Last week I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the Recruiting Trends Conference in Las Vegas – well done to my friends at Recruiting Trends!  One of the presentations on recruiting for culture was delivered by a team from online retailer Zappos.  Sitting in the audience, I was more intrigued about how the Zappos’ business model and philosophy applies to recruiting than watching their silly video presentation.

Zappos is well known for their exceptional customer service – going above and beyond what the consumer expects, even shopping at other stores to assist a customer in finding what they need!  In 2009 for example, a traveler checked into the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. When the traveler was unpacking she realized that she’d forgotten a pair of her favorite shoes. She had purchased the missing shoes at Zappos, so she headed to its website. When she could not find another pair of the same shoes on the site, she CALLED the company’s help-desk concierge service. Zappos no longer had the shoes, but its headquarters are just outside of Las Vegas. So the Zappos team located the shoes at a nearby mall, went there and purchased the shoes, and then hand-delivered them to the Mandalay Bay, all at no charge.

This level of personal service is mind blowing to most of us who are of a certain age or demographic that remembers when the phone was the primary medium we used to communicate when we were not able to be face-to-face.  What’s interesting to me is the way an “online” pioneer like Zappos views the phone as a social utility and major component to interacting with their customers in light of other, more recent, social media technologies.

Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, is a huge proponent of social media – even encouraging their thousands of employees to start their own Twitter feeds, blogs and the like.  On the surface it seems a large part of the company’s success is due to their social media strategy – quite the opposite if you listen to Hsieh.  In fact, the hugely successful CEO dislikes the “Social Media” term so much he has made those around him pay him a dollar each time they used it!

Although it has successfully leveraged technology, Zappos does not see itself as a high tech company, but a “high touch” company as evidenced by the story above.  A key tool in their success, according to Hsieh, is the 100 year old phone.  He calls it one of the most underutilized resources for most companies, even calling it “one of the best branding devices out there.”

The magical phone, even in today’s social media craze, allows for what Zappos calls P-E-C: A Personal and Emotional Connection between their call center rep and their customer.  Emotional connections with customers are critical to creating high customer satisfaction and engagement for Zappos, and they should be critical for every recruiter.  It seems like in today’s recruiting circles we focus on how to ‘automate’ this connection through social media tools, wishing to remove ourselves from the process more and more.  This is completely contrary to the success evidenced by our retail friends at Zappos.  In fact they encourage their reps to act human and be helpful no matter how long it takes.  On the other hand, too many recruiters today try to avoid the phone because they “don’t have time” to build personal and emotional connections with their candidates.

Research shows over and over that emotional connections are central to what makes people want to share their stories, provide referrals and creating a lasting brand impression.  These same emotions are hard to convey through tweets, Facebook posts, and LinkedIn Inmails.  The phone seems to be the next best alternative to speaking with a customer or candidate face to face.

Look, I embrace the value of social media to help spark conversations with potential candidates, however the Zappos lesson is clear:  Embrace the best available tools and technologies, not just the newest ones.  For Zappos the telephone has proven to be the most effective tool in their social toolkit – have you forgotten how to use it???