Driving Employer Brand: The Curious Case for Customer Service


We’ve all done it.  There’s no need to be ashamed.  Heck!  I even have a ritual around it.  I shut my office door.  I close the blinds.  I play soothing music and just about when Elton John belts out, “Blue jean baby!”…wait, that’s not what I meant (get your minds out of the gutter).  I use this relaxing setting to check Glassdoor and see what is being said about my organization.  Like you I dread the scathing review of HR and how we literally handle our business.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not too concerned about the reviews that say “Growth opportunities don’t exist there” or “The pay is atrocious” or “Holy hell!  Get better candy in the vending machines!  I can’t work on Lorna Doones and Big Texas Cinnamon Buns alone! I need Snickers. Snickers equal satisfaction!”  Those are important points of feedback but they demonstrate simple issues, the kind where satisfaction is but a candy bar or promotion away.

What do I fear?  I fear the scathing review—those shining a light on your inner workings revealing a systemic problem.  We all cringe at the thought of someone pointing out our flaws and hide under the covers as if the boogeyman is under the bed.  Why do we cower?  The answer is simple.  No one wants to admit they were wrong. No one wants to have a light shone on their flaws.  Most importantly, no one wants our preventable errors to be made public as if we were the subject of tabloids amid some completely unpleasant scandal. Although Glassdoor isn’t scandalous by any means, it represents the world’s portal into our flaws as organizations and our errors as HR.  Glassdoor is our very own, unfiltered TMZ or Inside Edition or National Enquirer. 

My good colleague, Andrew Schmidt, recently regaled us with an in-depth look at the Attraction-Selection-Attrition model.  This model is critical because describes the integral process of bringing talent through your organization.  This model is even more critical when we focus on the failings of HR.  Recent SHRM research suggests organizations focus too heavily on attraction or selection never once thinking about attrition fully.  Moreover, it is clear customer orientation and service efforts are almost exclusively the domain of large organizations and even then only thought of for attraction and selection.  This is frightening because applicants rarely review our organizations on Glassdoor.  Those who leave our organizations do.  With that in mind, I offer four phenomena of missed opportunities and some guidance for avoiding the customer service trap and maybe the scathing review too:

1)      The Dreaded “I Fell into the Abyss” Phenomenon—When people apply to positions in your organization what do they hear from you?  Do they get an automated response?  Do they get a personal response thanking them for their application?  Do they slip into the ether only to be left alone with their thoughts and a copy of their resume?  Basic customer service principles tell us anyone interested in making contact warrants a simple response.  Still we run, duck, and cover as if applicants are lobbing grenades over some imaginary fence line.  Don’t make this mistake.  Let them know you have their resume, thank them for their interest, and follow up accordingly.  Simple closing the loop will improve your employer brand.

2)      The “I Wish I Had Julie as My Cruise Director” Phenomenon—What do you do to onboard staff?  Do you offer a very-scripted orientation with clear goals for teaching people the organizational norms?  Do you turn on a video and watch them sleep with their eyes open after fifteen minutes of welcome messaging?  Do you hand them an envelope, pray that they read the contents before they self-destruct, and hide months on end if they don’t?  True story—I once dealt with an HR recruiter who literally said, “I can’t answer any questions about the policies around benefits, intellectual property, or use of company property.  I also can’t answer anything about your compensation or how to record your time or anything involving performance appraisal.  In fact, all I can tell you is where the bathroom is located.”  This was such a rewarding experience I have never forgotten it.  Don’t overlook first impressions.  I would recommend treating onboarding and orientation like you were a cruise director handing everyone an itinerary and a frozen beverage.

3)      The “Retention Schmention!” Phenomenon—Do you treat your employees with respect?  Do you treat them like they are ambassadors of your organization? Do you look at them like cattle prodding them to compliance?  Do you find yourself grousing left and right because all you want is to avoid your griping workforce?  I’ve never understood why some HR departments view employees as inmates in the asylum.  Employees are customers and if they are good we want them to remain customers.  Think of them as repeat customers.  Would you leave a store or retailer who knows your name and understands your wants and likes?  Of course not.  We all want customized service and that can be tricky, but it is a goal we should strive for.  Recent SHRM polls indicate HR is the biggest influencer on perceptions of employee respect.  Don’t forget that.  Treat the employees you’ve already sold on the company as repeat business.

4)      The “It Ain’t My Problem Now” Phenomenon—Do you treat your departed employees like the faithfully departed?  Do you treat them like long-forgotten memories designed to disappear forever without any impact?  Do you think of them as nothing more than a number in your log serving a non-critical data point ensuring compliance to legal termination laws?  Do you do something better?  Do you offer outplacement and reasonable severance if appropriate?  Do you keep in touch with your alumni like you were a benevolent benefactor hoping to drive additional funding for your institution?  I think about a recent conversation I had with a colleague from Deloitte in the Middle East.  She recanted a tale of alumni events better than those put on at Vassar.  She indicated a simple alumni newsletter makes their business model extremely successful and viable through sustained networking.  They recognize the wildfire-like power of word-of-mouth referrals but also the age-old consulting adage—you never know who will be your next client or supervisor.  It may very well be that recently-departed employee who made your life miserable with questions about benefits and parking spaces.  Too often I’ve heard tales of employees laid off and forgotten so quickly that they never even received information about what to do with their corporate cards or IDs or even how to get COBRA coverage.  I know you may not be comfortable with all end of employment situations but don’t make them worse by forgetting the people most affected—those departing the organization.  You may not be interested in retaining them but you are definitely interested in what they might say about your organization.

The moral is not to be caught red-handed with preventable errors.  Be strategic and employ good principles of customer service.  The last thing we want to be is Arnold Jackson looking at his big brother asking “Whatcha you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” Don’t be chagrined by lousy customer service experiences retold across the internet.

How do you drive customer service in your organization?  What tales of stellar HR customer service orientation can you share?  How do you avoid the dreaded scathing review on Glassdoor?





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