Why customer service and candidate experience is key to being a successful boutique consultancy.

I have been working in recruitment for over 8 years now and I am always amazed when I hear about how candidates are treated in the market by companies when hiring directly and other recruitment consultancies. In a world where we have access to so much information on companies and where brand is everything recruitment is usually one of your first experiences of working with a company so should be done right.

Here at Forbes I am passionate about the candidate experience and it is something that I try and instil into my staff from day one. There is a lot of talk within the recruitment industry about how technology is taking over and soon there will be no need for recruitment consultants. One of my LinkedIn contacts made a very good point in that we must embrace technology and use it to make us better at our jobs, but we will never be replaced. For this to happen Recruitment Consultants need to be better at the part that computers can’t do which is the interaction and customer service aspect. When you are approaching candidates about jobs or meeting them for the first time the relationship that you form is critical. If you over promise and under deliver people will not use you again and will not buy into your services when they need to use a recruiter for their own search or when hiring.

I believe that the larger agencies (which I have worked for I must add) have got the balance wrong and are therefore losing the customer service and candidate interaction aspect. Candidates are fast becoming disillusioned with the larger agencies as they are not getting the service they expect or deserve. These larger agencies are using the latest technology to find record amounts of talent via the job boards or LinkedIn but are then not providing the service levels expected by these candidates to aid them in finding a new role. Many candidates meet with the agencies taking time out of their day and set out a plan to help them find work. These candidates are then let back into the market full of hope but often nothing is actioned, and they cannot again contact the Consultant who is too busy. I must also stress at this point that this is not true of all the larger agencies however is based on frequent feedback we receive.

There is however an imbalance in the market. The larger agencies in the market are still taking the lion’s share of the vacancies as larger companies feel safe and comfortable using a larger consultancy to find them staff as it’s a household name and with that comes some relief. This means that because of this volume the consultants are having to employ a blanket approach to finding people in the hope that a job will come up for them one day. In the past I have had KPI’s set on how many candidate’s I can pull into the business each week regardless of the vacancies I am working on. It can work as you never know when the right job may come up for said candidates, but it does mean that there is often disappointment from the candidate as you are not able to help them find work in the short term. Recruitment I must add is an industry of disappointment you can only place one candidate and this must be kept in mind when searching for a job or using an agent to assist.

The UK market and hiring companies are starting to edge more towards the boutique consultancies to help them source talent but it’s a slow transition and often seen as a risky ploy by many executives who trust the big brands. Boutique agencies have more flexibility and can tailor their needs to the specific brief which allows them to approach and meet with people who they feel are suitable for that role and not just everyone to hit said KPI’s. In a boutique agency environment time is money and only suitable candidates are met and briefed on the roles that they are recruiting. The smaller and more manageable candidate pool is also easily serviced, and people get the customer experience that they deserve such as feedback and regular updates when applicable. Candidates also have a closer tie with their consultant and can speak with them when they like which increases the bond and often results in successful placements as both the candidate and the consultant have a close relationship. The other reason why boutique agencies are becoming more prevalent is due to brand awareness. I have multiple clients who handle their own recruitment or use larger consultancies to find them staff. Candidates quickly lose faith in the brand as they don’t hear back or don’t get feedback after meeting with the company. In a tight market where skills will become harder to find a strong brand and recruitment policy is essential and boutique agencies are able to meet these candidate expectations and keep the customer brand strong. No feedback and bad experience handled by an over stretched agency can have a very negative impact on future hires into the business.

Recruitment is not an exact science as we are working with people and there are many different unpredictable variables. But one thing is always true and that is treat those how you want to be treated yourself. I make sure that my consultants always return calls, always go the extra mile to help candidates even if it won’t prosper the company or themselves. The reason for this is not just because I enjoy helping and interacting with people it’s because if a candidate has had a positive experience with you they will want to work with you moving forward and keep that positive relationship going. They will refer you to their friends and family.

In recruitment we use the term 360-degree consultant which basically means a consultant that works with candidate’s and clients. I believe this term can also be used when looking at the business. That first candidate meeting is the start of your relationship with that person and if managed correctly that candidate, when they find work, should be calling you to assist them next time they are looking for a job or when they are looking to hire into their own teams. That candidate knows that you know how to treat people correctly and you will be providing the same service which left them with a strong relationship and hopefully a new role. The candidate will also know that with this positive customer experience when you are recruiting on behalf of their business you will be representing their brand professionally and to the highest standards which is important in a tight candidate market. Brand and reputation are everything.

I am proud that at Forbes Hunt we are focussed on the customer service experience first and KPI’s and targets second. Ultimately this will allow us to build strong relationships and give people the recruitment experience that technology will never be able to provide. This will allow Forbes Hunt to be successful moving forward and I can already see these benefits now with constant referrals and recommendations. Forbes Hunt won’t get it right every time but with a strong culture and ethos to help people first I think that we have the right idea.  

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