How to Get the Most Out of Your Relationship with Your Staffing Firm

Staffing use up, but satisfaction scores down

By Roy Maurer Nov 4, 2015

More companies are choosing a staffing firm to support their business, but satisfaction with these services is trending down. How can HR professionals get the best results from their partnerships with staffing firms?

According to the 2015 Opportunities in Staffing study conducted by CareerBuilder and Inavero, a provider of satisfaction surveys, about one-third of surveyed employers (32 percent) hired a temporary employee through a staffing company in the previous 12 months, an increase from the 26 percent that did so the year before.

But, on a scale from 0 to 10 of their likelihood to recommend working with their staffing partner, only 27 percent of client employers responded with a 9 or a 10. Thirty percent gave their staffing firm a rating of 6 or lower, bringing the net score for client satisfaction down to -3 percent, a significant decrease from 8 percent in 2013 and 2014.

The survey was conducted throughout the U.S., U.K. and Canada among 3,020 staffing industry clients, 9,525 job candidates and 864 internal staffing firm employees. It was conducted between March and April 2015.

Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association, called the net promoter score system used in the study “brutal.” He explained that a 9 is aspirational and a 10 is mostly unattainable. “Most people would grade most things—when they’re happy with it—a 7 or 8, and those are disregarded in this system,” he said.

“It is a brutal metric,” agreed Inavero CEO and founder Eric Gregg. “It’s meant to really operationalize service.” Gregg noted that while the staffing industry’s overall satisfaction score is -3 percent, the numerical average score is “probably between a 7 or 8.”

Not only is it a tough metric, but staffing firms are only as good as their last placement, said John Elwood, president of Elwood Staffing, based in Indianapolis. “You could have made 15 great placements in the last 60 days and then one guy came to work under the influence of drugs and cursed out a supervisor. You’re going to get hit for that one placement. At the end of the day, our product is imperfect. We’re not going to deliver all 10s.”

Satisfaction from those in HR who deal with staffing firms also dropped. The net satisfaction scores from both those who make the initial decision to use a staffing provider (0 percent) and those who manage temps on a day-to-day basis (-8 percent) are at their lowest levels recorded, reflecting a need for industrywide improvement in creating a positive experience for client employers.

Employer respondents reported that satisfaction with staffing partners is most affected by the time staffing firms take to understand their client’s needs, the quality of the submitted candidates, prompt customer service and quick resolution of post-placement issues.

Gregg explained that employers’ overall satisfaction with the staffing industry has declined precipitously from the 41 percent net score achieved during the 2009-10 recession due to the lack of workers with the right skills. “Both clients and staffing firms need to manage reasonable expectations,” he said. “As we’ve gotten into a tight talent pool, there are still 2009 expectations for what’s available and what that talent will cost. Staffing providers promise to deliver on anything the employer asks for, even when it’s not feasible, which ultimately leads to disappointment. They have to be confident enough to turn down a requisition that they know they can’t get.”

Elwood agreed that while it’s hard, sometimes staffing companies must say no. “You should never agree to take on a contract if you know you’re not going to have the resources, because then you are going to give that client less than your best effort.”

The low satisfaction scores “only tell part of the story,” Gregg said. “The top companies have remarkable people and a remarkable process that is built around delivering an experience that stands out and leaves the best impression. Reputation is a staffing firm’s most valued asset. It takes forever to build and no time to lose.”

An Opportunity to Be Exceptional

In seeking the best staffing partners, HR at client companies should seek out firms that value a collaborative relationship, experts agreed.

“Overall perceptions of staffing firms are that they are expensive, their approach is cookie-cutter with no personalization, and that they treat recruiting like a production line,” said Rebecca Barnes-Hogg, SHRM-SCP, founder and lead consultant at YOLO Insights, a talent acquisition consultancy based in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “Successful firms are the ones that build lasting relationships and provide a personalized experience, and the survey results reinforce this.”

Empathy is key, she added. “It’s all about building a relationship based on trust and collaboration to understand your client’s business, know their struggles and pain points, and become a collaborative partner who helps them solve not only current problems but also helps them anticipate future needs and develop a strategy to meet those needs. You have to be honest with clients and tell them when their lengthy processes are causing them to lose the best candidates or the salary they can afford won’t get them what they need.”

A few attributes for employers to look for in staffing providers include:

  • The ability to describe a worker’s skills and attributes in a compelling way during the candidate submission process. “A resume doesn’t always tell that story,” Gregg said.
  • The ability to promptly resolve issues once the worker is placed.
  • The quality of onboarding. “It’s really critical to get people out of the gate quickly when they start a new assignment. Poor onboarding and failing to ensure that new placements have all the information they need to be successful is one of the biggest mistakes we see,” Gregg said. Over half (55 percent) of unwanted turnover and half (50 percent) of terminations happen in the first two weeks of placement.
  • How individuals are transitioned from an assignment. “Is someone contacting them to talk them through transition?” Gregg asked. “At the end of the day, if you don’t manage someone well between assignments, you’ll ruin all the good work you’ve done to that point. When talent gets hurt, they get chatty.”

Another group of people crucial to the calculus of improving client and candidate satisfaction are the internal employees of staffing companies. Internal staffing employee satisfaction remained steady for the second straight year at 45 percent, with 60 percent of internal employee respondents voicing satisfaction and 15 percent dissatisfaction.

“If we don’t take care of our employees, how in the world can we expect them to make the job seeker experience great and dazzle the client and exceed expectations?” Elwood asked. You’ve got to make sure your internal team is happy and trained, that they feel appreciated and respected, and you’re going to have a much better chance to deliver a great experience for clients and candidates.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

Quick Links:

SHRM Online Staffing Management page

Subscribe to SHRM’s new Talent Acquisition e-newsletter

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job

HR Professional Development Education in a City Near You

SHRM Seminars are coming to cities across the US this fall.

Find a Seminar


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect