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How can HR drive results with a customer-led culture?

Posted on Friday, Jun 2, 2017

Develop a Customer-led Culture | Hays Blog ImageIs the customer king at your organization? It’s a mantra for many, but is not achieved as often as it’s said.

How can HR contribute to a customer led culture?

We talked to eight HR leaders about how they made it happen.

HR has a vital role to play here in helping to create a customer-led culture at the employee level. It’s particularly important to help staff realize just how they fit into this as individuals, says Sarah Shreeves, Head of Training and Consultancy at Exemplas Performance Improvement. “Companies should enable staff to understand how their role adds value to the organization’s goals and how it creates value for customers,” she says. “Staff should recognize how their contribution makes a difference, so they feel valued by senior management and recognize the alignment of values between management and its employees and customers.”

A good place to start is by ensuring employees understand what customers want, says Paul Russell, Director of business training organization Luxury Academy London, which works with high-end brands to improve employees’ soft skills. “Something that many luxury brands focus on is enabling their staff to completely understand their customers’ requirements, values and behaviours,” he says. “It is this awareness and knowledge that takes employees from being reactive to proactive and empathetic. Without this, employees will always lack real motivation to improve the lives of their customers.”

Taking on feedback
Jon Feingold, Chief Commercial Officer at Gazprom Energy, says getting input from customers is essential when it comes to working out what they really want. “It’s hard to deny things need to change when you hear a complaint directly from the mouth of a customer,” he says. “You might think you’ve done a great job, but it’s what the customer thinks that really matters, so feedback is crucial.” There are a number of ways this can be done, he says, including through customer satisfaction scores and loyalty metrics.
Going one stage further, employees also need to put themselves in customers’ shoes, he adds. “By HR and leadership teams encouraging employees to think like the customer, they can help to develop a culture of customer centricity, considering customer challenges, opportunities and possibilities rather than simply looking at processes and procedures,” says Feingold.

In some cases, this can mean sending staff to go through customer experiences themselves, suggests Stigliani.  “Businesses should also require their staff to use the same products and services as their customers to gain better understanding of what people need on a daily basis.” Employees should be assessed on how much they engage in activities aimed at identifying the real drivers of customer satisfaction, she adds.

Offering independence
On a more day-to-day level, it’s vital those in customer-facing roles have the ability to improve services and standards for customers, without having to defer to superiors, both to help better look after customers and to engage staff. “Customer service operatives will often have the best knowledge of customer desires and frustrations, so harnessing their creativity to source solutions to common problems makes sense,” says Shreeves. “If staff feel you are willing to listen and delegate a certain amount of authority, they will go the extra mile.”
Customization is about empowering those people so that they can think on their feet and recognize the needs of the individual customer. And making it a formalized target for staff can also help. Customer service is central to the ethos of vehicle rental business Enterprise Holdings and its HR team, says Donna Miller, European HR Director. “You can be the best salesperson or the best manager, but if your customer service scores aren’t at our corporate average or above, you’re not eligible for promotion.”

Improve understanding
Developing a customer-led culture can be harder, though, in non-customer-facing positions, where employees may rarely or never get to meet customers. “Helping them to understand how their product or service affects their lives is vital,” says Lucy Adams, CEO of Disruptive HR. “One major telecoms company recently got a group of customers together with their engineers. They spent time finding out about their lives and how having a lost mobile signal impacted them. It made a huge difference to how they worked through their priorities and how they thought about their roles. Sometimes, just giving your people the insights and allowing them to work it through for themselves can be very powerful.”

Listening to employees can also be a good way of identifying issues which can get in the way of delivering a better customer service. Metro Bank’s ‘Kill a stupid bank rule’ policy is a good example, says Adams, where employees are rewarded for identifying internal rules that prevent great customer experiences.

Remove barriers
This was the approach taken by RSA Canada, in the wake of a major cost reduction exercise. “We heard from our customers that they were looking for us to be simple, consistent and proactive,” says Mark Edgar, Senior Vice President, Human Resources. “We used this filter to bring to life for our people the customer experience we are trying to create externally. We launched this through a series of town halls in 2016 and ran an exercise with participants called ‘Where’s the Friction’, with the objective of identifying issues that were negatively impacting the customer experience.” The process led to more than 700 ideas being put forward to resolve issues seen as barriers, which the business is currently working through, alongside implementing a new customer-driven strategy.

It’s also vital that any initiative is supported by senior management, rather than just seen as an HR initiative, and that employees of all levels realize it applies to them.

“Developing a culture of customer centricity needs to start from the top down,” says Shreeves. “Senior leaders need to adopt the right values and approaches, and communicate the importance of this throughout the organization. HR needs to ensure all employees understand their own levels of authority and how their role impacts on the bottom line.”

Technology can help employers monitor how well employees do, particularly for those in customer-facing roles. Irish hotel chain Dalata Group, for instance, uses guest feedback platform TrustYou to collate comments and service scores from customers, across a range of sites, as well as monitoring individual forums such as TripAdvisor. “The collated information is then fed back to the hotel teams and feeds into our recognition program. Our employees are rewarded for delivering exceptional service, and if they are mentioned positively in a review, it is celebrated and they are rewarded with a prize such as a shopping voucher,” says Dawn Wynne, Group HR Manager of Dalata Hotel Group.

This kind of feedback is also relied upon at the organization’s annual employee awards, where the winning categories include food and beverage, rooms team of the year and overall Dalata employee of the year.
“The customer is at the centre of everything we do and managers are rewarded for excellent customer service scores,” says Wynne. “Managers can earn a third of their bonus potential by achieving high customer service scores.”

Modernizing systems
Apps are also being used as a way of getting feedback from customers, at least in some industries. Pizza Hut uses its customer loyalty app for a number of different reasons, including getting customer views on their experiences.
“It allows us to not only offer highly targeted offers, based on both customer preferences and location, but also helps us to build a really great understanding of our individual customer’s expectations and needs, so that we can further develop offers and services that will appeal directly to them,” says Kathryn Austin, HR and Marketing Director, Pizza Hut Restaurants.

“Every time an individual visits Pizza Hut Restaurants and uses the app, they are automatically asked a couple of very short questions about their experience, often in return for a reward. All these elements help to not only improve loyalty, but also customer experience in general.”
Employers – and HR – also need to think about their wider employer brand, and ensure this is consistent with the values they want to push to customers. “Employee engagement is inextricably linked to customer satisfaction because what happens inside an organization will leak outside,” says Feingold. “If an organization has a great people culture, then this will undoubtedly lead to positive customer perceptions, because employees are more likely to behave positively when they feel valued by their organization and connected to the brand. Brand advocacy isn’t limited to customers; employees can be brand advocates too and they can attract new customers through positive word of mouth.”

Keeping an eye on sites such as Glassdoor can be a good means of identifying how the business is perceived by employees. “These sites can be a helpful barometer of what is going on in your business,” says Shreeves. “Given the high correlation between employee and customer satisfaction, sites like Glassdoor will enable businesses to take a temperature gauge on staff satisfaction and the likely impact this will be having on customer satisfaction. Clearly, if there is a good deal of negative feedback, action will need to be taken.”

Getting feedback from employees is also important, whether through engagement surveys or more informal methods such as social media or inviting comments, in much the same way as businesses do with customers. At Pizza Hut, employees can use Yammer to give their own views on the business and share any insight from customers. “We actively encourage team members to share their opinions and use that feedback to shape the way we run the business,” says Austin. “Equally, we’ve found that it helps our employees understand the values we are aiming to create so they can reinforce these through their day-to-day engagement with our guests.”

Businesses are only now starting to realize just how important their employee offer is, from both an employee and customer perspective.

“It cannot make sense to develop a customer value proposition that isn’t closely aligned to the employee proposition,” says Adams. “Employee experiences and interactions need to be designed to reflect and support the consumer experience, so HR needs to work closer with marketing teams, aligning consumer and employee insights. Companies that don’t do this will increasingly struggle to attract and retain both customers, and candidates.

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