Robert Bonk (for both photos)
Elisa Bruley has been successful since she opened her boutique, Elisa B., almost 20 years ago at One Colorado in Old Town Pasadena. Hollywood stars, the fashion conscious and just regular ol’ people who want to be perfectly dressed for an occasion, have consistently trusted Elisa B. to help them look their best. She’s been nominated several times as “Best Women’s Clothing Store in Pasadena” and once as “Best Place to Find A Little Black Dress.”
Customers who start shopping at Elisa B. tend to never leave her fold. So what's her secret? Great customer service. Yet, there is one snag she has been hitting lately: finding great sales people to deliver that excellent service.
While she has a couple of core staff members who have been with her for years, she’s consistently having trouble hiring people who claim they want to work for her. Yes, even in this economy!
The first issue, Bruley says: “They want the glory and the money, but they don’t want to have to work for it. I think it’s this age of technology where everything comes to them so easily. There is an expectation for this to happen in every aspect of their lives.”
Yet, by far the most crucial element she finds bereft in the pool of applicants is the ability to make a human connection. Bruley says, “I think this, too, is due to their reliance on technology. But, our business is all about creating relationships. We want our customers to be happy, not just make a purchase. We want them to have a unique experience, and so much of that comes from the personality of the sales force on the floor.”
Bruley has stressed to her staff how the act of building relationships is a vital part of life, far beyond the four walls of her store. She says “I don’t know if these workers have the capacity to create these relationships, or if they even care to.”
Leaders in the staffing industry concur. In 2011 Jonas Prising, president of the Americas for ManpowerGroup, began speaking of “a new era” that he referred to as “the Human Age.” Prising says, “In the past, companies needed access to capital to grow their business. Now in order to get ahead, the key is access to talent - not just capital.”
ManpowerGroup’s Regional Director in Los Angeles, Janelle Etchepare, makes it clear that they are part of the solution: “We have seen a growing trend over the last year where our clients are getting increasingly frustrated. There is a huge mismatch between what they need and what the candidates are bringing to the table.” She sees they are missing even the most basic skills of “time management, teamwork and communication.”
She agrees with Elisa Bruley that human connection is crucial. Etchepare sees the effects of an increased reliance on texting, Twitter, Facebook, etc. on applicants. She says “I think their methods of communicating socially are hurting their skills on the job. So we work with applicants on their face-to-face communication skills.”
The good news is ManpowerGroup is finding that most applicants coming to them are coachable. They are rising to the occasion to meet the needs of the market. Etchepare says “We put people to work every day, and that’s encouraging. It may not be as high as it was in 2008, but every day we are putting people into jobs.”
While Elisa Bruley isn’t finding her applicants quite as coachable as ManpowerGroup, she remains remarkably unjaded for being repeatedly disappointed. She never ceases to welcome each new applicant at Elisa B. with the expectation that their life experience up to that moment may have awarded them with the knack for that human connection that she needs to make her customers happy.
Maybe if we follow Manpower’s Prising into the “Human Age” the unemployed will begin to hear the needs of potential employers like Bruley who are desperately seeking great employees.