Can a leopard change his spots?

It really doesn’t matter how much time and effort you invest in customer service training if you don’t have the right people in the first place!

Leopard lying on the treeHaving a happy, motivated and productive team is critical to delivering great customer service.

Your team can be your point of differentiation so what is the secret to having an engaged, motivated and eager to please team who will deliver outstanding customer service?

What so many people focus on when recruiting are the skills at the expense of the attitude. We then end up recruiting on aptitude, but firing on attitude.

Unless they have the right attitude in the first place you have little chance of changing it.

So recruit first on attitude then on aptitude.

There are of course times when previous experience or industry knowledge is imperative; your head chef obviously needs a combination of culinary and management skills, your maintenance engineer needs to be familiar with the technical and safety requirements, your fitness instructor needs to have the appropriate qualifications and licenses, your sommelier needs to know his or her wines.

But if you’re a tourist attraction appealing to young families then loving children (and having the ability to relate to them as well as parents) surely has to feature high up on the list of attributes.

If you’re a travel company you are selling an experience, so booking your holiday of a lifetime should become part of the experience, and the person they are dealing with has a huge role to play in this.

And whether you’re a 5 star country house hotel, an entertainments company or a sporting venue, don’t you want people who have a can do; nothing is too much trouble attitude? If so, add it to the top of your criteria.

Create an avatar of your ideal candidate

In marketing we’re told to create a customer avatar. Why not do the same for your team? What are the values, beliefs and attitudes that person needs to demonstrate to really excel in that role. If you have a particular philosophy that you stress as part of your identity and point of differentiation it’s important to recruit people who can relate to this.

Systems and procedures and basic skills can be taught, whereas an enthusiasm for your industry, product or customers can’t be.

If you use social media or your website to advertise vacancies use language that appeals to your ideal candidate. If you want someone enthusiastic, dynamic and lively make your ad enthusiastic, dynamic and lively too!  You’re not looking to attract anyone who’s desperate for a job; make it clear what you’re looking for and who fits the bill of the ideal candidate.

Build your network

Rather than waiting till you have a vacancy and you’re at desperation point to take anybody who comes along, start creating a list of the people you can call upon whom you’re confident share your values and would jump at the chance to work with you when the opportunity comes.

Don’t limit your recruitment search to people who respond to your adverts.  Use your network of business contacts, your existing team and even your customers to help you find the best candidates.

Network or socialise where your prospective staff are; this will not only help to build relationships and reputation but will give you an opportunity to see people in a more relaxed environment. Start developing a “candidate pool” rather than waiting until you suddenly have a vacancy to fill.

Develop relationships with agencies as well as recruitment officers from local colleges and universities. Allow your existing team to participate in professional associations and training where they’re likely to be in contact with potential candidates.

Might the position be suitable for an apprentice? It potentially involves more input from you, but the rewards will often far outweigh the extra effort.

Become a great place to work

Make your business somewhere people love to work, and are happy to be advocates and ambassadors for your business. That way when you come to recruit you’ll be able to do so wisely and have a steady stream of people queueing up!

Create a culture where positive attitudes prevail, and build a reputation as a good employer so you attract the best people. A prerequisite is looking after your existing team; they are far more likely to recommend you to others and spread the word it’s a great place to work.

Monitor the reputation of your business; listen to what your staff say, especially those who leave.

Put yourself forward for awards to help build your repetition as a good employer.

Measure against your criteria

If attitude is more important to you than skills plan in advance how you’re going to measure these less specific or less tangible aspects; those attitudinal things.

Know what you want beforehand, think about what might demonstrate those attributes, and then don’t take their word for it; test it, challenge them and look for real examples.

You may ask about their past experience, how they’ve handled specific situations, or ask them to describe their own examples of when they have gone that extra mile for someone, or handled a particularly challenging customer. Even with a school leaver look for examples of things they have done outside school to demonstrate taking on responsibility, working as a team, and so on.

Not everything can be measured though via traditional interview questions.  Get creative. Use exercises to measure teamwork, problem solving, or creativity if these are important to the role. Spend the first 10 minutes of the interview talking about what motivates or inspires them. I do this on training courses – it’s so simple and really helps to get people talking…

If you’re not involved with the recruitment process yourself, ensure you train your management team how to recruit. Do they also know what values and attitudes you are looking for?

Better to find out in the interview if they haven’t got what it takes than after you’ve hired them and invested time and effort in customer service training.

You won’t change their spots, so look for people with the right spots!


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One thought on “Can a leopard change his spots?

  1. Judith

    I like the suggestion to start with speaking about a perspn’s passion.

    The culture of the organisation is so important to either maintain, or to improve by selecting the correct candidate. Staff are the most important aspect of an organisation. It is a shame that many employers are not aware of it. Thank you for the article.

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