A young man I have known for several years was recently hired to work the front desk at a major hotel. Based on my experience with him I know he will do very well in this position and business. In his short tenure he has already impressed his managers with his service to guests. Did this hotel get lucky or do they know how to find the best service talent?

So often, organizations hire their primary customer-facing employees with haste and little creative thinking. Too often, customer-facing employees are seen as “entry-level” and thus less time and attention is put towards their hiring process. It may consist of an application screen, a phone interview and one in-person interview. Turnover is expected and thus built into the mindset of managers and their selection effort.

Most hiring managers look at only two elements of an applicant. What they know and what have they done. A manager may only look at those applicants who have worked in the same job for a similar company in the same industry or who took a related course. “Been a bank teller?  Great, be our bank teller.”

To be sure, what a person knows (through education and learning) and a person’s experience (the specific jobs they have performed before) do have some merit for choosing new hires. But I suggest two other factors are more critical when hiring for service excellence. What is a person capable of and what motivates them – what turns them on?

What a person is capable of is different from what they know or have experienced. A former teacher, who has been at the front lines with kids, parents and administrators, may be your next Convention Services Representative. She may never have seen a convention center, but has all the behaviors to effectively manage groups and the competing interests of executives and clients.

Looking behind the jobs listed on a resume to the skills and behaviors they have developed will help you find gems where you least expect. Job functions and process can be learned – search instead for how a person has served in the past, no matter the job title or the setting. Ask  interview questions such as “tell me a time when you resolved a complaint” or “what is a specific example of how you exceeded someone’s expectations”  – it doesn’t matter if the answer comes from a different role or industry or even from family life or from school – what matters are the behaviors.

What motivates you?  This is another factor critical when providing excellent service. What motivates a person?  What upsets or disrupts them?  What turns them on? Not everyone is excited about finding ways to exceed expectations – or creating value whenever possible for someone else.

Let people see what the job entails before their first day in it. Most do not want to fail and will avoid work that is not going to be of interest. For example, applicants who see a simple “realistic job preview” may self-select out of a challenging service role, while those who thrive on the challenges in your job opening are more likely to let you know it.

In addition, there are many motivational fit and personality assessments validated for work situations that can help you pinpoint who truly wants to serve your internal and external customers. A simple online assessment can make the difference between losing a client and keeping one for life.

Will taking these extra steps cost you time and money?  Not really. The impact on customer experience and loyalty, not to mention employee turnover, will far exceed the additional effort you make to hire the best people. Look for the diamonds where competitors do not. Find the people who welcome the opportunity to prove they are service stars. The young man at the hotel did just that. His past experience?  Roofing installation.

6 replies
  1. Naresh Vassudhev
    Naresh Vassudhev says:

    Talent Acquisition as the name suggests is about identifying the right talent and to spot that talent one necessarily has to look at capability. It’s a skill one needs to constantly acquire and build.

    Bang on Jeff. I have sent a copy of this article to my HR Head.

    Naresh Vassudhev

  2. Mel Kleiman
    Mel Kleiman says:

    Jeff: You bring up some great points. In the end you should be asking yourself one question: Would you hire this person if you knew you would never be able to get rid of them?

  3. Richard Whiteley
    Richard Whiteley says:

    A thoughtful article, Jeff. At my previous company where we sold training programs we were in a quandry whether to hire a woman for a sales position. She had no business or sales experience. But what she did have was an incredible upbeat attitude, a contagious positive energy and having just won Volunteer of the Year award at a respected non-profit woman’s organization.
    We took a risk and hired her. Good for us because her knowledge of people and strong motivation to succeed paid off. She ended up being our sales Rookie of the Year, highest performing regional manager and ultimately a Senior Vice President.

  4. Allan H Jensen
    Allan H Jensen says:

    Good pointers Jeff. I have one little request however. You mention “there are many motivational fit and personality assessments”. Yes indeed; so which specific tools are you referring to, that are valuable in terms of helping to assess uplifting service stars?

  5. Dan Haygeman
    Dan Haygeman says:

    Thank you, Jeff for highlighting the critical aspect of ‘Selection’ in creating a service culture. I believe that what you say here about motivation and fitness for a role is pointing to the distinction at the heart of the assessment tool I use in my work: “Suitability vs. Eligibility”. Eligibility is an assessment of whether a given candidate has the knowledge and experience to ‘do’ the work. (A Bachelor’s Degree, 3 years experience in operating a turret lathe, etc. Suitability, on the other hand, is an assessment of whether that candidate is configured in terms of preferences and learned behavior patterns to ‘enjoy’ the work. The second aspect is more challenging to identify reliably, of course, and more crucial to success in the role.

    I really appreciate the way Mel Kleiman puts it, above: “Would I hire this person if I knew I could not get rid of them?” I might paraphrase Mel’s point of view: “Would I hire this person if I knew they would never be happy enough in their role to catalyze their own energy toward contribution?”

Comments are closed.