Attracting & Hiring Top (CX) Talent

The subtle art of talent attraction 💃

Hiii Readers!

Eli here, writing this newsie from 6,000 miles away from home in a small suburb about an hour southeast of Tel Aviv. I’ll be in Israel until July 4th and have been adjusting to the 7-hour time difference. Working from 4 pm–12 am is … a vibe, I guess?

I spent the day out in Tel Aviv visiting some delicious hummus and falafel spots, the Carmel Market, and of course the must-have ice cream for Noah at Anita Gelato.

While spending time away from home base is kind of chaotic and far from chill, this trip has been a good forced reset after a long year. It’s been good to get away and stroll the graffiti-filled streets of Florentin.

Super stoked to be writing newsie #6. In this newsie, we’ll chat about two frequently requested topics:

1. Attracting great CX talent 2. Hiring CX’ers3. Retaining CX’ers

Before we hop in, a few quick things!

Firstly, this newsie is again brought to you by my fav squad at Wonderment. Wonderment is the ultimate tool to help you overdeliver on post-purchase customer experience by proactively notifying customers about any shipping delay. Score a 2-week trial with coupon code ELISNEWSLETTER.

Second, If this newsie brings you any value, feel free to pass it along to one friend or frenemy that you think might love (or h8) this. Any strong feelings are welcome. 🧘‍♂️

Third, by popular demand, here is the CX weekly report template I use at JRB.

Lastly, Cody and I dropped our brand new podcast Down To Chat last week (play on “DTC,” get it?) and have heard some incredible feedback. 😊

If you’d like to check it out, it’s here: Apple Podcasts | Spotify

Now, let’s get into it.

1. Attracting great CX talent: 

If I got a dollar for every time I’m asked “how can I hire a rockstar CX person?”, I’d be able to afford most of the top talent out there myself.

Aside from banning the word “rockstar” from any job description (like ever), let’s talk about attracting great talent. Why is it that some brands have such an easy time hiring great, talented folks, and some ride the struggle bus?

I think attracting talent takes much more than just a compelling salary and benefits. Obviously, that is important, but it’s not the singular reason people choose to work at a company.

IMHO, we can split talent attraction into 3 broader components, all of which are necessary to attract truly special talent:

a. Cultureb. Teamc. Compensation

a. Culture: We talk about culture so often, yet few folks I talk to can genuinely explain to me what positive or negative company culture really is. Some will tell you it’s about a meaningful mission, some will argue socializing at happy hours is what does it, and still, others will say it’s all about work-life balance.

My take? Company culture is the way humans are treated and respected at work, as well as the mission.

We spend most of our awake hours at work, and we are moving more and more away from an old-fashioned conception of employees as cogs in a machine and towards employees wanting to be appreciated and respected individually, as well as feel like they are doing their life’s work.

I often I think about the concept of Mercenaries vs. Missionaries by John Doerr, Founder of Kleiner Perkins. John said, “Great companies are led by missionaries, not mercenaries; they have top-notch, passionate leadership.”

However, most companies end up focusing on hustle and get shit done vs mission and great culture, why is that?

Marty Cagan, a partner at Silicon Valley Product Group dives into this and explains, using Doerr’s Mercenaries vs. Missionaries framework. Here is an excerpt from that explanation:

Leadership: So many executives and stakeholders think they know the answers, and they really don’t even want to discuss or debate it. They just want a team that will follow their directions. These same leaders usually complain to me that the team moves too slowly, and that unless they spell out every little detail the team gets it wrong, and in any case they rarely blame themselves for the poor results.

Staffing: Some leaders absolutely get the importance of a team of missionaries, but they have inherited an organization that is staffed by people that are resigned to the mercenary model. A variation of this is when the organization has significant outsourcing of the teams. It’s nearly impossible to have a team of missionaries when your staff work for another company and are under contract to build what you tell them to. That’s pretty much the definition of a mercenary. And it leads to epic waste.

Marty Cagan

In sum, it’s super important to build a team worth working on, with a mission folks would be excited to join.

As much as mission alone might be what gets a founder to wake up each morning, a great place to work alongside a great team that appreciates them is what gets employees to work each day.

The mission is an extra (and important) bonus, but even a profoundly worthwhile mission will not, over the long term attract great talent if employees are not respected.

CX is so often outsourced, underappreciated, and underpaid, so it’s even more imperative to make sure there’s a culture of appreciation and respect if you are looking to attract top talent.

When I think about culture specifically around CX, my brain takes me to earlier in my career when I spent hours on a Friday night fixing up my boss’s mistake of notifying 1,000 customers that their order was screwed up at 6pm on a Friday and then logging off. To say the least, I hardly felt appreciated or valued.

Appreciation attracts talent.

Even so, it is unreasonable to expect employees to work as hard as the founder, but it is easier to attract talent when you have a great workplace that respects employees.

tweet from Eli

When I shared the above on Twitter, Ironically, most of the folks that commented “I disagree, blah blah blah” were founders.

While I don’t think my above tweet is a hard and fast rule (as I mention in the “Does it happen? Yes, sometimes.” clause), I think it’s an important frame of mind as you are building a team and setting expectations.

Hell, I am a dude who does not generally wear makeup, but I am thrilled to work with Bobbi Brown, both because I respect her a ton as an individual and brand-building superstar, and also because she is someone who made her career over the past few decades by championing “your skin but better,” and instilling confidence in teens and adults alike.

Relatedly, another aspect of respect is allowing high-performing, talented employees room to grow. When you hire for an entry-level role, it’s important that folks realize it’s a job with growth potential. Some larger DTC brands have teams of 30-40 CX associates that have been CX associates for 3+ years. There are not too many other parts of a startup where growth is prioritized less than CX, and that’s a problem if you want to attract top-notch talent.

Growth does not have to be linear, CX associates can grow 3 ways:

A. Within the CX teamB. Within the broader businessC. You can even (gasp) help them find a job elsewhere if their growth and job availability at your business does not align!

Note that championing an inspiring, supportive, and individual–growth oriented workplace is essential to not just attract great talent, but to make sure they are crushing the work they are doing.

Here is my fav tiktok I’ve seen this week—Simon Sinek talking about this exact topic. A must-watch.

tiktok

b. Team: Superstars, naturally, want to work with a team of superstars. Yes, this is kind of a chicken-and-egg scenario because it’s tough to attract superstars without superstars (🤣) but this is very important. All-star players love working alongside other all-stars. Cody and Joanne are two of the biggest reasons I (a superstar, duh 🙃) joined JRB.

Hiring top-tier talent will 100% attract more top-tier talent, and strong performers know others in their space that are on their A-game as well. Most of the great team at OLIPOP was formed by existing employees pulling folks from their network.

c. Compensation: Culture and team are definitely important, but so is compensation. A mission, team, and great vibes don’t pay rent, and if you are not competitive with compensation, you’ll not only have trouble attracting talent, but also potentially have trouble keeping talent. (If money is tight, I’d rather have 5 A-players instead of 10 C-players.)

Compensation includes not just salary, but benefits like 401k, PTO etc. In a perfect world, I’d love unlimited PTO with a mandatory minimum, and hire A-players that will make use of it and not abuse it. Maybe I am too optimistic about humans, but I don’t think so—and maybe one day I’ll get to run the experiment. 🤣

2. Hiring CX’ers

In this section, let’s talk a bit more practical. Lofty Eli has taken a seat, pragmatic Eli is back.

I see two extremes when talking to brands about hiring. Some brands will put their job posting on their site and have hundreds of applicants, while others post it on Linkedin, Angel.co, and every job board, and still catch no luck.

Obviously, a lot reverts back to attracting great talent vs. running after it, but I will say two things:

  • Some of the best talent is already working elsewhere, and you might need to poach them.

  • Even if you think your brand is the shit, you still benefit by getting your job posting out to a wider audience.

With that in mind, here are a few practical tips:

a. On sourcing candidates:

A. Yes, definitely post your job listing on your website careers page, but also post to LinkedIn and put some spend behind promoting it. I’ve seen that work wonders.

B. Who is your dream hire for the role you are looking for? Connect with them and see if they know anyone in their industry who is looking. A-players often know A-players. If they don’t know them personally, they might know an industry job board or discord they can post the job in. Warm intros are so important.

C. This might sound cliche, but even if you think your company is the best place to work at, you are still selling your company during an interview, the same way the candidate is selling themself to you.

D. Don’t judge people based on their ability to pay for a great resume 😜. Look for a common thread in what they have done and the professional decisions they have made.

E. Being great at CX means you are empathetic and can read between the lines. Applicants don’t necessarily need a ton of direct experience. I’ve successfully hired preschool teachers as CX’ers, and made a few offers to flight attendants as well. If you can handle 20+ kids or a plane full of unruly fliers, you sure as hell can handle my (only sometimes obnoxious) customers.

F. Unlearning is easier than learning. Here’s my hot take: When it comes to CX, I’d rather someone with less experience and an open mind than someone with a decade of experience doing something in a very specific way. If you want to do things differently than other brands—as I hope I have convinced you so far that you want that, and I find that unlearning is a whole lot more difficult than learning.

b. On interviewing candidates:

A. Break the script. Either folks are good at interviewing, or they aren’t. Asking generic questions doesn’t decipher if someone is great at CX or not. Have a genuine conversation with them to get a more informed judgment of their character.

B. Nervousness is okay, bullshit isn’t. One of the questions I ask in every single interview is: “What do you do after an emotionally exhausting day?” I always give my answer first, which is “eating chocolate and scrolling TikTok endlessly. There’s only one wrong answer, which I have heard more than once. It goes something like “I don’t get emotionally stressed or exhausted” or “I’m good at detaching….” 🚩

C. Ask “why” until you get to some depth. Interviewing a candidate and trying to get to a below-surface level is like peeling an onion. Here’s an example:“Why do you love CX?” “Because I love helping people.”“Why do you love helping people?” The answer to that last question should get us a bit deeper, but don’t hesitate to throw in another “why” if it doesn’t.

D. Understand why they want a job in CX. Especially when hiring for entry-level CX roles, I find that most folks just want to use it as a way to get into Marketing, Sales, or Ops. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that per sé, I just find that you really need to be passionate about the customer to really thrive in this role and avoid hardcore burnout.

3. Retaining CX’ers

CX has the worst turnover in the business. Put simply, it’s because they are not appreciated enough, don’t get paid enough, and have limited growth potential. Put simply, if you can solve for these things, you are less likely to have to constantly rehire CX employees.

I think there are 3 basic reasons for someone to stick around at a company when they are in a job market where companies are actively looking to poach top performers:

  • They have great personal growth opportunities. They are learning from a great boss or team, and they feel like they are developing as a CX professional and/or as a human.

  • They are getting great compensation or have the ability to win long-term (equity that will vest in the future).

  • They are working on a team of superstars and feel like they are in the right place at the right time. A great example of this is OLIPOP or Jones Road. They put together a team of superstars; it’s quite rare to work on an all-star team.

I don’t think you necessarily need all 3, but prob 2 of 3 is compelling enough to stick around unless a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes up.

That’s it for this week, folks!

As always, feel free to reach out with any questions on the content in here, and thanks a million for following and supporting my newsletter. ❤️

For next week, I have three topic options:A: Leading and inspiring CX teamsB: Setting up a CX team—how to set priorities C: Other—please tell me!

Sending the best of vibes your way. ✨

Eli