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Lisa Letizio and Barbie Winterbottom, Home Shopping Network

Letizio and Winterbottom describe why candidates should choose the Home Shopping Network over its competitors.

July 2, 2003
Related Topics: The HR Profession, Candidate Sourcing, Latest News
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Who: Lisa Letizio, executive vice president of human resources, and Barbie Winterbottom, director, recruiting.

Company:The Home Shopping Network, in St. Petersburg, Florida, has an audience that’s about 75 percent female, with an average income of about $63,000. The company considers itself more of a multimedia retailer than a television network, and generally benchmarks itself against other retailers. USA Interactive owns the network, and Letizio sees CEO Barry Diller a couple of times a year at executive meetings.

Inside story:More than a quarter-century ago, an advertiser couldn’t pay a bill that it owed to a small AM radio station in Florida. Instead of money, the advertiser gave the station some can-openers. Not having much use for a bunch of extra can-openers, the radio station sold them on the air. This is how the Home Shopping Network began.

More inside the network:During the first Gulf war, the Home Shopping Network saw an increase in sales as people stayed home to watch TV. During the second Gulf war, Letizio says, business neither increased nor decreased. "Our business remained fairly stable," she says. "The types of things we sell on the air are really an escape for our customers. It’s all things that make them feel good."

Employees: About 4,200 people work for the Home Shopping Network. Approximately 1,100 are call-center employees. Other employees include TV crews, merchandising employees, marketers, fulfillment specialists and IT workers.

Workforce management: Letizio reports to the CEO and meets Wednesday mornings with a 10-person executive team. During these 90-minute sessions, the group talks about the past week’s performance--not just bottom-line figures such as sales and EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes and amortization), but also issues such as "Did we service the customer the way we should have? How well did our behind-the-scenes processes work?"

Letizio is working on a major initiative to assess the company’s "bench strength." This, she says, includes asking, "Who do we have out there who has really good performance and really great potential? What can we do to develop them further?" The company is starting by looking at positions at the director level and above, except in fulfillment, where they’re evaluating some people at the manager level. A simple one-sheet-of-paper grid is used to determine the potential of each director. Letizio, for example, makes a note of Barbie Winterbottom’s knowledge, ability and potential to move up into more senior leadership positions.

Filling high-level positions: "We very rarely use search firms," says Letizio. Instead, the company set up an in-house "boutique search firm," she says, to handle about 40 to 50 high-level jobs each year.

Where they find call-center employees: Winterbottom’s team advertises online, on the radio, on billboards and in newspapers like the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times. The company also uses the Internet, including big job boards such as Monster as well as smaller sites such as GayWork, iVillage and HireDiversity.

Least-favorite source of candidates: "Job fairs are the least effective way of recruiting" for the company, Winterbottom says.

Technology: The Home Shopping Network uses two companies for the bulk of its technology for managing recruitment of call-center employees. A company called HRMC and its product HRMC Acclaim are used to capture information obtained from employees through the Home Shopping Network Web site and through phone interviews using an interactive voice-response system. The Home Shopping Network also uses an applicant-tracking system from PeopleSoft.

Who they want to hire: They want people who have integrity and are conscientious, dependable and stable. By the end of the summer, the company hopes to have an assessment tool from HRMC that will help it get a handle on which candidates have these and other attributes.

Interviews: Candidates for a sales job at the Home Shopping Network might find themselves in a five-minute role-playing situation. A recruiter acts as a customer, and judges how well a candidate deals with people. Recruiters look for someone who not only does a good job of taking an order but also tries to upsell a customer, as in "You know that Mickey Mantle poster you’re buying? We’ve also got some baseballs that Mantle autographed, and they’re actually in great condition!" If all goes well, and the person looks like a possible candidate for a customer-service job (these jobs can pay a dollar or two more per hour, and sometimes involve peskier callers), a candidate may go through another role-play. "Where’s my package? Why haven’t I gotten my package yet?" a recruiter might say to a candidate, and then judge the job candidate’s reaction.

The selling point: While there are a lot of call centers in this part of Florida, Letizio, Winterbottom and the rest of the team play up the stability of the Home Shopping Network. A lot of fly-by-night retailers have come and gone, but this firm is here to stay, Winterbottom says. "Retail is a very fluctuating industry," she says, "but we’ve been able to weather 27 years because we have a unique organization." You can stay at the company; you can progress at the company. "We offer folks true career-pathing," Winterbottom says. Another selling point: employees get big discounts on company merchandise. At an employee store called the Emplorium--stocked with on-air samples--employees can get up to 90 percent discounts on merchandise. Letizio bought an autographed Rolling Stones poster at a huge discount.

Workforce Online, July 2003 -- Register Now!

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