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Hiring for Customer Satisfaction: Interviewing

Begin by hiring the right people.

First challenge: You have only a few tools– a job description, references, background checks– and they’re blunt instruments. For the final decision on who to hire, we usually rely on the interview.

That’s a risk, because interviewing is an imperfect process, fraught with personal preferences and subjective judgments. Research suggests the results are not very good. We tend to favor people who look and sound the way we do, which causes us to miss out on some who might actually be better at the all-important task of satisfying the customer. And the traits we should be looking for may be missing from (or underemphasized in) the job description.

Here’s an alternative method, adapted from a model developed by psychologist Daniel Kahnemann. We’re going to add a few items to help us evaluate the candidate’s ability to relate well to customers.

First, identify two interpersonal traits that in your opinion are essential for succeeding in this particular job. Not  just to do the job, but to be truly successful at it. For example, in the case of someone applying for the Admissions department of a treatment program:

  1. Is interested in people. Capable of seeing other viewpoints.
  2. Projects warmth. Seems naturally optimistic.
  3. Willing to listen. Pays attention when others speak.
  4. Is respectful. Patient with difficult people.

Now, formulate two questions for each trait you selected. Keep them simple so you can compare responses without having to do much analysis. For instance, let’s say you ask the candidate what s/he believes to be most important when orienting a new patient to the program. The answers may seem similar, but imagine Candidate X emphasizes the importance of going over all the program rules, while Candidate Y focuses on getting all the required forms completed, and Candidate Z wants to make sure that, whatever else, the new patient feels welcome. Who’s likely to score best in terms of customer satisfaction?

After each answer, score the response from 1 to 5 (very weak to very strong), Give those scores real weight when you decide who to hire.

Training and supervision do make a difference. Nonetheless, some candidates are just naturally better at relating to other people. It’s not something that can be taught on the job. Better to find that out now rather than later.