What if Facebook Acted Like a Staffing Firm?

Brandon Metcalf   February 19, 2016  
Talent Rover COO, Brandon Metcalf, was published in the February 2016 issue of The Global Recruiter. See the article here.

What if you had to call Facebook to open an account? The service representative would ask personal questions and then invite you to sign the final paperwork at your local Facebook office.

What if you had to email Google search terms to a Google representative who would enter them into search and email back results?

What if Tinder required you to mail hard copies of your photos to their headquarters in West Hollywood, California?

The answer is that Facebook wouldn’t have 1.6 billion users, Google wouldn’t be the world’s most valuable company, and no one would search for love on Tinder. In other words, if consumer tech companies treated people the way some staffing firms do, they would fail.

While it would be convenient to draw a line between business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) expectations, this distinction is purely semantic. Consumer technology has elevated expectations for every organization. All that matters are business-to-people (B2P) interactions. The sum of these interactions is an “experience” – what it is like to do business with the organization.   

Customer experience is the “marketing leaders' next battlefield,“ as one Gartner report put it. When the research firm surveyed 200 consumer marketing leaders for this report, 89 percent said they expect their companies to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2017.

The recruiting and staffing industry will follow this trend. The candidate and client experience will be the ‘battlefield’ on which firms compete. To build loyalty in an opportunistic market, winning firms will distinguish their service with frictionless, time-saving experiences.

The Value of a Recruiter  

In 1998, Beerud Sheth and Srinivas Anumolu founded Elance, a platform that connected companies with freelance developers, designers, copywriters and other contractors. Essentially, they invented online staffing, and as they grew, the staffing world grew nervous. If companies and candidates can connect directly, why would they use recruiters? Elance was the first company that eliminated the B2B experience in staffing.

While Elance (now Upwork, following its merger with oDesk) found a niche in international talent arbitrage, it didn’t upend conventional staffing the way we feared. It turns out that recruiters have two unassailable advantages:

  1. They can connect with people and earn their trust. Elance was too impersonal and risky.

  2. Recruiters can understand the needs of clients and candidates. Great recruiters learn who people are and what they really want.

In other words, the optimal candidate and client experience includes a human consultant. Thus, recruiters shouldn’t fear online staffing. They should fear competitors who use technology to supercharge that experience.

The Erosion of Loyalty

Human relationships provide a better experience than online matchmaking, but the web gives people the ability to be promiscuous. With a Google search, a client or candidate can find your competitors within seconds and switch their business without a hassle.   

In the consumer world, this is what Accenture Strategy calls “an erosion in customer loyalty.” Their report, Customer 2020: Are You Future-Ready or Reliving the Past?, found that 64 percent of consumers had switched providers in at least one industry due to poor customer service (have you ever called an insurance or telecom company?). Accenture estimates that this so-called “switching economy” will be worth $6.2 trillion across 17 markets.

Researchers from the Corporate Executive Board have corroborated this insight with their own study, which surveyed 75,000 people about customer service interactions. In Harvard Business Review article, they noted an important finding: “…delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does.” In essence, “When it comes to service, companies create loyal customers primarily by helping them solve their problems quickly and easily.”

Based on the above research, recruiters who provide better service should outcompete other firms in the switching economy. The question is, what makes a better service experience?


Thanks to the rise of on-demand technology, good service is self-service. A survey commissioned by Aspect Software found that nearly three out of four consumers prefer to solve their customer service issues on their own. More colorfully, nearly a third of the respondents said they would rather clean a toilet than talk to customer service.  

In staffing, we need to make a clearer distinction between our service and customer service. Our service is matchmaking. We help hiring managers find the talent their business needs, and we help candidates find exceptional career opportunities. Customer service includes all the tasks that complicate this service: onboarding, scheduling, timesheets and invoices, to name a few. Firms improve their overall experience by digitizing and automating customer service tasks that otherwise cause frustration.

Let’s use onboarding as an example. Imagine that one staffing firm mails paper onboarding documents to candidates, who must fill them out and mail them back. A second firm requires candidates to visit their office to complete the paperwork. A third firm completes onboarding entirely online. Candidates fill out and sign the document via an online community, which can be accessed from a computer, smartphone or tablet.

If all three firms offer comparable job opportunities, why wouldn’t candidates flock to the third firm? We could make the same case with invoices. A hiring manager will prefer working with a firm that allows her to review and pay invoices online, without any back-and-forth emailing.

Paper processes and archaic software create tedious tasks that deter clients and candidates, as the Corporate Executive Board study suggests. Firms that offer on-demand, self-service options will gain an edge in customer experience.

Time and Data

Besides providing a better experience, online communities offer two additional advantages: time and data. When clients and candidates handle onboarding, scheduling, timesheets, etc. online, recruiters and administrators no longer manage those processes manually.

Consider how many emails recruiters send per day and why. The Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, estimates that business users will send and receive 131 emails per day in 2016. By the McKinsey Global Institute’s estimate, reading and answering emails takes up 28 percent of a knowledge worker’s week. For recruiters, who likely exceed those averages, many emails are administrative: Can you complete your onboarding documents? What shifts are you available? Can you approve this timesheet? Online communities can eliminate those messages with automated reminders. That leaves more time for calls and meetings: the work that builds connection, trust and understanding with clients and candidates.

In addition, the more that clients and candidates interact with your firm via an online community, the more data you can collect and use. Let’s say a regular client requests a financial controller via your community. He wants a CPA with 10+ years of experience. Every two days, when he visits your community for self-service tasks, he finds a digest of the top five candidates in his metro area who meet those qualifications. He can peruse their resumes and request an interview at will, without calling or emailing the firm. Likewise, your accounting candidates might receive a daily digest of accounting jobs, and they can flag the most appealing opportunities. As data predicts what clients and candidates want, it can enrich their experience while reducing the recruiter’s workload.

A Mobile Environment

As Facebook, Google and Tinder all attest, customer experiences increasingly happen in mobile environments. Although today, most candidate and client experiences occur over the phone and on computers, this won’t last long.

Mobile will be a key experience battleground, especially on the candidate side. As Glassdoor’s 2014 Rise of the Mobile Job Search study found, 45 percent of all job seekers already say they use their mobile device to search for jobs at least once a day. 90 percent of respondents planned to use a mobile device during the job search process in the next 12 months. However, 50 percent of respondents find it difficult to apply for jobs on mobile device, and one in four won’t apply on mobile if the website isn’t mobile-optimized.

To understand this sticking point, consider the context in which candidates search. Jobvite’s Job Seeker Nation Survey finds that 47 percent of mobile job seekers search in bed, 38 percent during their commute, 30 percent hunt when they’re at work and 18 percent job browse in the restroom. Those are not computer-friendly locations – if the process is difficult, mobile users will turn to a competitor that makes the process easy. So to provide the best service, staffing firms must adapt to what candidates actually do. If the job hunt is mobile, the whole experience should be mobile too.

From B2B to B2P

Most companies claim to be “customer-centric” or “customer-focused.” How they actually practice that value is unclear. How much time have you lost to “customer service”? How many times have you thought to yourself, why is this so difficult?

Our high expectations for consumer companies have raised the bar for all companies, including staffing and recruitment firms.

There is no such thing as “business-to-business” anymore. Therefore, you can’t grade yourself strictly on the value you provide to a business. You must look at the business-to-person experience, the “B2P” interactions that determine how clients and candidates perceive your firm. What’s difficult, tedious and frustrating? Manual paperwork, clunky software and a lack of mobile support are just a few signs that your technology is making you less competitive.

No one ever has to call Facebook for account setup, email Google for searches or mail pictures to Tinder. It’s time that staffing and recruitment firms compare themselves to the world’s top customer experience organizations, not to each other. Your competitors may not set a high bar for experience, but you can.