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    Blame The Customer

    ((January 03, 2002) "Job Boards can not be held responsible for the fact that job advertisers do not respond to every resume submitted to a company." So sez Tony Lee of the Career Journal, Jeff Taylor of TMP, Dimitri Boylan of HotJobs, Mark Mehler of CareerCrossroads and Barry Lawrence (the PR flack) at CareerBunter. Pleading a metaphorical fifth amendment in yesterday's Wall Street Journal this virtual Mount Rushmore of Job Board executives and critics all but single-handedly propped up the failing Executive Search Business by engaging in the time honored stupidity of publicly blaming the paying customer.

    Open mouths, insert feet. Then send these children off to a "managing your press relations" seminar. It's clear that executive maturity is one of the problems we'll be fixing in 2002.

    These are all guys whose personal fortunes are tied to the success of the growing but still primitive business. We'll have to guess that the rigors of the end of the year combined with a market surplus of stupid pills allowed them to be caught by the reporter ten drinks into a bender. It's easy to want to excuse them. Customers were fewer and more demanding in 2001. Although the market grew significantly, it didn't really for these players. They are in the early stages of being left behind and it shows.

    Let's see, the reporter says "Your users are complaining about the results they get. Any comment?"

    You could say:

    • "The industry is still young and accountability is within reach", or
    • "Our customers are extraordinary, you must be talking about someone else's business", or
    • "We do have some problems in that area and, as a part of our new launch, we are making every effort to improve the problem", or
    • "If you think we're bad, did you hear about the Ford tire recall?", or
    • "How 'bout them Mets?", or
    • "It's a complex situation. Response rates always vary in proportion to demand.", or
    • "Our company offers an upsell to full Executive Search products to cover just this contingency.", or
    • "Have I had a chance to tell you about Sarah, our current posterchild for getting a job using our service?", or
    • Any of 10,000 other things

    But, engaging in the public damning of customers is reminiscent of the treatment we used to get from computer companies and still get from rinky-dink software operations. 

    You'd expect this kind of answer from an old school newspaper executive who was talking about paper classified ads. Then, there really was no control or concern for the user's experience. It's the attitude that lost the newspapers their exclusive franchise in the arena. Not caring about the impact of your public statements on your paying  customers is a luxury of the independent firebrand and is usually rewarded with a reduction in advertising revenues. We know. We'd moderate our behavior if we were running a job board.

    In our industry, there are those who pass the buck and those who stop it, like everywhere else. While it's sad to see the entire top of the pile embarrass themselves this way, you should know that there are alternative services that are built on accepting responsibility for and fixing customer problems (RecruitUSA), prevention of these sorts of issues (Hire.com), and, alternative products for differing cycles (Workstream).

    Buck-passing executives create buck-passing cultures. If the executive will say it in public, you can be sure that the account rep believes it. The single most frightening thing about this episode is what it demonstrates about companies who are seen as key industry players.

    Our customers deserve better.

    On a slight tangent, we spent a very serious chunk of time, over an hour, with the Wall Street Journal reporter refuting her assertions that the change in response rates had something to do with job boards. It doesn't, really. It's a function of the shift in supply, demand and workers' sense of security. If you were to read the article, you'd guess that she encountered no opposing views in her research. She clearly had an axe to grind and ground it. The industry executives were caught in one of those journalistic traps that we love so much. The outcome was predetermined so, whatever they said was shaped to the conclusions she had already drawn. That doesn't excuse the execs for not having adequate media skills, it just explains it.

    - John Sumser

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