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HR POLICIES & PRACTICES
Dec 10, 2013

Customer service is an HR issue, part 2

How HR can help improve customer satisfaction
    

By Brian Kreissl

I’m picking up where I left off with my post two weeks ago about how customer service is an HR issue in many ways. While I was able to tell my little personal anecdote, I didn’t have quite enough space to explore the issue fully with respect to what HR can do to improve customer service in organizations.

Something that strikes me as interesting, but a little disturbing, is how customer service is almost made out to be something new and faddish in business. It’s as if it’s some kind of newfangled concept many organizations are just starting to explore.

That surprises me because everyone has customers — even if those customers are internal — and satisfying them is the basic reason for the existence of people’s jobs. That includes everyone, including doctors, lawyers, civil servants, police officers — even HR professionals.

Good customer service starts with HR

That’s important to remember because if HR is tasked with helping to improve customer service in an organization, it’s vitally important to start with the HR function itself. If HR isn’t seen as being customer-centric, how can HR practitioners preach to managers and employees within the organization about the level of customer service they provide?

Ultimately, even staff functions like HR that generally deal with internal customers can help the organization run smoother and ultimately impact the way other people in the organization serve external customers. Of course, HR is also in a unique position to impact the culture of the organization and help drive organizational change.

I remember a friend of mine telling me once how whenever he called HR to ask them a question they would return his call at lunchtime. According to him, it was done deliberately so they could leave a message knowing he was away from his desk and they wouldn’t have to engage in a conversation with him. That doesn’t sound like great customer service, does it?

It’s also important to understand the HR department shouldn’t be seen as bureaucratic and inflexible — criticisms that are often levelled against HR from outside the function. While it is important to have comprehensive HR policies and procedures, in dealing with human beings we shouldn’t hide behind our policies.

Sometimes treating people fairly means we have to treat them a little differently. The one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with people isn’t going to cut it in this day and age.

And even though HR is a staff function that normally deals with internal customers, from an employer branding perspective it’s important to remember that recruiters deal with external people as well. Organizations would do well to consider job candidates as customers by treating them with dignity and respect and keeping them in the loop, remembering that candidates may also be customers in the future. After all, a poor candidate experience can result in lost sales and negative publicity for the organization.

Speaking of recruitment, HR can help improve customer service by shortlisting candidates with a demonstrated commitment to customer service excellence. Part of that is creating appropriate behavioural interview questions around customer service.

Improving customer service throughout the organization

But what else can HR do to improve customer service throughout the organization?

A number of things spring to mind, starting with the inclusion of customer service orientation in the organization’s competency framework. Competencies have all kinds of implications for recruitment, training and development, succession planning, performance management and other types of HR programs.

Having a core competency based on customer service sends a very clear message to employees that the organization treats customer service – both internally and externally – as a strategic priority. Such a competency can then be used to help drive cultural and organizational change.

HR is also tasked with training and development in most organizations. Rolling out training programs on effective customer service is a great way to help improve customer service.

Like any training program, however, it isn’t going to be effective unless employees have an opportunity to practice what they learned on the job. That’s where executive and line managers come in because without their buy-in and co-operation, there’s little point in HR trying to improve customer service by working in a silo.

A commitment to customer service has to come from the very top – or at least from senior leaders of major customer-facing departments or functions. HR can’t do it alone.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com. For more information on Carswell's HR products visit www.carswell.com.  

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