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 / 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.
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? Here are my thoughts on some of the things HR could do:
- 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.”
- 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.
- Stop considering their 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make collaboration a core value. Recognise and reward people who exhibit a collaborative mind-set and approach. In my experience, silo mentality and behaviour is the biggest roadblock companies must overcome in order to deliver truly seamless customer experiences.
- 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!
- 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 “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”.
- Invest in developing the emotional intelligence (EI) of your front line staff. EI is an important factor when it comes to serving customers specially 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 / bonds with them at every point of interaction. An article by McKinsey titled – The moment of truth in customer service, states that “Investing in developing the emotional intelligence of front line staff can pay off in improved interactions and more profitable relationships with customers”. They mention L’Oreal as a good example of an organisation that has seem an improvement in profitability as a direct result of the introduction of a number of programmes that targeted the EQ (Emotional Quotient) skills of its front line staff.
- 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 held accountable for doing so.
- 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 1 that “they need to treat a customer the same way they would treat a guest in their own home” and this image is instilled on them and embedded into their DNA throughout their time in the organisation.
There is no doubt, therefore, that HR Departments and professionals can add great value to any organisation’s CX and some of them already are.
Some question to reflect on:
- Is HR delivering the value add required to CX? Are we doing enough? Any opportunities for adding greater value?
- How closely aligned is our HR agenda to the CX agenda?
- What’s the impact our HR Department is having on CX? Can we increase it? How are you measuring it?
- How much of a change / shift in how HR professionals think, position, develop and organise themselves in my organisation will be required to get our HR Department to add real value to CX? And what are you going to do about it?
Pedro Angulo is the Programme Director of the IMI Diploma in Strategic HR Management and contributes on the IMI Diploma in Executive Coaching. Pedro is an Organisational Effectiveness Business Partner in AIB and Chairperson of the Irish EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council). He is a motivational speaker and regular presenter at HR, coaching, change and business conferences / events.