How To Turn Client Criticism Into A Win

Although it’s rarely discussed openly, the most pervasive problem in doing search is internalizing criticism from employers. It causes recruiter burnout, limits options, stifles creativity and results in low self-esteem.

That is why overcoming objections is such an important part of any placement training program. But overcoming objections doesn’t overcome the effects of destructive criticism. This PTL column will show you how to do so and improve your bottom line.

Let’s start with your role in the placement process. With few exceptions, the relationships between the recruiter and the client are transitory. You’re in a “what have you done for me lately” business. You’re only as good as your last placement. Don’t perform, suffer a massive ego stroke, or overcharge and you’ll be history. This is a reality of business; it’s a value-for-value relationship. That’s why you charge for your services, and that’s why they pay. For this reason, satisfied clients are the key to a satisfied, successful you.

When you’re cold-calling, criticism from employers shouldn’t bother you. If there are no openings or they are using other sources, they don’t believe you have anything they want. Your “value” is perceived as zilch. Even when they spend time on the phone dodging your closing techniques it’s because they want to appear courteous, don’t want you to complain to their management, or don’t want you to raid their company. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cold call. It simply means that the criticism shouldn’t bother you. The same is true when you are sourcing candidates. You’re asking for it, so don’t take it so hard.

argument-freeBut what about when a client criticizes you? The usual reaction is to become defensive and jump to conclusions.

Here’s how a typical call sounds:

Client: What’s happening on the controller opening?
You: We’re doing the best we can.
Client: We’ve only seen three candidates in a month.
You: I’m sure we sent you more than that. Why don’t you raise the salary?
Client: The budget won’t allow it. We‘re just going to find another recruiter.
You: That’s not fair. We’ve spent a lot of time and money looking for someone.

Do you feel bad? Of course. So let’s back up and look at the situation objectively. The client might have Superman specs or be low-balling the salary.

Tip: Provide Regular Status Reports

Your first mistake was to allow the time to pass without a status report. Even a verbal one would have been fine. When I was a human resourcer, one of the most frustrating things was not hearing from recruiters after giving them a JO.

There’s another more subtle reason why you feel bad. You’ve been pushed around. Michael Korda noted in his classic Power: How to Get It, How to Use It: “The person who receives a telephone call is always in an inferior position of power to the person who placed it.”

This is true of emails too.

Perhaps you were afraid that calling to say you had nothing to report would anger the hiring authority. It doesn’t work that way. In How to Turn an Interview into a Job, I observed:

 [T]he average interviewer who’s hiring is so busy trying to place job orders, run advertisements, review resumes, arrange for interviews, interview, verify employment  data, check references, rationalize why the position hasn’t been filled, and justify exceeding the hiring budget, that there is no time to be angry.

The Best Time to Call

Does this mean you should call indiscriminately? Absolutely not: Statistically, people who are interviewing are most receptive Tuesday through Friday between 9:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M.

Mondays are unpredictable and should be avoided, because the interviewer’s nervous system will still be stabilizing from the weekend, he or she might be nursing a hangover (common among people who are hiring), new hires are being processed, and staff meetings are more likely.

Friday mornings are particularly opportune, because employees are terminating, and the interviewer may learn for the first time that a requisition exists. Friday afternoons are even worse than Monday mornings, because “exit interviews” are generally conducted. These are the back-end of a management position, and the further away you are, the better.

Good news (like a qualified candidate) is welcome any time. But no news or bad news should only be conveyed when the client is most receptive.

Tip: Respond to the Question

Your second mistake was the reaction to the phone call. You didn’t respond to what the client said, you reacted to what you thought he or she implied. The question was, “What’s happening on the controller opening?” not “Why haven’t you done anything on the controller opening?” How about an answer like “I’m right in the middle of a meeting. Can I call you back in an hour?” That way, you can review the file, calm down from the frontal attack, and use the powerful client-control technique of initiating the call.

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Instead of “We’re doing the best we can,” you’ll be answering the question, defusing the anger and getting much closer to making a placement.

When the client next exclaimed, “We’ve only seen three candidates in a month,” you blasted back with “I’m sure we sent you more than that. Why don’t you raise the salary?” Here again, you didn’t respond, you reacted. No facts, just an unsubstantiated opinion. Nothing like calling an angry client a liar to make placements.

If you let the conversation go this far, you still could have saved the relationship by agreeing with the client. An appropriate statement would have been, “That’s true, since we have been sending only the most highly qualified ones we can find. In view of the salary constraints, perhaps we should present other types of candidates.” (Note you said “other types,” not “less qualified.”) Should you suggest raising the salary? Of course, if that’s your advice. But not now, when the steam is coming out of all the openings.

Respond. Don’t React

Let’s press on to “The budget won’t allow it. We’re just going to find another recruiter.” Here is where you can empathize, agree and persuade.

Again, the difference between reacting and responding.

You could have replied, “I understand your predicament (empathy). There are other competent recruiters out there (agree), but we understand your needs (persuade). I’d like to call you in an hour to discuss how we can assist you even more.”

If you really let the ball drop, at least don’t drop it again — this time on your foot. Admit the fact, but not the guilt. Say, “I didn’t call into your competitor,” not “I should have called into your competitor.” It’s a value-for-value relationship, and the client needs your guilt trip about as much as you do.

When you call back, do three things. They will make almost any criticism constructive:

  1. When the criticism is vague, probe to find out what you’re doing wrong. (“What didn’t you like about the candidates we sent?”)
  2. Acknowledge that you understand and accept the criticism. (“I know what you mean.”)
  3. Ask how you can correct the problem. (“Where do you suggest we look to find the ideal candidate?”)

Does it matter who’s right or wrong? If you think it does, you’re wrong.

Criticism is tough to take. That’s why they call it “criticism.” But if you learn how to look at it as you and the client against the problem (an open requisition), rather than you against the client, you’re using it constructively.

After all, it’s a value-for-value relationship!

More than thirty-five years ago, Jeffrey G. Allen, J.D., C.P.C. turned a decade of recruiting and human resources management into the legal specialty of placement law. Since 1975, Jeff has collected more placement fees, litigated more trade secrets cases, and assisted more placement practitioners than anyone else. From individuals to multinational corporations in every phase of staffing, his name is synonymous with competent legal representation. Jeff holds four certifications in placement and is the author of 24 popular books in the career field, including bestsellers How to Turn an Interview into a Job, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book and the revolutionary Instant Interviews. As the world?s leading placement lawyer, Jeff?s experience includes: Thirty-five years of law practice specializing in representation of staffing businesses and practitioners; Author of ?The Allen Law?--the only placement information trade secrets law in the United States; Expert witness on employment and placement matters; Recruiter and staffing service office manager; Human resources manager for major employers; Certified Personnel Consultant, Certified Placement Counselor, Certified Employment Specialist and Certified Search Specialist designations; Cofounder of the national Certified Search Specialist program; Special Advisor to the American Employment Association; General Counsel to the California Association of Personnel Consultants (honorary lifetime membership conferred); Founder and Director of the National Placement Law Center; Recipient of the Staffing Industry Lifetime Achievement Award; Advisor to national, regional and state trade associations on legal, ethics and legislative matters; Author of The Placement Strategy Handbook, Placement Management, The National Placement Law Center Fee Collection Guide and The Best of Jeff Allen, published by Search Research Institute exclusively for the staffing industry; and Producer of the EMPLAW Audio Series on employment law matters. Email him at jeff@placementlaw.com.

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