Customers no longer just want a great product and good service – they want a great customer experience. But the challenge is not only how to provide that in a sustainable way, but how to hire those who will be able to provide it.
One company, the Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange (PURE), believes it has found the key to hiring employees with the emotional intelligence to drive long-term customer experience satisfaction.
Colin Haupt, PURE’s vice president of human resources, says the company’s focus on emotional intelligence when making hires helps develop employees who become “promoters” of the company – and the proof can be found in the bottom line. Specifically, the company is reporting its eighth straight year of at least 40% annual growth, he says.
“Everyone has some degree of emotional intelligence. For several roles – notably those that interact regularly with our membership – we seek out candidates that possess exceptional levels of it,” he says.
The company, with about 300 employees, looks at four personal characteristics of job candidates: self-management, self-awareness, empathy and the ability to build successful relationships. To find out whether applicants have such qualities, Haupt says some questions asked during an interview can include:
- Give me an example of a time when you had to use creativity or imagination to come up with a solution to a customer’s issue. (empathy, urgency, creativity)
- Tell me about a time where you had a disagreement with a co-worker on an issue. How did you approach that issue to pursue consensus and maintain a positive relationship with the employee? (relationship management)
- What frustrates you and how do you deal with your frustrations in the workplace? (Self-management)
- Tell me about one misconception about you in the workplace. (self-awareness, self-management)
- Describe a situation when you wanted to offer a customer a different solution but didn’t have the authority to do so. What was the customer’s need? How would you have liked to address it? What prevented you from doing so? (empathy, relationship management)
At the same time, Haupt says there are red flags during an interview that might indicate a job candidate wouldn’t be a good fit for the company, including those who feel victimized by an organization “and convey a ‘woe is me’ attitude rather than showing evidence of influencing positive desired outcomes for themselves and their company,” he says.
Other indicators can include a resistance to collaboration or feedback; poor self-management skills; a lack of empathy; or a history of struggling to successfully manage relationships, he says.
“We also like to find people that experienced failure and are confident enough to talk about it, share what they learned from it, and explain what they’d do differently today,” he says.
So far, Haupt says that dozens of new employees have been hired using the emotional intelligence screening in areas such as claims, risk management and member services. He adds the company also is using the method as they interview candidates at 13 different colleges and universities.
Known as the purEQ screening, Haupt says it has paid off in numerous ways for the company, noting that survey data reveals that 77% of such workers have already referred others to the company.
“Further, high levels of purEQ allow our employees to build successful business relationships,” he says. “Much of our success is derived through collaboration, so establishing successful relationships – via solid listening skills, collaboration and truly understanding how the decisions we make will have on people’s lives – allow us to develop better, more creative solutions at a faster pace.”
Haupt explains that if an employee doesn’t have the right emotional intelligence, it means “missed opportunities.”
“Studies have shown that while it’s not impossible to be successful with low levels of emotional intelligence, the odds are definitely against you. So we focus our energy on this from the standpoint of elevating the customer experience, but we think it will also translate into making our employees more successful,” he says.
Haupt says that employees with poor emotional intelligence also have a “lousy” impact on corporate culture and on PURE’s “customer-obsessed” business model.
“We ask our employees to seize every opportunity to create an exceptional member experience. In our view, PURE will sustain long-term success by ensuring the compass points to the member,” he says. “We find inspiration in companies from various industries (far beyond insurance), but all of them share this commitment to differentiating with human-centered service experience that creates unexpected delight from customers. While many companies are catching on, few seem to have the appetite to become truly obsessed because of the organizational, cultural or budget changes required.”
The company worked with TalentSmart to develop the emotional intelligence program, and day-long training that uses role playing so workers can learn how to respond to various scenarios. A monthly town hall meeting with all employees allows senior leaders to share customer success stories such as the one where a customer had a house fire at Christmas, ruining a family gathering. In that situation, the PURE claims adjuster coordinated temporary housing at a similar home, but also arranged to have a fully decorated Christmas tree and catered holiday dinner for the extended family.
While such programs may indeed require a bit of an obsession as Haupt mentioned, it may be worth it. In looking at such customer experience programs, Forrester research found that loyalty improvements from better customer experience can mean increased revenue between $55 million and $1.6 billion per year in North American companies, depending on the industry.
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