Why don’t recruitment agencies value customer experience?

If you start a Google search with, “Why recruitment agencies…” the first autofill suggestion that comes up is, “are bad”. It’s a pretty damning indictment of an industry that claims to be there to help people. 

Go to the website of most agencies and that’s what they’ll often mention - the individuals, the people, the culture, how they can help you, etc. Except that somewhere between the promising words on a screen and the delivery of these assurances, there is a disconnect, a gap between what the industry promises and what it delivers. A lack of ‘customer-centric’ services, and an unfortunate proclivity to treat people in a transactional and short-termist way. 

Surprisingly, it isn’t just the individuals seeking employment. In this market it’s often the potential employers, because skills are scarce and the power balance has shifted. But why should the market dictate that poor customer experience is acceptable? What happens when the market shifts? Why are recruiters gambling their business of tomorrow by treating people poorly today?

As recruiters we have all, I'm sure, had an experience of slight reticence in telling people what we do for a living for fear of their reaction or judgement. In fact, I was even once asked if my parents were proud of what I did for a living! Ask anyone about recruiters and you are highly likely to hear stories of terrible experiences, and awful anecdotes of how they were treated as a candidate that predetermine the judgement of our methods.

So, maybe the problem is actually in the phrase, “candidate”. What if we as recruiters just started thinking about the people we deal with purely as “customers” regardless of their need? If you are a tech recruiter you are likely talking about customer experience on a regular basis, but are you really thinking about that phrase when delivering your services?

How can we bridge that gap?

I have always pushed and quoted the Jerry McGuire-esque “fewer customers, better relationships” mantra (despite occasional mocking). So at Global Resourcing, we take a customer-centric approach to the people we work with, whether they’re looking for a new role or have a vacancy they wish to fill. To me and to the entire team, it makes complete sense because, after all, what we’re doing is providing a service, so why not provide the best service we possibly can regardless of who needs our help?

But this isn’t about shouting from the rooftops about how great we are - this is about calling the industry to account when it isn’t.

Worryingly, some recruitment agencies don’t play by a simple focus on customer centricity. The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, Part of Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, published its annual report in June 2022 and noted that in 2020/21 it received 1,827 complaints about recruitment agencies, an increase of 9% on the previous year. Common complaints were: non compliance with legislation, spamming corporate customers with irrelevant CVs, having little grasp of the role they’re recruiting for or the customer’s business, ignoring unsuccessful applicants and charging excessive fees for making little progress. 

The result of these types of complaints and the actions of the agencies in question is a lack of trust and a sense of dissatisfaction with the industry in general - and that has to stop.

How and why should we change perceptions?

Jo Causon, Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service, says that, “There is clear evidence of a direct correlation between organisations’ customer satisfaction and business performance”. A simple enough statement, you would have thought, and one that every business, let alone ones that deal in the hopes, ambitions and dreams of other human beings, would take to heart. 

However, many of us are not grasping this simple but fundamental truth. 

We’re now living in The Experience Economy, where organisations must offer their customers a memorable experience, rather than basic goods or services, or miss out to their competitors. 

As consumers, all of us expect exceptional customer service and a meaningful customer experience, whether we’re buying goods, visiting a cinema or applying for a job. We want to feel cherished, nurtured, and special. We want to feel, quite frankly, more like customers in the USA, who, for years, have benefitted from a standard of customer service that we’re now becoming accustomed to, and perhaps beginning to demand, here in the UK. Those in the USA for example, will not tolerate long waiting times – 22% of them will terminate a phone call if they are kept on hold for too long, compared to 16% of people in the UK. We are also more likely to give people the chance to correct poor service – 58% of us on average, compared to 37% across the pond. And in the USA, half of dissatisfied customers will spread the word about the poor levels of service they’ve received, as opposed to just 27% of British people - but that’s still a worrying percentage for those falling short.

Is it then any wonder that over there the recruitment industry is regarded in the same light as many other professional services, up there with the management consultants of the world, when it has recognised that it is fundamentally a service industry? Yes, recruitment can be lucrative and yes, fundamentally it is a sales role, but then look at any of the major consultancies selling services, are they really any different? And yet, whilst there may be different associations, where is the negative stigma attached to similar consulting based business models?

So regardless of whether it’s versus recruiters in the USA, or consultancies over here, my question is “why aren’t we considered in the same light?”, and the answer to me is - a lack of customer centricity.

Creating a customer-centric approach

Recruitment agencies can learn a lot from a retail style approach to customer service so it’s time to train our teams to do the following: 

  • Understand your product inside out, back to front and upside down. In the case of recruitment, this means getting to know your customers’ organisation and hiring needs implicitly, so that you can develop long-term relationships which are mutually beneficial.

  • Provide a fast response, whether to hiring queries or complaints.

  • Listen to customers properly. Stephen R. Covey asks a simple question: “Are you listening to hear or listening to respond?”. Developing listening skills so that you can respond in an appropriate manner is an important way of showing customers that you really do care. 

  • Ask for feedback from all customers so that you fully understand your role in the process and whether you have achieved everything you set out to do. This is a great way of seeing how you can improve in the future.

We are fortunate that at Global Resourcing our customer-centric approach to recruitment has had, and continues to have, a hugely positive impact on the customers that we deal with, whether they’re public or non-profit organisations, or the people we place within them. And it is exactly that culture (yes I said it) and approach that has fuelled our success in recent years.

For us, it makes sense to treat people with courtesy and respect, to actively listen to their needs, to respond promptly to enquiries, and to understand what they really want from us – in short, to treat them as customers rather than clients or candidates. We look forward to a time when more people working within our industry understand this too, so that we can all proudly talk about what we do, safe in the knowledge that we will be met with affirmation not aversion.

In summary

What our industry has to accept is that it’s time to change. Time to make sure that we focus on customers for the benefit of everyone, whether it’s those seeking talent, those seeking employment, those running recruitment businesses, or those considering entering our industry to forge a career. Nobody benefits from a short term and transactional approach, and those who continue in this vein will surely feel the pinch once the market shifts to one more dictated by the buyer. 

So for all of the reasons above, it’s about time everybody in our industry who needs to, changes. Just then, perhaps, we can all hold our heads up high and be proud of the services that we deliver and the genuine impact that we can have on both the organisations and individuals that we (should) serve.

Get in touch

If you have any questions or want to learn more about how we help our customers in the public sector and non-profit organisations solve their talent and diversity challenges, connect with our specialist digital, data and tech experts on +44 020 8253 1800 or send us an email.
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