Six Sigma, Part 5: The Voice of the Customer

Quality can be such an elusive term, particularly in recruiting and hiring. It is inherently subjective, and its definition varies depending on whom you talk to and what’s at stake. But when we talk about Six Sigma and process improvement, quality is best defined as meeting the customer’s requirements. In other words, the customer determines what quality means through their expectations. If your organization meets these expectations, you have achieved quality in their eyes. That sounds pretty simple, but it brings up the more difficult question: What does the customer really want? One of the most critical aspects of Six Sigma is the focus on the voice of the customer. This is not just a trite nod to the customer ó it is a concept that comprises a set of tools that are meant to capture and understand what it is that the customer wants. Once you have this baseline information, it helps you translate those wants into measurable requirements that will allow you to gauge whether or not you are meeting your customer’s expectations. Determining Your Customers When you think about who your customer is, it is critical to think in terms of the various internal and external customers that you serve. Who do you interact with on a daily or weekly basis? Who do you supply a service to? Who is impacted by what you do at your organization? These are all your customers on some level. In prioritizing your customer interactions, there are three key voices (customer groups) that recruiting professionals need to focus on:

  • Hiring managers, departments, groups or teams
  • Candidates, applicants, and prospects
  • Senior management (CEO, CFO, board of directors, department heads)

These are by no means the only customers you work with regularly. There are a multitude of other internal and external customers, including other departments like finance and payroll, as well as college placement offices, third-party recruiting firms, and other vendors. Because recruiting professionals serve several different customers, it is necessary to balance and prioritize their sometimes conflicting needs. For example, you must balance the requirements of senior management, which wants to manage the bottom line, with the hiring manager, who wants the highest-level candidate, and then finally with the candidates themselves, who desire the highest-level salary. Navigating these issues on a daily basis while trying to meet the needs of each customer can be quite a challenge. Gathering Customer Information Identifying exactly what your customers want is something that is often best determined through a variety of methods, including:

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  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Interviews
  • Market research

Obviously, you cannot ask every applicant in detail what they want. But you can get a good feel through continuous feedback loops from new hires or interviews with candidates who rejected offer letters from you. There are also other indicators that can help you understand what it is that candidates want. Careful analysis of your career website visits through page hits and usage times can help you understand what information is most interesting to candidates, which can lead you to some hypotheses to explore further. With any type of research, it is important to get an understanding of broader issues and then to go through stages of refining and expanding on information to understand the specific issues. For example, you should conduct focus groups and market research to craft a survey that covers the key customer issues in your organization. You can then follow those up with individual interviews to gather more specific information based on your findings from the survey. While this may only serve to validate the beliefs you have about what your customers want, clearly knowing this information and double-checking it is critical to achieve excellence in your operations. Translating and Prioritizing I expect you might be saying to yourself, “I know what my customers want!” Do you really? Could you sit down and list out what all of their requirements are and then prioritize them in order of importance? There are several tools in Six Sigma, such as affinity diagrams and tree charts, which will help you take the guesswork out of translating these wants into clear requirements. This will help you determine what the customer considers critical to quality. By taking a more systematic approach, you can then translate your customers’ needs into specific requirements that can be prioritized and measured against. Be prepared to find that a great deal more might be important to your customer than you originally thought. What will probably be more enlightening is identifying a prioritization of what they want. This might surprise you. Remember that your customers are the only ones who can determine value-adds for your organization. If a customer doesn’t see something as valuable, then you should focus your improvement initiatives elsewhere. Too much effort is wasted on things that customers never really cared about. While each candidate and hiring manager might have a little bit different view of what they think is critical to quality, understanding the broader issues will allow you to allocate scarce recruiting resources effectively. The Focus on the Customer To achieve quality in what you do, it is critical to be clear about what it is your customers really want and expect from you. While this may seem like something you think you already know, taking the time to carefully determine this can be a critical step in ensuring you deliver. Once you understand this, you can effectively translate the customer’s needs into measurable requirements that can be prioritized and used to allocate your own time and resources. If you want to utilize the tools in Six Sigma to drive your metrics and to move towards excellence in your operations, you must systematically understand the needs of your customers. Quality is conformance to the customer’s requirements. If you don’t clearly understand what these are, you cannot and will not ever meet them. As a recruiting professional, you probably work extremely hard?but even when you think you went the extra mile, you might just be going a mile in the wrong direction. Only your customers can say for certain. Take the time to find out what they want.