I vividly remember a flying, pink and purple dinosaur telling me I could grow up to be an Imagineer.
I was 11 or 12 and that colorful dragon was Figment — the host of the Disney ride “Journey Into the Imagination.” On that day, his Epcot attraction took me through the whimsical Imagination Institute and explained how Disney employed teams of Imagineers who were responsible for creating the magic behind their incredible theme parks.
The name resonated with me and I could visualize myself in a colorful lab coat surrounded by beakers and drawing boards while I assembled prototypes and robots.
Back in 1957, Disney understood that when we hear a job title, we see ourselves in the role. We take our associations and preconceived notions and create a mental picture of the profession. So when they went to hire a team of engineers, they realized the notion of the job could hinder the imagination they needed from those in the role, and they decided to change the name of the position to Imagineer.
Disney was one of the first brands to create unique job titles in order to better position expectations and beliefs about a job role.
Now more than 50 years later, other brands are doing the same for a role that is in desperate need of a mental picture makeover — customer service jobs. They are rethinking job titles to change the way people think about their jobs.
Desirable Positions (and Titles) Attract Better Talent
Customer service jobs carry a heavy negative connotation. If you want to get a pulse on how people see customer service jobs, take a minute to read a few stories from the Reddit subgroup Tales From Tech Support.
The forum highlights a harsh truth — working in customer service isn’t easy. Often, you are helping upset or confused customers navigate difficult problems that they want resolved immediately — all while you keep an upbeat attitude.
People know customer service positions can be a difficult and thankless job. And this negative connotation can create hurdles for companies looking to hire effective, pleasant, and reliable customer services reps.
Great people don’t often apply for undesirable positions.
Which is why smart brands — who have a strong emphasis on exceptional customer service — are steering clear of those preconceived notions and using job titles that distance the position from the negativity.
Brands like Buffer, Apple, Taco Bell, and Help Scout have coined their own terms for their customer support staff. By using terms words “warrior,” “champion,” “ninja,” and “heroes,” they are positioning the role in a way that is more attractive to the type of people they want to target.
This shift may be helping brands secure a higher number of qualified candidates. Buffer had 783 people apply for their Happiness Hero and Weekend Warrior positions… in February alone. That is a lot of people wanting to answer and direct customer complaints all day.
Other perks of working for Buffer certainly correlate with their high response rate. Their company culture is a huge benefit that lures in many interested candidates.
But their unique job titles play a part in bringing their unconventional culture front and center — which may help them find the right people, as well as help the right people find them.
Rather than posting an opening for an Inside Sales Rep, a company looking to demonstrate an innovative or fun-loving culture might seek out a Sales Ninja. This approach helps attract candidates, and also allows candidates to self-select companies that seem like a good cultural fit. — The Pros and Cons of a Sassy Job Title
Using unconventional job titles to attract talent can work when trying to remove negative associations of a position and highlight the positive benefits of a brand.
The Right Words In Job Titles and Descriptions Can Tap Into Our Subconscious
Creating an usual job title alone won’t change the way someone perceives a position. Arbitrary titles won’t have the same impact that a title and description with a larger message will have.
Daniel Pink, author of the bestselling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, believes that people are motivated by three things:
- Autonomy: We want to control our own lives.
- Mastery: We want to improve.
- Purpose: We want to feel that we make a difference.
Positive job titles and the words we use to describe those roles may tap into those innate desires.
Here are a few lines from the Buffer Happiness Hero job ad (emphasis added):
You’ll delight the 1,000,000 people who use Buffer with email responses as they send in support requests, suggestions and ideas.
You’ll be a champion for the customer in internal discussions by helping the engineers prioritize feature requests and bug fixes.
You are tech savvy, enjoy the startup world and want to make a difference on a small team.
Everyone here strives to progress at an incredible pace, and we want to do everything to make that happen for you as well.
The title “Happiness Hero” and the language used to describe it appeals to our innate desire to control more, achieve more, and find more purpose — which gives the unique job title a deeper meaning.
These subtle shifts in our language can shift mindsets.
In a blog post, Tony Robbins discusses how words have the power to shape our experiences and expectations.
Most of us don’t realize, however, that the words you habitually choose also affect what you experience…
This is the essence of Transformational Vocabulary: the words that we attach to our experience become our experience… — The Power of Words: Transform Your Vocabulary, Transform Your Life
Words are powerful and they can position customer service roles to mean more than being a complaint coordinator.
Positive Job Titles Can Create Happier, More Proud Employees
In today’s society, we have become significantly defined by our job titles. And, we often define ourselves by our titles. — What’s in a Job Title?
Because we have a strong relationship with words and carry our preconceived ideas with us where ever we go, as employees we are extremely attached to our job title and what it says about us.
Employees want a job title that they feel matches their true role, personality, and purpose.
An article in the Academy of Management Journal found that when employees feel a connection to their job title, it can have a direct impact on their psyche and ability to perform the duties of their job.
To the extent that job titles enable employees to self-express, they may help employees channel their attention and energy more effectively, have higher-quality interactions with others, and better utilize their unique capabilities. — Job Titles as Identity Badges
This need for self expression is a trait that is even more prevalent in younger generations who need to feel more unique and valuable than previous generations did. Susan Heathfield, a human resources expert and author explained.
There is a need, for the younger generation, for self-expression. A desire for uniqueness, a desire to seem more important than the job might actually be.
Generation Y, or our millennials, were groomed by families to have an overly inflated emphasis on their own self-worth. You are going to see this increasingly reflected in job titles. They are not going to have a title like ‘receptionist’ and feel rewarded. — Creative Job Titles Are the New Norm
Unique and meaningful job titles may be a way to connect with the growing number of young people entering the workforce, so businesses are smart to offer job titles employees will be proud of — especially for positions like customer service which don’t traditionally carry a heavy weight of pride.
There may be a downside to using unusual names as job titles. If the titles aren’t carefully crafted, they could lead to confusion about job hierarchy, responsibilities, and long term goals. Terms like “Happiness Hero” may not show up as well in job searches, and potential candidates may find unique job titles tacky or trendy and unappealing.
Changing the titles of your job positions isn’t an immediate fix for finding the right talent or motivating your employees to do their best work.
But in a world where “What do you do?” is often associated with “Who are you?” — rethinking the titles of your employees may be something worth considering.
Which badge would you rather wear? That of a customer service rep and engineer? Or that of a Happiness Hero and Imagineer?