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Issue 14 | October 2015

Some years ago (late 2000s), I wrote a blog entry on Zappos, a small company that grew from zero to $1 billion in revenue in eight years, fueled by great service and word of mouth.

I posted without using hashtags or, really, anything to tie it to them other than the text itself. Later that morning, I got a note from a Zappos service rep named Derek, who thanked me for the kind words. "I have shared your blog with some of my colleagues and we look forward to more, Brad! Thanks again and have a great weekend!"

This was impressive on so many levels: They were using an early-generation social listening tool to pull in posts like this and get them to desktops. Contact center reps—not corporate communication specialists—were the ones engaging. And they were doing so across channels, as part of their normal service duties.

I hope you enjoy this issue.

Warm Regards,

Brad Cleveland

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Imagine dropping onto Earth from another planet. Your task is to explore our economy—jobs, what we produce, and how we hire and train people for those roles. You're not familiar with precedent, history, or what's transpired to this point. You simply look around and take note of what employees do, the skills required, the challenges they face, the value they create. Teachers, actors, pilots, managers, and others.

In your journey, you discover an intriguing profession: those tasked with serving customers through communication channels (not face-to-face). The services these professionals provide are as diverse as the verticals comprising them—finance, healthcare, utilities, software, manufacturing, and others—yet they share common challenges. For example, customers are diverse in their needs and wants; they access services on demand and expect quick response. They've most likely tried other alternatives before contacting the organization, e.g., through search, the Web, social channels, or mobile apps, so questions tend to be complex.

Agents must be proficient in a wide range of systems internally, and be able to help customers with the channels and technologies they use. Products, content and policies change continually—my goodness, this world is on the move! And when all is said and done, customers share how well things went through ratings, social media and various surveys (much of this input is readily available and commonly used by other customers and prospects).

Easy jobs? No way. Important to customers and the organization? Yes! To all but those shaded by perceptions formed in simpler years gone by, or those who haven't recently experienced this kind of setting, this is evident.

"Our first core value is to deliver Wow through service," says Jon Wolske, Cultural Evangelist for Zappos. "It doesn't say, 'deliver Wow through service when you're talking to customers in the call center.' As a company, this is a focus on all levels."

Here are seven rules of the road when hiring for today's service environment:

1. Rethink everything you've been doing. Many of these jobs are completely different than they were even a few years ago; the hiring practices of the past just don't cut it. Think multi-channel, multi-system, brand-impacting complexity.

Brad Cleveland with Jon Wolske (Cultural Evangelist, Zappos), backstage at a recent ICMI conference

2. Define and characterize the job accurately. This involves analyzing job tasks, identifying the skills and knowledge required, developing robust job descriptions and describing the performance you expect. In recruiting, characterizations of the job should be as accurate and realistic as possible.

3. Recruit through multiple sources. This should include external career websites, sourcing companies, social channels, your own easy-to-find postings, and employee referrals (which many managers agree bring in the best candidates), among others.

Innovative Hiring Practices

Here are samples of things different organizations are doing to find, attract and hire the people they need:

  • Zappos offers new employees payments equivalent to one month's salary to leave. This helps ensure that those who stay truly want to be there.
  • In Australia, IKEA placed "career instructions" in its products' flat-packed boxes, attracting thousands of quality applicants through the pool of existing customers.
  • Microsoft has included a small puzzle for software developer applicants that, when solved, reveals a phone number.
  • CarMax geared one of its successful recruitment campaigns around referrals, encouraging employees to wear a blue bracelet that reads, "Who do you know?" The band helped to break the ice between employees and their networks.
  • Disney maintains a dedicated Twitter account for careers, which posts job openings and tips for job seekers and recruiters. It provides an insight into the company's culture and links to the company's more formal careers page.

4. Assess applicants through a variety of communication channels. Screen candidates through phone, email, chat, video, social media, et al.—it's essential to get a read on how they come across in the channels you will need them to use. No, you can't expect them to be experts before they go through training, but you'll get a good sense of their comfort level and cultural proficiency in manners and approach.

5. Give prospects side-by-side experience as soon as possible. To really understand these jobs, you must experience them firsthand. That's a plea we often make to senior-level execs—sit next to your agents and observe what they do. And the same is true for potential or new hires. Some will walk out the door and never look back—it's just not their thing. Better now than later.

6. Track recruiting results. For example, correlate recruiting source to performance and tenure over time (6 months, 12 months, and so on). Sometimes, clear patterns emerge. For example, maybe the local college produces candidates that outperform and outstay all other groups; perhaps referrals by existing employees excel. This intelligence can help shape and prioritize future recruiting and hiring efforts.

7. Hire nice. That's the way I heard a successful leader put it recently. Starkly simple, and, I am convinced, absolutely correct. When all is said and done, this is a people business. Above all, we need employees who love helping others. Another successful manager described the secret to his organization's success this way: "We hire the passion and train the skills."

Recent Issues

73% of contact centers say the complexity of customer contacts is increasing.
(Source: ICMI)

73% of recruiters have hired a candidate through social media.
(Source: Jobvite)

Job posts get 36% more applications if accompanied by a recruiting video.
(Source: Jobcast)

A strong talent brand (i.e., what talent thinks, feels, and shares about your company as a place to work) reduces cost per hire by more than 50% and lowers turnover rates by 28%.
(Source: LinkedIn)

Take numbers 2 through 7 from the article above. Assess how you're currently doing with each, assigning a rating from 1 to 5. Now have three others do the same (independently): a group supervisor, one of your long-time service reps, and a new hire.

Compare the scores and discuss inconsistencies. Then, decide on the three things that need the most attention. This kind of calibration process can help you continuously improve your hiring practices to ensure you attract the right talent.

  • Scottsdale, AZ, November 16–19, ICMI Training Symposium. Brad will be facilitating two courses.
  • New ebook (free), ICMI's Guide to Contact Center Metrics, by Brad Cleveland and Justin Robbins.
  • See the new statistics page at, with sections on customer expectations, contact centers, and social/mobile/tech.
  • Here's a short (four-minute) video Brad and the ICMI team developed that shows how service has evolved over the past three decades.

*Brad delivers many private keynotes, workshops, and executive briefings to organizations and associations. For more information, contact

Brad has devoted his career to maximizing the value of customer-facing services. As a speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, and president/CEO, he has seen change from many perspectives and has a deep understanding of the critical importance of customer service delivery to an organization's success. He has worked across 45 states and in 60 countries, and has been privileged to assist in the evolution of service delivery for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca-Cola, USAA, and others, as well as for governments across the globe. Brad serves as a senior advisor to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), and is an in-demand speaker and consultant.

To inquire about consulting or speaking, connect through any of the channels below.

© 2015 Brad Cleveland   All Rights Reserved