Selecting and Training Service Superstars

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Trek makes bicycles.  Trek Travel plans bike tours and hires people to be tour guides.  What could be better than biking around Europe on great bicycles, seeing the world’s most amazing places?  It takes a special kind of person to be a Trek Travel Guide.  They have to have the physical stamina to take groups on multiple-week tours riding, taking care of the bikes, meals, accommodations and anything else that comes up. 

Trek has what describes as one of the most rigorous interviewing processes.  They need to have the skills needed to conduct long bike tours, but more than that they have to superstars of customer service.  According to the article, 40 percent of Treks business is repeat customers, and another 30 is referral from those happy customers.  The tour guides are crucial to the guest experience, and Trek takes care—and time—to be sure they are the right fit for the job.

Candidates go through several rounds of Skype interviews, and then come to Madison Wisconsin for a hiring event. They put candidates through a rigorous day of hands-on, bums on the bicycle seats experience, ending up with dinner and cocktails.  Since tour guides are with customers 24/7, Trek wants to see the candidates in every possible situation, talking, speaking, fixing bikes.  It’s not enough to talk about what they can do.  This is the ultimate show-and-tell.  No fudging this interview.

Candidates then go through a 10-day training period before Trek makes the final hiring decision.  This process produces long-term employees wildly devoted to the customers and the company.

Lou Adler, in a LinkedIn article, listed fit with company culture as one of the most important traits of success.  After a rigorous interview process, candidates have a clear picture of the job, expectations and how company management interacts with employees.  Some of them opt out at the end of the training.  What better ways to cull out those who aren’t a good fit than to have the candidates take themselves out of the picture? 

Companies that are customer-service centered, like hospitality, food-service, healthcare and retail could take a page from Trek’s interview process.  Why are companies reluctant to require candidates to “show me” instead of just talk about what they are able to do?  How often does a “perfect” candidate turn into the worst employee?  It happens.  Having a candidate spend a day on the selling floor or in the call center will give a much better assessment than three reference checks.  

Customers have more options than ever.  The Internet has made it easier to find products and services.  Everything else being equal, customer service can be the deciding factor.   Service over the internet or phone is one thing, but face-to-face contact with groups of strangers dependent on you for an extended period of time is another.  And that is what classic customer service is.  Helping candidates experience your company as it is in order to get the right fit for any job.


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