12 ways HR can add value to the customer experience
Can HR practices be used to unlock magical customer experiences? Image: inxti/Shutterstock

12 ways HR can add value to the customer experience

7 Oct 2016

HR expert Pedro Angulo outlines how the key to great customer experiences can be HR, with the customer at its heart.

The customer experience (CX) has become the new corporate battleground, as organisations try to differentiate themselves from their competitors, increase profits and achieve a long-term sustainable competitive advantage.

There is no question that today’s customers are more sophisticated. They demand more for less, high quality, great value, transparency, integrity and trust from the companies they deal with.

We are living in an experience economy where the bar for satisfactory or average customer service within our industry keeps being raised. This is done not just by our direct competitors but by organisations in other industries, sectors and countries that our customers also interact with.

‘We are living in an experience economy where the bar for satisfactory or average customer service within our industry keeps being raised’

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Moments of magic, however, are not just average or satisfactory experiences. They are outstanding or unique experiences. These moments delight customers, make them feel valued, help to earn their confidence and loyalty. They’re the moments that make customers want to keep coming back to you for more; moments critical to any organisation’s long-term success.

In the words of the late great Sam Walton, co-founder of Wal-Mart, “The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary.”

Organisations therefore must keep raising the bar in the standard of service they provide, as good service today might only be satisfactory tomorrow and unsatisfactory in the not so long future.

So how can HR add value to the customer experience and help create moments of magic for the customer? There is no doubt that HR Departments and professionals can add great value to any organisation’s CX, and some of them already are. Below are my thoughts on some of the things HR could do.

1. Be obsessive

Play a key role in driving a customer (obsessed) centric culture that puts the customer at the centre of everything the organisation does.

According to Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, “If there’s one reason we have done better than any of our peers in the internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience.”

2. Align your strategies

Align HR strategy to the CX strategy, shifting HR’s focus from inside a company to outside, and concentrating on end-customer alignment when making key talent decisions.

3. Make CX everyone’s job

Stop considering your own employees as customers. Every department, including HR, needs to become customer-centric, with the end customer in mind. It is everybody’s job in an organisation to provide magical moments to customers.

4. Focus on outcomes, not output

Focus on outcomes rather than output. Output refers to the number of people recruited, training programmes delivered, etc, but outcome is about the impact created in a customer’s life.

5. Keep your brand promise

Hire, grow, recognise and reward talent aligned to your organisation’s culture, CX and brand promise. The Ritz Carlton’s brand promise is “We’re ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Guests get it and expect it. Employees get it, understand it, and are motivated and empowered to deliver on it.

6. Flatten the pyramid

Create flat customer-centric structures where every employee’s role is aligned to the customer; either helping acquiring and/or delighting customers. Flatten the pyramid and eliminate the hierarchical tiers of responsibility in order to respond directly and quickly to customers’ needs.

7. Make collaboration a core value

Recognise and reward people who exhibit a collaborative mindset and approach. In my experience, silo mentality and behaviour is the biggest roadblock companies must overcome in order to deliver truly seamless customer experiences.

8. Create culture through storytelling

Performance management and appraisal systems need to properly recognise and reward customer service exemplars. Exemplars’ stories need to be communicated to everyone in the organisation on an ongoing basis. Stories and storytelling create cultures!

9. Motivate and empower front-line staff

No group is better positioned to identify and improve the ‘moments of truth’ during the customer experience than those employees that work with them every day.

Jim Nordstrom (former president of Nordstrom, a retail company known for legendary customer service) said, “People will work hard when they are given the freedom to do the job the way they think it should be done, when they treat customers the way they like to be treated.”

According to Jan Carlzon, former CEO of SAS, “The first 15 seconds of the customer’s interaction with the company (in any form) are most crucial in forming perception about the product, especially about a service (like an airline). Thus, the people who work in the front line are those who bear the brunt (or the glory) of making the company worth trying.”

10. Develop emotional intelligence

Invest in developing the emotional intelligence (EI) of your front-line staff. EI is an important factor when it comes to serving customers, especially while dealing with emotionally charged moments or ‘moments of truth’ (for instance, a cancelled flight or a lost credit card).

Consumers can no longer be treated as faceless targets for marketing and sales purposes. Organisations need to create positive emotional connections or bonds with customers at every point of interaction.

An article by McKinsey titled ‘The moment of truth in customer service’, states, “Companies can take concrete steps to improve the [EI] of their front-line workers. Doing so can pay off in improved interactions – and more profitable relationships – with customers.”

L’Oréal is cited as a good example of an organisation that has seen an improvement in profitability as a direct result of the introduction of a number of programmes that targeted the EI skills of its front-line staff.

11. Choose role models

Managers and leaders of front-line staff need to be selected and properly equipped with the attributes and leadership style necessary to serve as role models for those they manage, and be held accountable for doing so.

12. Deliver a customer-centric induction process

Part of people’s induction should include expending a good amount of time in a front-line role in order to get a good understanding of the business and its customers. At Disney’s induction programme, staff are told on day one that “they need to treat a customer the same way they would treat a guest in their own home” and so this attitude is instilled in them and embedded into their DNA throughout their time in the organisation.

By Pedro Angulo

Pedro Angulo is the programme director of the IMI diploma in strategic HR management and contributes on the IMI diploma in executive coaching. He is an organisational effectiveness business partner in AIB and chair of the Irish EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council). He is also a motivational speaker and regular presenter at HR, coaching, change and business conferences and events.

A version of this article originally appeared on the IMI blog.

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