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During the quarter-century that Select Comfort has been around, it’s focused on its vision of “becoming the new standard in sleep by elevating the customer experience beyond one size fits all,” says Karen Richard, the company’s chief human capital officer.

Select Comfort’s Sleep Number bed allows individuals to set the degree of firmness that best suits their needs. The business model is unique in the mattress world, Richard notes: Sleep Number beds, along with the company’s pillows and bedding, are sold online and through the company’s 400 company-owned stores.

“We really have end-to-end customer touchpoints. We make the bed, we sell the bed and we service the bed,” Richard says. “We’ve made a conscious decision that this is how we want to bring the company to the market.”

As a result, it is critical that the company find employees who embrace this focus, as exceptional customer experiences lead to continued profit and revenue growth.

Still, it’s a tall order. Select Comfort faces several very large competitors: Revenues at Sealy Corporation are more than double that of Select Comfort, and sales at Tempur-Pedic International are about 80 percent higher.

To help meet its hiring needs, Select Comfort began using employee assessment software from PeopleAnswers in its stores several years ago. The results were so positive that management expanded the software’s use to all consumer-facing positions, including customer service and home delivery. “We know that when we improve the customer experience, it translates to the bottom line,” Richard says.

While store sales, inside sales and customer service positions differ slightly from each other, all require attributes that “relate to the individual’s ability to interact with customers,” Richard says. PeopleAnswers, based in Dallas, helps Select Comfort identify candidates who possess these traits.

Find successful candidates
PeopleAnswers’ behavioral assessments help businesses attract and retain talented employees, boosting customer experience and the bottom line, says COO Ira Grossman. “Executives are much more interested in impacting business outcomes vs. the talent process, per se.”

The company’s software typically is used to identify potentially successful candidates, but it also can help managers train and coach current employees. In addition, PeopleAnswers can assist with other aspects of the hiring process, such as background checks and I9 verification.

PeopleAnswers’ assessment tool develops performance profiles of successful employees for each job by gathering information from a cross-section of current employees — a large-enough sample that the data isn’t skewed by factors like the performance of employees at high-traffic stores. The tool analyzes more than three dozen behavioral attributes of the sample population, traits like levels of ambition and discipline.

“We let the data tell us which [attributes] are indicative of performance so we’re not making assumptions,” Grossman says. The goal is to use the data to determine how high-performing employees differ from those whose records aren’t as impressive and identify the desired level or “sweet spot” of each attribute. From there, the application can mathematically define a target range for each behavioral trait that is most predictive of success, creating distinct profiles of the ideal candidates for each position.

In addition, managers can slice the PeopleAnswers data in several ways so that they’re able to find, for instance, which sourcing campaigns are producing the most effective employment candidates. Management also can analyze the data to determine its impact on retention and performance.

Software-supported process
The software is available through a license subscription model and is disseminated online. Implementation generally takes about 12 weeks, including time to develop the employee profiles, configure and launch the system.

Candidates can complete the online assessment in about 30 minutes, Grossman says; some retailers offer access to the software in their stores, while others provide instructions for candidates to complete the assessment on their own. Once the candidate has completed the assessment, the results are compared with the profile. “All the hiring content needed to make a decision is online,” Grossman says.

At Select Comfort, new applicants first go through a pre-screening; those who pass this test move on to the PeopleAnswers assessment. The employees in charge of talent acquisition, along with the store managers, read through the completed assessments together.

PeopleAnswers has delivered several key advantages to Select Comfort, Richard says. As a starting point, it has provided individualized assessments of all employees, enabling Richard and her colleagues to look across groups of associates to identify the best performers and the attributes that contribute to their success. “We can create a ‘success profile,’” she says. “We want those attributes that provide the best customer experience.”

While Richard declined to specify the exact employee attributes Select Comfort focuses on, she did say that high-performing employees are “very focused on customers and the collaborative or team environment.”

The PeopleAnswers software “won’t make the decision, but will support” the process, Grossman says. That helps decision-makers identify those candidates it makes sense to spend the most time with.

At Select Comfort, the technology has proven itself in several ways. For starters, the company boosted its new-hire retention rate by 25 percent, resulting in annual savings of $750,000, Richard says. And employees who completed the assessment reached and passed their sales goals with a ramp-up period 55 percent shorter than those who didn’t go through the process.

“They are able to interact with customers in a meaningful way much sooner,” Richard says, helping to grow sales 11 percent in 2010.

The results illustrate the importance of finding employees who match the culture and are well-equipped to serve customers, Richard says. PeopleAnswers also is helping managers understand the key drivers of their team members.

“It really helps you get at the attributes that each employee brings to the table,” she says. “Everyone has strengths and opportunities, and we can leverage the tool to develop people.”