What the Server at Applebee’s Can Teach Us About Employee Experience
— May 11, 2018
Love it or hate it, one thing Applebee’s does quite well is remember to check with customers within a few minutes of their meals arriving on the table.
Last week we looked at the need to have these early first taste touchpoints with customers as a way to flag and fix issues before they become problems, and as a way to gather data about how and why things go wrong. This week, I’d like to throw this pasta at the wall of employee experience.
In fact, let’s start with the touchpoints we have prior to people becoming employees. When was the last time anyone checked in with you while you were a candidate? The usual experience goes something like:
Thank you for your application for Senior Manager of Odd Noises. We will carefully consider your qualifications and contact you if further information is required. Please note only candidates considered for employment will be contacted.
If I may paraphrase: Get lost. Don’t bother us.
How about instead:
Thank you for applying for Senior Manager of Odd Noises. We’re thrilled you are considering joining our company. The recruiting team is looking forward to taking a look at your profile, and in the mean time we’d be grateful if you could tell us how we could improve the application process.
The point of this is two-fold: first you get some feedback about points of friction in actually applying for a position, and second you send a signal that you value feedback, even from people you don’t pay.
Candidate Touchpoint Data is Key
On which, if you are getting feedback that your application process is long, frustrating, redundant or otherwise sucky, you may want to take a look at the abandon rate in your process.
Just as marketers will obsess over the abandoned shopping carts all over their online stores, so, too, should recruiters be keeping an eye on how many people just didn’t get to the submit button.
The end of most recruiting transactions is, of course, saying no thank you to all but one person.
Even when we have put candidates through multiple rounds of screenings by people named Bethany and interviews with half the company, we dismiss the entire process in a paragraph like this one:
Thank you for your interest in a role with our company. After reviewing your qualifications, we have decided to move forward with other candidates. We will keep your profile on file and notify you if any suitable positions become available.
If I may paraphrase again: Get lost. Don’t bother us.
Now this is pretty terrible on a number of levels. There’s no acknowledgment of the time and effort the candidate may (or may not) have put into the whole process, there’s no recognition of the attributes that got them some distance in the competition, and there’s basically no truth in the statement that the profile is being kept on file. The data may be kept in the human resources information system (HRIS), but as far as I can tell, not a company on the planet knows how to find it the next time they need to fill a role.
Good Data from Bad Experiences
We follow this lousy, dehumanizing employer brand experience by not grabbing the opportunity to get some touchpoint data. For example, do we know if our recruiters are any good? Do we understand if our managers need more training as interviewers? How long did it take from the time they applied to the time they heard back? Were they kept waiting for an hour for the interview? Were they sent to the wrong building? Was the interview canceled at the last minute? Are they secretly grateful to be out of the running after meeting their prospective manager?
I think that’s all kind of important stuff to know since it directly affects the quality of the talent in our organizations, which directly affects our ability to make money and do important stuff.
Sometimes, we don’t bother saying anything at all. If you are one of those employers or recruiters who doesn’t let candidates know they are out of the running, stop reading now and go figure out how to do that. Because that sh*t is rude.
Moving past the blind spot of the recruiting process, we have a number of other areas where we can grab some great data. That would be the unfortunately named period known as onboarding.
I have heard it said that employees decide in the first week whether they will stick around for the first year, and, given the corner of Hell that is typical of so many employee onboarding processes, I’m going to suggest that this is another part of the employer brand experience that most organizations know almost nothing about.
As with the waiters who check in early on their customers, employers need to be checking on their new hires to solve any early problems before they become reasons to leave. For example, within the first two days, we will want to make sure someone actually knew they were coming, had a spot for them to sit, had an access card, network ID, email account and a computer. I’d recommend a quick survey to their personal email address just to make sure the basics got sorted out.
A week or so later, I’d suggest another check in to make sure they know what their job is, that they’ve met some more people, someone has taken them to lunch or shown them around the building, and they are set up in all the remaining internal lists and systems.
This is also a great time to throw in some qualitative data points by asking if they have any questions. New employees may not always want to ask the boss why there’s a chalk outline on the floor of their cubicle.
Stop Blaming Millennials
By the end of the first month, we’ll want another quick touchpoint, and again each quarter for the first year. I know this sounds like a ton of data, and it is, but I think it’s worth it. First-year churn is both pervasive and expensive in most companies. It’s easy to blame flaky Millennials and move along, but I suggest that Millennials are no less loyal than older employees; they’re just less willing to let employers get away with being sloppy.
Happily, they’re also used to being asked their opinions every five minutes, and they expect to provide feedback, so you will likely find you get decent participation.
So how do we go about this? In a perfect world, someone in the HR department would team up with people managers and make sure new employees were being asked how things are going. Perhaps in some companies this is the case. I don’t happen to know of any, but I’m sure they exist. For the rest of us, we’re going to need some help and automation.
Marketers typically use a combination of DIY survey tools, terrified summer students and third parties to go out and get quantitative feedback. For employee groups, your options may be even cheaper, in the form of polling tools on your internal platforms, old-fashioned paper surveys and, if you have it, reports from the HR system about issues with employee numbers or payroll.
Just as marketers like to inject a little life into the numbers, so too should HR crank up some qualitative insights. Personally, I’m a fan of focus groups, and unlike with external audiences you don’t have to pay your attendees to be there. A few dry muffins and an hour away from their screens ought to be enough incentive all by itself. Make sure you have a good cross-section of your population of newbies.
Another group that’s sadly overlooked in assessing the hideousness of your onboarding is people managers. While managers can be the cause of a good deal of onboarding misery, they can also be just as frustrated as their employees by slow provisioning, paper-based systems, and lousy communications. Might be worth a little bit of a survey and a chat on this front, too.