How to Avoid the Pitfall of Poor Selection for Customer Contact Roles

You may have heard the story about how one major airline assesses its job applicants prior to offering them any position which involves direct customer contact. The story and its message is a valuable reminder to us all. Listening with Intent

In the group employment interviews the company representatives ask prospective employees why they want to work for the airline. Most of those being assessed make the assumption that the quality of their answer will determine whether they progress to the next stage in the hiring process or not, when in actual fact the assessors are more interested in observing how each member of the group of applicants is paying attention to the person who is speaking when they are in ‘listening mode.’ They look for tell-tale cues like eye contact, and other non verbal encouragement being given to the speaker by those who are still waiting for their turn to speak. It is a fairly impressive assessment process, and one which I have discussed first hand with the company during my benchmarking study visits some years ago.

Those applicants who were too distracted or self absorbed in mentally preparing themselves for their turn to speak while others were talking, were assessed as not having the appropriate customer focus to progress. Although this was not the only criteria by which the company made its assessments, it certainly had a significant impact on the overall assessment being made of each individual in the context of this particular role, given that success in this role depended on how customer-centric the person representing the airline was.

The distinction for listening here is, “wanting to hear” vs “waiting to speak.”

In profiling, we have a couple of patterns for human interaction which describe the two opposing motivational drivers (aka ‘metaprograms’) being assessed in this airline scenario and they are called “Sorting by Others” vs “Sorting by Self.” Neither pattern is good nor bad, right nor wrong, because it depends entirely upon the context of the role for which the employee is being assessed, however if the role you are selecting for involves a high degree of customer interaction and empathy, chances are you will want to select those people who unconsciously “Sort by Others,” and not “Sort by Self.” Hire those people who Sort by Self for roles that require a far more insular approach such as a sole nightwatchman on a security patrol, or a quality control type function.

A person can have the required experience and training and intellectual capability to perform the customer-facing role you are selecting them for, but if you haven’t assessed what motivates him or her unconsciously, then you run the risk of hiring a square peg for a round hole.

The nice thing is that we can now test for crucial elements such as these, so your selection process doesn’t always need to involve such a huge investment in resources to run group interviews supported by specialist observers watching the ‘players’ in the room, as this major airline did. Of course undertaking both the formal testing and the observational testing in a combined process has the added bonus of producing a quantitative and qualitative assessment for even greater precision. Either way, the objective is to avoid the huge financial cost of employing the wrong fit for the role from the beginning.

All too often the cost of poor selection and the consequences of inducting and training the wrong people only to see them being moved on within three months (or worse still, remaining in a position for which they are not a good fit), is never measured on the balance sheet as an avoidable and significant expense, but it should be. When the numbers are added up it may change some of the prevailing points of view about skimping on the investment of making better informed assessments during the initial stages, especially in small to medium sized businesses.

Drop me an email to if you would like to know more about selecting for success.

Until then… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less.  Have a great week – Brian

Precision Profiling – What Makes You Tick?  Through ‘Motivational Fingerprinting’ we uncover what you do, how you do it and why you do it, and most importantly, the hidden patterns that lead to your success, and that of your staff.

About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

Read more about Brian Clark Here

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