The Whiteboard: When hiring, weigh more than basic job skills

Would you be willing to put any and all of your employees in front of an important customer and allow them to have a conversation? If your answer is ‘no way,’ that’s an unfortunate statement about some of your people. It would be good to think about that.

When I was an operating manager, I tried very hard to hire, develop and retain people who I could put in front of customers or higher-level executives. This was not a beauty contest. In evaluating people, I would consider three factors: communication, demeanor and personal presentation.

You might be wondering why I would worry about these things with every single hire. Surely not all employees will have to interact with customers. I would argue that most employees could or should be able to interact with customers, and that the ability to do so is an indicator of other important things.

In my experience I have needed engineers, designers, technicians, supervisors and project managers to meet with customers. And I’ve been in the position where the right person to cover a specific topic was someone we weren’t comfortable putting in front of a customer. That’s a problem.

I’ve also had customers who wanted a plant tour, or who made it part of a contract that they could come in periodically to check products or assess progress. In those cases customers could interact with virtually anyone in the business. Customers who do these things are typically important ones, those for whom you want to put your best foot forward every time.

Some of my clients run their own trucks to deliver products to their customers. Customer interaction with the drivers has caused more than one negative impression for a client. Putting someone in a job visiting customers, someone who isn’t the right person to put in front of customers, is a self-inflicted wound.

Did you ever interview someone and felt you had to drag every word out of them? Some people can’t hold a conversation, some can’t clearly express an idea and some don’t listen. This is what I mean by communication.

Communication issues should be red flags, not only because they could be problems in front of a customer, but because they will be problems in your business. People who don’t communicate well have difficulty working with others. They don’t thrive as members of a team. Isn’t building a great team what you are trying to do?

Demeanor covers a number of things for me. I’m looking for a positive attitude, a friendly personality, and expressions of interest and curiosity. I’m looking for positive body language. People who don’t come across with a positive demeanor aren’t suited to be in front of customers. And they probably aren’t a plus for your team.

My evaluation of personal presentation depends to some degree on the job. You present yourself by the way you take care of your appearance.  The minute someone walks in the door, you’ll know if you would put them in front of a customer or not. People who make a slovenly or inappropriate personal presentation not only should not be around customers. They are signaling a lack of maturity, common sense and discipline.

People you would want to interact with your customers are people you will want to interact with your team. They will communicate well and will bring a positive and interested demeanor to work. They will present themselves well, appropriate to their job. If they also have the competence and experience you need, chances are they will be great for your business, and your customer relations.

Richard Randall is founder and president of management-consulting firm New Level Advisors in Springettsbury Township, York County. Email him at info@newleveladvisors.com.

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