They are the perfect recruiting target because these prospects are currently employed (i.e. passives); they are diverse; it costs almost nothing to get a recruiting message in front of them and best of all; and they already know and like your company and its products. These perfect candidates are your customers.
Even though customers are generally the most-ignored recruiting source, some firms like Google, McDonald’s, Marriott, and Wells Fargo have realized that some of the best recruiting targets are their own customers.
Let’s take Wells Fargo as an example. It literally has millions of customers that use their ATM machines every year, so it only makes sense to try to recruit them as employees. Its approach is simple and cost-effective. It is reaching these customer prospects by merely adding a recruiting message to the receipt printed out by its ATM machines. The message is: “Now hiring. With you when you want a career opportunity that is right for you” (see the inserted sample of a “recruiting receipt”).
Why Customers Are Near-perfect Recruiting Targets
Most sourcing and recruiting leaders routinely ignore a firm’s customers as recruiting and referral targets. This can be a major strategic error because your customers fit most of the criteria that objectively define “the perfect recruiting target.” Some of the advantages resulting from recruiting your customers include:
- They already engaged with your firm – your customers already know your firm and its products, so they are likely to already have a positive image of both. And if they are long-term frequent customers, they are likely to be fully engaged and also have a passion for your firm. As a result, convincing them to consider a recruiting opportunity and selling them on accepting a position is much easier.
- You already know them – assessing them will be easier, because unlike most applicants, they are not “strangers.” As a customer, you may already know a lot about them, including their loyalty, their current employment and income, their payment history, and what products they have purchased.
- Reaching them is easy and cheap – because you already have regular contact with them, getting a recruiting message in front of customers will likely be easy and inexpensive. And because they like your firm, they are also likely to read your messages.
- They include a large percentage of not-looking prospects – there are many ways to attract “active candidates,” but finding and selling the so-called passive candidate  is much more problematic. So, if you’re trying to reach the more-difficult-to-engage 80% of the population that is not actively looking for a new job, you’ll be happy to learn that your customer base is likely to be dominated by these non-lookers.
- Diversity – if you have a broad customer base, you will likely be able to attract a significant percentage of diverse applicants. Diverse customers will also likely feel comfortable with your current employees and they will be equally comfortable with the way you operate and do business. As a result, they will have less fear over “not fitting in” as a diverse employee.
- They are likely to be trouble-free employees – if they are long-term regular customers, they are likely to already share your corporate values. And because they already know your products and your employees, they will probably need less orientation and training to get up to speed after they are hired. Because they have already shown they can get to your facility, commuting to work is unlikely to be an issue. If they have been a loyal customer for many years, retention  is less likely to be an issue. And because they already like and know your products, selling it or improving on it may come naturally.
- They may become a great referral source – even if you don’t hire them, there is a good possibility that you can turn your best customers into a referral source.
- Recruiting may make them even better customers – even if you don’t hire them, if you treat them well during the recruiting process, the added knowledge that your customers will gain during the recruiting process will likely make them even better customers in the future.
The Top 17 Action Steps for Recruiting Your Customers
If you’re not familiar with the “recruiting your customers” best practices, here is a list of my top recruiting actions that I recommend.
- Employee referrals – employee referrals are almost always the best source of quality hires. So empower your employees and educate them so that they can identify and refer knowledgeable and passionate customers who they regularly interact with. A $25 coffee card or a dozen movie tickets may be enough incentive to energize your employees to make quality referrals. Obviously if you need hires in a particular product area, it makes sense to encourage your employees to make referrals from individuals who frequently shop in that product area.
- A powerful “we are hiring” sign — rather than putting up an overly simple “help wanted” sign (which can actually hurt your image), instead include wording that is more powerful. For example “we are looking for a few great associates,” “if you love our product, consider joining our team,” “join our team. employees get generous discounts… It’s like a sale everyday,” or “great customers become great employees.” The sign can be placed strategically inside or hung outside the firm. Pre-test the location and the wording to maximize the impact of the sign. You can also use shopping baskets and the firm’s electronic sign out front to broadcast your hiring needs.
- An inserted flier or message – a one-page recruiting flier can be placed in their shopping bag at a retail establishment or as part of the product itself (Google once placed a recruiting ad on its search page for recruiting college students). Recruiting brochures can also be placed strategically around retail stores or on the customer bulletin board. McDonald’s once placed a “would you like a job with that” type recruiting message on the paper mats that were placed on its food trays. And some Silicon Valley coffee shops were paid to place recruiting messages from local firms on the heat-resistant coffee sleeves covering their drinks. I would not recommend placing job flyers on cars in the parking lot, as this may appear tacky.
- Use social media – recruiting messages can be included on corporate social media landing pages, or they can be sent directly to your online followers. You should also target bloggers and super users who regularly post positive messages about your firm on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. If customers “check in” on foursquare (or other location software) when they arrive at your location, you can send them recruiting text messages. You can also target Groupon users who are likely to be new customers.
- Print them on your receipts — as in the Wells Fargo example, including a simple recruiting line on your printed receipts can be a simple and cost-effective recruiting approach. You can also include a QR code  to take them directly to your careers website. If you use a micro site exclusively for the receipt, you can better assess how well it is working.
- Focus on corporate loyalty programs – specifically target members of your customer loyalty group, because you know a lot about them and they are also likely to be great customers. Target them immediately after they sign on, or you can prioritize numbers based on whether they are likely to be great employees. Hollister once specifically targeted, for hiring, their customers with loyalty cards that exceeded certain purchase limits, because these individuals were highly likely to be passionate about the firm and its clothes (and to look good in them).
- Use employee uniforms – have your employees periodically wear buttons or T-shirts letting your customers know that you are actively seeking top recruits from among customers or that you are a great place to work (Wegmans).
- Use corporate business websites – placing recruiting messages and web recruiting banners on corporate sales, credit applications, and customer service websites can be an effective tool if you can get permission from the marketing department.
- As part of the CRM customer contact process – because many firms send customers a monthly paper or electronic mailing, recruiting messages can also be included in monthly statements and advertising pieces.
- Involve customer service centers – recruiting messages can be part of the customer service or call center operation. Individuals who offer good suggestions or even well-thought-out criticisms may be ideal recruiting targets. Call-center operators can either directly suggest that they apply, or their names can be forwarded to recruiters.
- Include a message in your product ads — consider putting a small recruiting message in your media product or branding ads as one way of reminding current and potential customers who you are actively recruiting.
- Ask applicants if they are customers – you should ask applicants if they are currently customers — either on the job application form or during the interview (The Container Store). You should then “tag” customer applications in your ATS system first because they are likely to be good candidates, but also because treating them poorly during the hiring process may literally “cost you a customer.”
- Hold hiring events in retail locations – holding hiring events at one of your retail locations (Seattle’s Best Coffee) can make it easy for workers in the area to stop by for a quick interview. You can announce the event on point-of-purchase signs.
- Offer a discount for applying — consider giving a small discount to customers who apply for a job and complete an interview.
- In kiosks – include recruiting messages and the opportunity to apply online on in-store customer kiosks.
- Place table cards – recruiting tent cards can be placed on your tables at quick service restaurants and other establishments where customers sit at tables.
- In trade show booths – if you do not have retail customers, you may be able to contact and recruit your customers, vendor employees, and users by placing recruiting messages and even recruiters in your trade show booths at major industry events. You should also encourage your employees to refer top vendor employees that they work closely with.
Using any objective standard, top customers are prime recruiting prospects. They are easy to find, communicate with and sell. And best of all, they generally turn out to be loyal and top-performing employees. Recruiting leaders are constantly searching for simple, low-cost, and effective recruiting tools, so there is no valid reason why so many of them are not exploiting this valuable source of engaged talent. There are many successful customer recruiting approaches to choose from, so all that remains is to have the courage to try something new.