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Mr. Walner

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

Service Orientation: How Do You Know When a Job Candidate Has It?

By Doug Walner, President & CEO, Psychological Services, Inc.

Service orientation, aka personality traits and a predisposition to be helpful, thoughtful, considerate and cooperative, can impact your company's reputation for customer service - an important factor for success in the hospitality industry. Some people have it... and some people don't. Some people appear to have it (especially during job interviews), but, in reality, they're not suited for a service oriented position.

Recent research has shown that being able to predict employee customer service behavior before an employee is hired would be extremely valuable to hospitality managers who must select and assess applicants for service orientated positions (Baydoun et al., 2001). Accordingly, the quality of service can be enhanced if an employer selects individuals for service positions who have the requisite personal characteristics.

However, before we can delve into determining if a job candidate is blessed with "service orientation" we must explain what exactly this term means.

Since the late 1990's, services have become an increasingly important part of the U.S. economy. By 2002, service-producing industries accounted for 81.5 percent of total US employment, with some 179,733,700 employees engaged in service work (U.S. Department of Labor, 2003) - and these numbers continue to rise.

Not surprisingly, this rapid growth of the service sector comes with a heightened focus on customer relations or customer service - especially in industries like hospitality where so often guests judge their experiences based on how they're treated by the staff. Based on this, it is in these companies' best interest to attract, recruit and retain employees who are customer service oriented.

What is Service Orientation?

Service orientation was first described by researchers Saxe and Weirtz as being related to a concern for others - it became a set of attitudes and behaviors that affects the quality of the interaction" between the organization's staff and its customers" (Hogan et al., 1984). This definition was later expanded to include "a willingness to treat co-workers and clients with courtesy, consideration, and tact" combined with the ability to perceive a customer's needs, and communicate effectively (Rosse, Miller, and Barnes, 1991).

Each of these definitions suggests a link between an individual's personality and customer service orientation. In other words, a person who is service oriented is predisposed to have empathy for a customer's needs and concerns coupled with the desire to meet those needs. Broken down into specific traits, this may include the likelihood or predisposition to be courteousness and tactful, cooperative, helpful, and attentive - with a tendency to be people oriented and extroverted.

What are the common traits associated with service orientation, in terms of a job candidate? How do you know a job candidate has them?

Especially in the hospitality industry, exceptional employees require strong communication, problem-solving and numerical skills, along with subtler attitudes and traits that are crucial to their success - and to their company's reputation. Candidates who are extremely service oriented are most likely to excel in this type of environment.

For example, for those working in concierge services, the ability to work well with others, trustworthiness with company resources and information, dependability and reliability are paramount. Identifying job candidates who exhibit these traits is all part of the process. So, how does an employer identify star performers or, in this case, star personality traits, and determine who is ultimately best suited for a service oriented job?

Many researchers have developed tools to measure an individual's personality traits with varying degrees of reliability. Regardless of the type of measurement tool used, all generate a description of the respondent based on the Big 5 personality traits - agreeableness, extroversion, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience. The first three of these - agreeableness, conscientiousness and extroversion - are the most closely related to customer service orientation.

There are tools specifically geared toward measuring customer service orientation, based on the industry in question and their definition for customer service orientation. These include self-reports, management evaluations, service orientation inventories, such as the SOI (Service Orientation Index) and attitudinal-based situational assessments.

An increasing number of employers within the hospitality industry and many others are turning to pre-employment assessments to help accurately measure job candidates' service orientation. These tools can provide an in-depth view of a candidate, uncovering characteristics and attitudes that can be difficult to predict during traditional hiring processes. For example, an employer may want to hire a candidate who not only has strong problem solving and organization skills, but who also has a consistently friendly and courteous demeanor - qualities difficult to detect during a job interview. Beyond this, pre employment tests are valuable because they are neutral, third party assessments - they are designed to help identify candidates' attitudes and temperaments, as well as other skills that are vital to success on the job.

Assessments for customer service positions typically focus on several fundamental abilities and work attitudes. These include the ability to get along with others, perceptual ability, language skills, problem solving, following written directions, and visual speed and accuracy.

Human Capital software, services and consulting firm PSI's selection-assessment division has evaluated a variety of service oriented jobs in corporations, government agencies and for-profit and non-profit organizations for more than 60 years. PSI has gathered volumes of information regarding characteristics of a valuable employee, tactics for employee retention, and what companies can do to attract and keep talented people.

For its hotel and hospitality clients, PSI recommends an industry-specific battery of assessment tests that comprise a Customer Service Battery; a Basic Skills Test; and PSI's proprietary attitude assessment test, ViewPointTM. ViewpointTM, covering four primary areas (Work, Service, Sales and Tenure), helps identify applicants who are reliable, dependable, and trustworthy, thrive in a fast-paced work environment, and remain even-tempered in high-pressure situations. While such tests are not typically the only source of information, they often provide reliable and valid information and serve as a useful tool for eliminating sub-par candidates.

Employers in the hotel and hospitality industry whose success is so closely related to guests' experience - and consequently, their employees' level of customer service orientation - will benefit from making conscious, informed decisions about how to conduct the hiring process, and how to determine candidates' service orientation prior to their employment. Pre-employment screening and assessments 'in the end' take the hiring process a step further to help decipher who is genuinely service oriented from those applicants who are simply putting their best face forward during the interview.

Doug Walner drives the goals and day-to-day operations of PSI. With nearly fifteen years of experience and expertise in the technology sector, Walner was appointed President in 2002 and CEO of PSI in 2005. Under his leadership, PSI has developed and introduced ATLAS™, a technology platform which provides comprehensive examination administration services, and web-based pre-employment selection products and management assessment tools. PSI has experienced revenue and profitability growth during his tenure. Walner received his Bachelor or Arts degree in History from Tulane University. Mr. Walner can be contacted at 818-847-6180 or doug@psionline.com Extended Bio...

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