Human Resources: Take the Next Step Up and Serve the Customer
By Ron Kaufman
Traditionally, Human Resources has been considered an internal function whose role is attracting, developing, retaining, rewarding, and generally serving employees. This traditional view prevents many HR professionals from realizing their full value as contributors to the quality of a company’s external service. As HR professionals continue to seek new ways to add strategic value, this is a precious opportunity.
HR professionals have enormous potential to influence and improve an organization’s external customer service. What’s more, CEOs need HR professionals today who are willing and able to exercise this influential power. The time has come for HR to step up to serve the customer – and the CEO.
CEO’s need customer savvy HR professionals
HR professionals have gained more presence and power “at the table” with the CEO and other C-level positions. One of the most important topics C-level leaders discuss is how to get, keep, and grow profitable customers. These conversations are vital to the health and growth of every organization.
Yet despite an increasing role in C-level decisions, HR is often still too distant from the customer experience to understand what is needed, what is working, what is broken, and what needs to be done for the business to compete and win. Firsthand knowledge of, and involvement with, the customer will provide HR professionals with even greater opportunity to add value.
Think about it. HR expects other business leaders to understand employee rights, hiring standards, diversity issues, performance reviews, and much more. Why then should HR not understand the critical issues behind customer acquisition, experience, retention, and growth?
The CEO who has a customer savvy HR staff member enjoys an important business advantage. Now is the time for HR to take up the challenge, learn more about the business of customers, and provide a unique perspective to other senior leaders. Here are three opportunities:
1. HR can directly impact the quality of external customer service
While HR professionals may not be involved in providing service to external customers, they are in a powerful position to cultivate customer focus throughout the organization. Here are several examples of actions to make a difference.
First, HR can insist that “Voice of the Customer” insights reach everyone in the company. Employee engagement scores are routinely and widely shared. Why should customer feedback and satisfaction scores not be as widely seen and carefully studied?
Second, HR can bring the views and concerns of customers into clearer focus by organizing group discussions with company employees. HR can be the skilled facilitator who invites employees and customers – new customers, loyal customers, upset customers, important customers – into conversations with a productive mood and purpose.
Third, HR can provide real team members for company marketing and public relations. Singapore Airlines has famously featured the “Singapore Girl” in every advertisement for decades. LUX* Resorts anchors their global marketing on the service mindset of their own people.
One step further is for HR professionals themselves to meet with customers and say, “I am the person who selects the people who love to serve you!” Connecting HR professionals directly with customers yields many benefits. HR enjoys the pride of company representation while customers enjoy access to someone who knows everyone inside the company.
2. Internal service departments can lead the way to better external service
Companies seeking to improve customer service often begin by training customer-facing employees. This seems logical as customer-facing team members understand the value of excellent service. They know that upset customers complain, happy customers are easier to serve, and very satisfied customers come back and recommend their friends.
But in their efforts to serve customers better, these employees often bump into the constraints of internal service and a perceived lack of flexibility or support from internal departments. Customer-facing employees wonder how they are supposed to give better external service to customers when their colleagues do not give them better internal service.
It’s time to reverse the order of service improvement, and HR can lead the way. The quality of service to customers on the outside is shaped by the quality of service employees receive on the inside.
Imagine HR (and finance, legal, facilities, IT, and other internal departments) making things easier for those who sell to and serve external customers. When surprisingly good service comes from internal departments, it’s natural and easier for customer-facing employees to improve their external service. And when customer-facing employees come up with new ideas to serve customers even better, HR and other departments should be eager to serve and ready to assist.
3. People are the source of sustainable competitive advantage
Temporary competitive advantage can be achieved with better products, pricing, marketing, sales, technology, production, distribution, operations, or logistics. But for any of these advantages to be sustainable, they must be continuously improved, refined, and refreshed. This requires an ongoing flow of new value-creating ideas and actions. But new ideas and actions do not originate in your products, pricing, processes or production. New ideas are created – and new actions are taken – by motivated and inspired people.
An excellent service culture requires passionate people who love to serve other people better both inside and outside the organization. It’s HR’s job to drive this service culture in line with the strategic vision. To attract, develop, and retain people who fit. This means hiring right, orienting and onboarding well, developing talent, compensating competitively, recognizing great performance, and building a company culture that uplifts and inspires service.
The source of better service is people. And the source of sustainable competitive advantage is HR.
Download our helpful guide to “Hiring People with the Right Service Mindset”
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