Having manageable, repeatable processes that are easy to explain and deliver on make a huge difference. Effective processes help you establish expectations that you can meet and exceed but more importantly instill trust in your customers. My process is unique to the service I offer, but I’ve refined it over the years to maximize the results I can get for my clients in their job search. Your processes can either alleviate stress by outlining a clear and effective plan of action or trigger doubt in your ability to solve the problem they’re reaching out to you to solve.
As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steph Cartwright, a Certified Professional Resume Writer and the Founder of Off The Clock Resumes. Steph’s helped hundreds of job seekers get hired faster by creating resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and job search plans that get interviews at the companies they’d love to work for since 2014. She’s certified by the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches and an active member of the National Resume Writers’ Association.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Of course, and thank you for inviting me to share my story!
I fell into resume writing completely by accident. I struggled through my 20’s as, what I call, a “serial job seeker”. Jumping from customer service, hospitality, and office administration jobs as I chipped away at a two-year liberal arts degree. I had no idea what direction I wanted to go in for my career, but I knew I was a strong writer and loved writing. I started freelance writing in my free time trying a little bit of everything from website copywriting to manuscript editing while occasionally scrolling through Craigslist for local full-time jobs. Again, I was a serial job seeker.
I responded to a Craigslist ad looking for freelance resume writers. Previous experience wasn’t required, but I realized that my resume had never failed to get me the job that I wanted. I had never heard of a resume writer before, so my interest was piqued.
I was a bit disappointed in the training videos used to get “no-experience-needed” resume writers up to par, so I sought out experts and organizations in the career services field to learn as much as I could on my own. The more I learned, the more I loved resume writing, and the more I wanted to do things differently. I took on a few clients independently, friends of friends and family members mostly, but I wasn’t fully committed to a career in resume writing yet.
I was still working in a comfortable, full-time job when I was contacted by someone on LinkedIn who wanted me to join his startup as a writer. I’d be ghostwriting his book, writing articles and website copy, and managing the startup’s social media which I thought was my dream job at the time. Two weeks in, I realized the startup was a scam. I had to choose between groveling for my unfulfilling 9–5 back or dive headfirst into launching my resume writing business.
I launched Off The Clock Resumes in 2014, and I’ve spent the last seven years doing work that I truly love and gives me a greater sense of fulfillment than I ever expected.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I love looking back and laughing about my first client experience outside of the company I was freelancing for at the time. A co-worker at my full-time job asked if I’d help her 70-something-year-old friend returning to work after a decade or so of retirement write his first resume. He not only wanted to come out of retirement, but he wanted to change careers. That alone is challenging even for experienced resume writers, which I certainly was not.
I thought I could just refer to questionnaires I’d worked with in a freelance capacity, but I had no idea what questions to ask or how to structure the interview with him at all. He brought me notes that he had written up with what cars he’d owned, his skills with his iPhone, and anything else he could think of that might be helpful. It was a mess.
I managed to create a decent resume for him that landed him the job that he wanted, but I learned upfront that knowing the right questions to ask a client is critical to learning and communicating their unique story in a way that presents him or her as the best fit for the job that they want. That experience also triggered a core belief that customer experience is everything. A customer experience that boosts confidence, not just in the process but more so in reaching their goals, makes all the difference.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My mom has been an amazing support, sounding board, and business advisor from Day 1. My mom was the first entrepreneur I was exposed to. She started her bookkeeping business as a full-time working mom, owned and operated various businesses since then, and makes it look so easy. She’s always had great advice to help me navigate challenges and has been a cheerleader through it all, the rough months and record-breaking months.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
I know I’ve touched on this already, but a great customer experience does more than drive word-of-mouth marketing and referrals. Don’t get me wrong, referrals are great but results are better.
When I first started my business, I struggled with how to under-promise-and-over-deliver in customer service. I tried low rates, fast turnaround time, 24/7 access with live chat, and no boundaries. That didn’t work because I was running this service-based business independently with anxiety brewing beneath the surface.
When the anxiety started to affect me physically and I had to address it, I realized that I couldn’t provide the best service to my clients with my current interpretation of what a great customer experience looked like. I realized that a great customer experience starts with the well-being of the service provider. I increased my rates to better reflect my time commitment to client projects, added a few days to my delivery deadlines, and set boundaries with my office hours.
I didn’t receive a single complaint, and I found that I had more energy to create and offer bonus resources that my clients don’t expect. I’m talking about do-it-yourself resources sharing easy ways they could take more control over the hiring process and empower them to perceive, position, and present their skills and experience more advantageously to employers without depending on my services.
Despite the negative effects of COVID-19 in 2020, my clients started following up with me more consistently to share that they’ve landed more interviews within 30 days of working with me with many accepting job offers in less than 90 days.
Those are the results that create long-term fans and advocates of a business that puts the customer experience first.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
It can be hard to narrow down what a great customer experience looks like for your specific customers. For example, my husband would rather talk to a company on the phone to have his questions answered directly and with the personal touch of a human’s voice. It’s the voice that instills trust and confidence in him.
On the other hand, if I have to call a business to get a quote or a question answered I’m likely going to move on to another business. Transparency and ease of access to information online are what instill trust and confidence in me. For another example, some people believe the customer is always right but I would rather be informed and educated than palliated.
I tend to believe the best in everyone, so I don’t think it’s a definitive choice to not make customer service a priority. I think the disconnect often derives from not having a clear understanding of what your customer needs and why. Getting those answers takes time, and the answers often evolve over time. Investing in that research, shifting business models or work philosophies to meet those needs, retraining staff, or implementing processes that align with those needs can get put on the back burner.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
I’ve seen competition force differentiation especially when product reviews and social proof still drive e-commerce and online service-based business growth. There is definitely pressure to improve the customer experience, especially in saturated areas. Web designers, for example, provide the same much-needed service but the experience they create for their customers is unique from process and cost to areas of expertise.
Economic changes can also pressure companies to improve their customer experience. The unemployment and job insecurity caused by the spread of COVID-19, for example, fueled many of us to pivot how we offer our services and adjust our pricing structure. I launched my Resume Rescue Workshop early in 2020, a course that walks through the process I use with one-on-one clients and shares the same strategies that have gotten their resumes through Applicant Tracking Systems and in front of decision-makers in the hiring process for less than 100 dollars. It’s been the most popular product I offer this year because participants save hundreds of dollars on my services, they can start right away instead of waiting a week or two to get on my calendar, and they can finish the course and their new resume in a day with newfound confidence.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
One of my first Resume Rescue Workshop participants was a referral from a resume writing client. She had just been laid off. She emailed me to share that she knew she couldn’t afford my services, even with a discount, and needed something to start submitting for job openings that week knowing that my turnaround time for first drafts wouldn’t work for her either. I recommended my Resume Rescue Workshop, which includes a resume review with minor edits within 3–5 business days when finished.
She finished the course and sent her new resume to get feedback the same day she purchased it. I can’t stress enough what a phenomenal job she did on her new resume! I only made a couple of verb tense revisions and tightened up the line spacing. I made a point to prioritize her resume review the next day, and she couldn’t believe how quickly she had a finished resume.
She followed up with me later that week to say she had already been applying for jobs. Better yet, she had a phone interview lined up the following week.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
When she followed up with me, she mentioned specifically the confidence she felt moving forward in her job search because the workshop included worksheets and tools that developed her resume writing skills for long-term use. She loved how the workshop challenged her to view her experience from a new perspective and showcase achievements she’d been downplaying for years.
Looking for a new job is so stressful. Whether you were just laid off and have the added financial stress or you’re miserable in your current job but have that 9–5, family obligations, and other priorities to juggle, looking for a new job is frustrating. Applicant Tracking Systems that make the job search a numbers game create a perfect storm of stress, frustration, and discouragement especially when you know you’re qualified for a job but you can’t seem to get a response from employers.
Many of the job seekers I work with are deflated by the time they reach out to me. They don’t think they’re good enough. They think they’re too old or too young.
Creating a great customer experience that alleviates some financial stress, provides an end-product faster, and boosts someone’s confidence in what they bring to the table is the most rewarding work I can do.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
2 | Having manageable, repeatable processes that are easy to explain and deliver on make a huge difference. Effective processes help you establish expectations that you can meet and exceed but more importantly instill trust in your customers. My process is unique to the service I offer, but I’ve refined it over the years to maximize the results I can get for my clients in their job search. Your processes can either alleviate stress by outlining a clear and effective plan of action or trigger doubt in your ability to solve the problem they’re reaching out to you to solve.
3 | If the pandemic taught businesses anything it’s that you might not survive if you can’t pivot. My business is unique because no two job seekers have the same needs — varying career levels, personality types, strategy preferences, technical savvy, and budgets. Many job seekers want to avoid employer software and are looking for guidance on how to best utilize LinkedIn, networking, or employer targeting to get their foot in the door. I’m not a career coach, so I’ve created job search plans that meet varying personality types and strategy preferences. Having flexible offerings will help you meet a wider range of customers without compromising on the quality you can promise.
4 | Becoming a partner rather than simply a service provider can also create an experience that customers walk away from with a renewed confidence propelling them forward in a job market that no longer feels so formidable. Yes, a done-for-you resume and LinkedIn profile can relieve some of the pressure caused by unemployment or job insecurity. I’m more concerned about equipping my clients with new skills and an understanding of how the hiring process works so they don’t have to depend on me for every job application. Creating resources and training materials can exceed their expectations and turn them into raving fans of your business.
5 | When you dedicate time to continuously updating products that address evolving trends and keeping your customers informed of the strategies and tactics that will move them closer to their desired results over time, customers will always come back for more. I realized early on that working one-on-one with a certified professional would not always be financially feasible. I also wanted to offer solutions to the do-it-yourself crowd who just want a straightforward step-by-step plan or a tool to hold them accountable, but these aren’t set-it-and-forget-it solutions. I have to prioritize updating these products to keep my customers informed as much as I prioritize my done-for-you resume and LinkedIn profile projects.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
I frequently get word-of-mouth referrals for my resume and LinkedIn services, so I ask who referred them to me early on in my process. I’ve also made a habit of sending a thank you gift to the raving fan. Some service-providers in my network send handwritten thank you notes with 3–5 business cards inside to help get the word out about their services.
Make it easy to write a review, especially if you’re not interested in sending a thank you gift. Better yet, give guidance on how to write an effective review by asking leading questions like, “What were some of the challenges you faced before (buying this product / working with me)?” and “What specific results or outcomes have you seen since you (started using this product / worked with me)?”
Following up to ask questions that can be used to improve your customer experience is also helpful. I like to ask, “What was the most difficult part of this process?” or “In what ways could I have made this experience better?” to get candid feedback.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
So few people I speak with recognize and want to share accomplishments in their careers. There’s this negative connotation around ambition, achievements, and even celebrating the small advances toward achieving goals professionally. It sounds like bragging. It sounds arrogant. It’s not significant enough to matter.
I’d want to inspire a movement that eradicates this negativity toward growth and success.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, tearing yourself down, or discrediting what you have achieved in your current role because you think it’s insignificant, look at the facts. Recognize your value. Don’t hold back from taking pride in what you’ve accomplished.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Your readers can follow me on Instagram or Facebook. My handle is @offtheclockresumes. They can also connect with me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/StephCartwrightCPRW. I just ask that you add a note to your connection request to let me know you read this article!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!