and again until, at some point, humans are brought into the process, who begin looking through those that remain.
The terms could be anything from "bachelor's degree," to "verbal and written communication skills," to "financial services experience," to "problem solving," to "reader of The Unsecret Shopper." The skill set terms related to the positions are, reasonably enough, left-brain analytical words.
My unreasonable right-brain saw an opportunity.
"Have you ever thought about also searching for 'Happy'? 'Fun'? 'Joy'?" I asked the very smart people gathered in that office, "along with the other terms?"
They looked at me like I'd just ripped open my dress shirt, revealing a bra.
No...no one had thought of using those words, they replied.
I then replied with this, roughly:
"If someone has the confidence and presence of mind to use those sorts of positive, happy words on what is otherwise a dry cover letter and resume, wouldn't it be at least remotely possible that that person might be a positive and happy person in general? And aren't happy, positive people, less likely to be dissatisfied, with their jobs, their lives, with everything? Aren't happy, positive people more stable, more reliable, more healthy, more likely to stick and stay in their jobs, their relationships?"
You can see that I've been carrying around the burden of being (W)right all the time for many, many, maaany years.
Smiles slowly grew on each of the faces of the principles at that Principal meeting - wonderful "Now I get it!" smiles. That's because they did, indeed, get the fact that I was on to something, maybe something very big for their very big company.
We evolved the idea a bit more. They loved it! They excitedly told me they were going to put together a proposal that proposed doing exactly what I'd proposed and push it up through Principal's layers of red tape. We shook hands, kissed like they do in Turkey, and promised to stay in touch.
11 years later, you can see how far they got with my idea, by reading this recent recruitment ad for an IT Business Analyst, posted on Principal's website:
Skills required: Experience with business rules including discovery, analysis and specification. A strong knowledge of business processes, financial service products, and systems. Technically adept. High level of proven knowledge and application of Business Analysis and relevant Project Management tools and methodologies. Excellent leadership, oral and written communication, planning and decision-making skills. Demonstrated strong facilitation, interviewing and negotiation skills. Possesses strong analytical, problem-solving and big-picture/conceptual skills. Must be able to work with people at all levels, including outside consultants and vendors and be able to influence others without formal authority. Must be able to build and maintain relationships and facilitate collaboration and communication. Demonstrates the ability to embrace and understand the change process and effectively guides others through change. Must be able to execute effectively in a matrix management environment. May be required to provide on-call support.
Okay, so the story blows, since they apparently didn't get very far with my idea.
But you can.
If you're currently looking for a job, or looking for someone who is looking for a job, or just an innocent bystander, ask yourself the following question:
Do you want to hire someone, or work with someone, or BE someone, who is a) unhappy, but has excellent skills, or b) happy, but has to be trained?
If you answered "b," then The 5 Pillars of Great Customer Service, might just help you.
They are: Smile, Greet, Engage, Thank and Follow up.
These are the basic core principles of customer service that I teach to employees. They may seem simple and obvious on the surface - Of COURSE I will smile during an interview, you blogging dufus! Duh!
Yet there's more to these pillars than meets your eyeballs.
I do not pretend to be an expert on the interview process. I do pretend to be an expert on looking for a job, since I submitted over 1,000 resumes and cover letters during my 20-year broadcasting career, which snagged me a tenth of that in in-person interviews, which got me hired for jobs that were consistently over my skis.
The following tips, based upon the 5 Pillars of Great Customer Service, will hopefully provide job seekers with smoother job search sledding.
Employers want smiling, happy employees. Otherwise, they hire me to train their unsmiling, unhappy employees to smile, and be happy.
And since neither I nor nobody else can do such a thing, that employer ends up blowing people out (Some of whom may be unemployed and reading this - I TOLD ya to smile more!) and replacing them with genuinely happy people.
So imprint your cover letter and resume with smiles. Type a smiley face :) Draw a smiley face. Print your CL and R on the back of a big yellow smiley face, or on a huge picture of your smile. Or tone it down: Take a pic of your pretty smiling puss and stick it on your unsmiling documents.
It's a bit trickier to "smilitize" things if you're applying using an electronic form, either on a company's website, careerbuilder.com or other job site. However, most still allow you to attach/download your resume.
Whether it's your CL or brief paragraph you write with your application, write it happy. Use "joy" and "enjoy" and "fun" and "exciting" and "fantastic" and other high-energy happy words, on both your cover letter and resume.
Afraid that using such terms in your detail-driven resume will make it stand out like a sore thumb??
DINGDINGDINGDINGDING!!! THAT'S THE POINT!!
Speaking of which, use exclamation points, too. Don't go o!v!e!r!b!o!a!r!d but don't be afraid to express your joy, too. If an employer is offended, is that someplace you really want to work, anyway?
You'll be smiling at the beginning of the face-to-face interview, that's a given. Just don't forget to toss in smiles throughout, especially when you're asked a question. Our "processing" face doesn't usually look terribly happy.
Come into that interview beaming, leave it that way, and leave no smiling opportunity unfulfilled, in - between. Happy people get the job.
Whether you're greeting on a cover letter or greeting in person, this moment sets the tone for everything after it.
Here are some examples of bad cover letter greetings that I've seen:
To whom it may concern...
Dear Sirs or Madam...
Greetings to you...
Dear Mr./Mrs. (last name of hiring person)...
What is this, an audit letter from the IRS?
Bill Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. That's because the dude never worked in HR, and drank a lot.
The person applying has got to find out the first name of the person who will be reading their materials. Call the HR department, ask the receptionist, bribe a staff member, but get that person's first name. Then, when you have it, use it, in a very friendly, happy, informal greeting:
"Hi (first name)!"
I especially love the exclamation point, of course. :)
In person, same thing applies - you gotta know the person's first name, and use it right out of the gate. Young people, people in the late teens and early 20's, often tell me they prefer to use "Mr./Mrs. (last name)," as a sign of respect. Nothing's more disrespectful than talking to someone like they're your 89 year-old neighbor who wears a back brace and a drool cup
And of course, with the greeting, comes the handshake.
Now try this - at the end of the interview, as you shake the person's hand again (almost always a nicer, friendlier, more personal handshake than the first one) slightly turn your right hand clock-wise, exposing the top of their right hand, and place your left hand overtop of it.
I call it The Job Applicant's Kiss. It makes greater skin surface connection, which releases more endorphins, which creates a deeper, more personal bond.
Try it at the end of your next job interview. Then write me and tell me how it feels to be employed again.
10 definitions of "engage," from dictionary.com:
1. To occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons): He engaged her in conversation.
2. To secure for aid, employment, use, etc.; hire: to engage a worker; to engage a room.
3. To attract and hold fast: The novel engaged her attention and interest.
4. To attract or please: His good nature engages everyone.
5. To bind, as by pledge, promise, contract, or oath; make liable: He engaged himself to repay his debt within a month.
6. To betroth (usually used in the passive): They were engaged last week.
7. To bring (troops) into conflict; enter into conflict with: Our army engaged the enemy.
8. To interconnect the mechanical; to cause (gears or the like) to become interlocked; interlock with.
9. To attach or secure.
10. To entangle or involve.
Other than, say, like, number 7, the rest seem pertinent and applicable for our purposes.
See the pic above, with the guy giving the girl, the ring? See her reaction? That's not that far removed from what a good applicant attempts to do while engaging an interviewer, and how an interviewer might react, if the rock is big enough.
The "rock" in this case is the gifts that we all have. Plate spinners have great hand/eye coordination. Competitive food eaters have high tolerance for gastro-intestinal discomfort. Blog readers can read lengthy ramblings, without falling asleep.
During the engagement portion of an interview, it's the applicant's job to reveal their gifts, to the interviewer, so that the look on their face is akin to the woman in the above photo. "Wow! You're smart, funny, engaging, thoughtful - and you're giving all of that to me???"
To create that level of connection between you and the interviewer, it also requires asking questions.
I tell employees, when interacting with customers, to ask the extra question. This not only gets more information from them about what they're looking for, but it also makes them feel like you care, like they're special.
That's reasonable. We ALL love it when someone takes an interest in us.
Interviewing for a job if no different. In fact, considering that most of the time, the interviewer is questioning the applicant, it seems wonderfully quid pro quo to turn the tables, and ask questions of the interviewer. They're peeples, too!
That post, and subsequent posts, compares the retail interaction between employees and customers, with the interaction between two people meeting on a date, and how similar they are.
That's why most books on effective job interviewing stress the point that applicants should use great eye contact, should really listen, should appear attentive, should be and seem relaxed -elements we'd probably all agree are also important when engaging someone on a date.
Two more important elements include a) know about the company they're applying to, and about the person they're applying with (just like the person they'd meet on a date) and b) ask lots of questions (just like on a date).
Ask an interviewer a question about the company they work for, and they'll feel like you care about the company. As the interviewer a question about them, and they'll feel like hiring you on the spot.
Some more I'd recommend:
"What brought you to this company? How did you get started? How long have you worked for the company? What do you love most about working here? Where are some other places you worked, before coming here? Where are you from originally? Does everybody here dress as nice as you?"
Whether it's the cover letter or the in-person interview, a thank you at the end is SOP.
But what applicants often forget is to use the person's first name in the thanks.
"Thank you, Cindy," instead of just "thank you." "Thank you very much, Bob." "Thank you so much, Brenda."
Personalize. Humanize. Knock down the walls that exist between people who have just met. Just like on a date.
There's also what to thank them for.
I like thanking people for taking time to review my stuff, since time is the one commodity that's in the shortest supply for most busy HR people and business owners.
"Thank you so much, Bob, for taking the time today to allow us to get to know each other a little better. It's been a real pleasure."
There's also that wonderful extra question that smart salespeople ask.
"Have I answered all of your questions, to your satisfaction?"
There's also the thank you letter, which I'll get to, as part of Follow up, which is coming up.
How do you thank someone in your cover letter?
I LOVE putting a post-it note at the end, with a simple "thank you" written in hand. There are also tons of great sayings about thanks - perhaps end the cover letter with one.
Here's another idea, that's a little more out there: Have your references write thank yous to potential employers, and include them, as quotes, at the end of your cover letter, or thank you letter.
Something like this:
"My name is Steve Smith. I hired Susan a few years ago, and I just wanted to thank you for considering her for your opening, because any company that hires her, is going to create a better customer service experience for its patrons - and that includes me. :)"
Uber-wierd? Over the top? Goofy? Guilty as charged.
But in a world with 10 percent unemployment, where openings for trash collectors get 1,000 applications, job seekers who want out of the seeking business have got to differentiate themselves from their competition. Sometimes, that means taking risks. Yet risking what? You can't lose what you ain't got.
So thank a chance, and stand out.
5. Follow up
You managed to get an interview, and now it's done. You followed 4 of the 5 Pillars of Great Customer Service, and now you're just waiting to get the call, with the job offer.
Go ahead, relax, you've earned it. Turn on Sportscenter, pop open a bag of Doritos, put your feet up - and prepare to remain unemployed, living in your sister's basement, for the next 17 years.
That's because you forgot the most important step of all: The Follow up.
The silliest mistake any job seeker can ever make, is working their patooty off to get the interview, then handing complete control of their gainful employment future, over to somebody who has spent exactly one interview hour with them, and has no personal stake in the job seeker's future.
Such is why that, after the interview, the truly hard but important work begins.
I always applied for jobs with the sense that I was the least qualified person applying, that I was the last person the interviewer was going to see at the end of a very long, tiring day, that my resume would be the last one in the stack, buried by hundreds of others, and that the interviewer thought I looked like someone who beat them up in high school.
So mail them, call them, email them, send smoke signals, move into a house next door to theirs, do whatever you have to do to make sure they know and feel how grateful you are for their time, how excited you are about the opportunity, and how much you will lie, steal, cheat or kill to get...this...JOB.
Which means that any thank you letter needs to start with, "Dear Bob, sorry I beat you up in high school..."
After that, I'll leave it up to the experts. Click this sentence to get great tips on when and how to send thank you letters, and what to say.
I'd also call them, and at least leave a thank you message on their voice mail.
In the letter and the message, reference something that was talked about during the conversation, some small joke or anecdote shared or personal information about the interviewer. "Bob, after I am hired, I'm going to request that you be moved out of your office since you hate not having a southern window view, and into one that does. That way, I can have yours heheheh."
Depending on how bad I wanted the job, and how high up the interviewer was - like if they were the owner - I might also send a small gift.
Another thing that can keep your name at the top of their mind, is to have a cup of coffee and donuts delivered to the interviewer, every day for a week after the interview, with directions to the delivery person to give the food and drink directly to the interviewer, and say, "This is from Jonnie, the guy who is going to be your next morning show host."
I got an interview at Chicago radio station WLUP, doing just that. Talk about fooling some of the people, some of the time. I didn't get the gig, but the interview let to a recommendation, which led to another interview, which led to my first big market job, in Dallas.
Yes, too much follow-up is a bad thing. Can you say restraining order? But not following up at all is the worst thing. Lots of jobs go not to who was most qualified, but to who wanted it most, and showed it.
How bad do you want your next job?
There are some tips, based up The 5 Pillars of Great Customer Service that can help you land your next job. I hope they help.
I especially hope you use them because I do a lot of interviewing for my clients, and frankly, it can be disappointing to get resumes from people with lots of great experience, who show up at interviews without wearing a great smile, or using a warm greeting, or using names, or offering a sense of being dialed in and engaged, or saying a personal thank you at the end, or attempting to follow up. They are good people, who have no shot at being hired.
Yet their loss is your gain - if you "get it," and use it.
Good luck out there. I look forward to interviewing you!!!! :) :) :) :) :) :)
Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.
Email Jonnie at: email@example.com