One Person Really Can Make a Difference

Recently I had the honor of accompanying a great friend and her son to an amusement park to celebrate his birthday. It was something he had been planning since Christmas. We arrived the night before and plotted our strategy for experiencing the “happiest place on earth.” The day arrived and was off to a great start: we were ready for the expected crowds and spent the entire day making the most of our trip.

Midway into our celebration, things started to unravel. Customer service was not to the standard we know and expect at this theme park, and I began to question if the “magic” had gone and been replaced with average as the norm. Given the expense and investment made, disappointment settled in.

But things changed on day 2. After an exhaustive time visiting the amusement park, we ventured to the downtown shops to find precious souvenirs to remember our trip. The birthday boy wanted a specific T-shirt, and we assumed it could be found at the corporate store. We also expected that the cast members would do everything possible to help us with our purchase.

We were very wrong. The shirt wasn’t available in-store, and rather than being offered help to retrieve it from the park or find a solution, we were instead met with “we don’t have it, we don’t do that, and we can’t help you.” Disappointment turned to shock and anger.

Being a bit obsessive, I left my party in search of a way to retrieve the shirt. I was met with a few more negative responses. Reality set in that I would have to pay for a full-price park entry ticket to buy the shirt, and get back to the window in less than an hour if I expected any type of refund. Fully charged with determination and adrenaline, I entered the park, checking several stores along the main walk while heading to the exact spot where we saw it the day before. Upon arriving there, I quickly selected the shirt and went to the counter to purchase it. Needless to say, I was not a “happy customer.” But, for the first time in two days, the cast member asked me if I was OK.

By this time my frustration had me determined to get out of the park in under 60 minutes to ensure my credit card wouldn’t be charged, so I quickly responded that I wouldn’t be back to any of their theme parks for a long time. The person immediately apologized and alerted her manager. He asked for a few minutes for me to explain the situation. I really wanted to get out of there, but he persisted and insisted that he would make sure I wasn’t charged to come get the shirt. He reacted with shock, sympathy and remorse upon hearing my experience, and took down my contact info.

As I raced back to the exit, my phone rang; it was the manager. He sounded winded and rushed and asked that I just wait at the gate. A few minutes later he arrived next to me, and apologized again for the experience I had. He looked me square in the eye and said he could not let me leave the park without making every attempt to make things right. He handed me a merchandise bag and said the team from his booth all wanted us to have a few extra souvenirs, as a token of their apology for our unacceptable experience. The merchandise was a nice gesture, but what resonates more profoundly is his determination to make sure that I didn’t leave without a positive experience, one that he had the power to facilitate.

Expectations are a funny thing. We can minimize their importance when something is disappointing – chalk it up to a bad day, make excuses, assume they were too high – but there are moments, times and places where holding a high expectation gives others something to strive for.

Candidate experience is no different. As I reflect back on that day and the trip, my anticipation isn’t much different than a job seeker ready and eager to work for a specific company. Anticipation, excitement, opportunity are all part for the course. How often do job seekers question the service anticipated and accept average as the norm in their application process? What are their expectations and how are employers striving to meet them?

These are questions businesses need to ask if they don’t want qualified talent rushing toward the exit before you have the chance to consider them, and all candidates sharing their negative experiences with their family and friends. That’s why it’s also important for employers to take the time to request feedback from candidates and understand their expectations and experiences so that they can effectively be met.

It only took one person – 15 minutes out of his daily schedule and an attitude to care about my experience, to ask about it, to change my entire perception of the amusement park and its brand. He restored my belief in what is and continues to strive to be the happiest place on earth.

How can recruiters, recruiting leaders, human resources practitioners, consultants and vendors, make it our personal responsibility to make the candidate experience just a little better for just one person each day?