While looking at the idea of customer service as a means of promoting job retention may on the surface be a rather unusual tactic, it works, according to Sandra Velasquez, vocational services supervisor at the Weingart Center in Los Angeles.
Velasquez teaches customer service skills to the ex-offenders and other people served by Weingart as part of the center’s workforce development program.
Velasquez says that customer service works in just about every situation. “If you look at your bosses and your coworkers as internal customers, which is really what they are, you’re able to see how you can start dealing with them effectively,” she says.
“Customer service is having customers returning and buying services from you. If you have good customer service on the job, your coworker will want to work with you, and your boss will want to work with you too.”
According to Velasquez, dealing with people effectively using good customer service skills can not only increase job retention but also improve job search skills. Take using the telephone for example. “Think about ‘How do I effectively call an employer?’ By following the principles of customer service, you would create a script to follow in your phone calls and use good telephone etiquette,” she says.
It’s also important to develop a script that uses good customer service before going out to meet someone in person.
Here are a couple of scenarios she uses in her classes:
When coming in to meet a manager (without an appointment) use a script like the following:
Job Seeker: “Hi, I am here to see John Doe.” (I tell clients to call ahead and get the manager’s name, and then ask for them by name to have a better chance at getting through.)
Employee: “John Doe is unavailable.”
Job Seeker: “I understand. What would be the best time to come in and meet with him? Would it be possible to schedule an appointment with you? (Pause for answer.) May I please have a business card?”
When Job Seeker gets in front of a manager use this type of script:
Job Seeker: “Hello my name is Bob Thomas, I see you are hiring for a custodian. I applied online and came in to introduce myself and bring a resume and a hard copy of an application.
I have five years experience in the custodial field and feel I would be a great match for the position, because I’m a hard worker and have excellent availability. I would love the opportunity to interview for this position. Do you have time now or can we schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience?”
Manager: “No, we are not hiring”
Job Seeker: “I understand, but would it be possible to get a business card from you and follow up with you in the future to see if any openings come up?” (Client gets business card, or writes the manager’s name and the time to follow up with them in the future.)
Among the tips Velasquez gives her students to help them set themselves apart is to do careful research about the places they apply to and take down notes to take with them to the interview. Also write down questions to ask to the hiring manager.
“When the company asks ‘Why do you want to work here or Do you have any questions for me?,’ you can pull out your notes and use them to read off of, stating ‘I prepared questions before or I researched your company and found out…,’” Velasquez says.
“Write the answers they have for your questions and use that information in writing your thank-you letter,” she tells them. “My students know that by doing this they show that employer they are prepared and professional.”
The Weingart Center
The Weingart Center where Velasquez works is a homeless services agency that operates an 11-story residential building housing 600 men and women in L.A.’s skid row. The agency offers services that range from housing and clinical services to case management and community voice mail. Job development is key to the organization’s efforts, and last year it placed 640 people in jobs.
Among the array of programs it offers are two for ex-offenders – EPIC (Empowering People Illuminating Change) – and AB109.
One of the agency’s largest programs, EPIC, is funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and works with parolees. EPIC lasts for six months, beginning with a 30-day restriction period in which staff members accompany participants at all times. Participants live onsite and participate in anger management and workforce development training, along with substance abuse treatment, if necessary. The agency devotes 85 beds to this program.
The AB109 program was created last year, after the signing of California Assembly Bill 109, which realigned prisoners, releasing some of those who committed non-violent crimes and have already served most of their sentences to the custody of county probation departments.
The program offers short-term housing and employment services to parolees referred to the center by the Los Angeles County Department of Probation. Seventy-five people currently participate in the AB109 program.
Once participants complete a three-week job club that focuses on such basics as resume creation and interview techniques they can either go on to look for a job or enter one of two vocational training tracks.
One of these tracks, a four-week custodial training program, consists of shadowing the Weingart Center maintenance staff three days each week and classroom training on the other two days.
The other vocational program is the ServSafe Food Safety Training Program, which is administered by the National Restaurant Association and will give those seeking food service jobs an edge.
For more information on the Weingart Center, visit https://www.weingart.org
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