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Big Debate Title

HR's guide to driving better customer experience

The business world appears to be in dire straits: is CX the key to averting disaster whilst looking after employees too?

Words by Kieran Howells | Design by Theo Griffin


As the climate for consumer-facing businesses has become more volatile customers have had a strong say in which businesses are still trading. On this difficult landscape the term ‘customer experience’ (CX) has become a staple of business lexicon. Once industry-leading brands, Toys ‘R’ Us, Mothercare and Forever 21 are reminders that if the customer experience isn’t preferable the business can fail.

What is CX?
Customer experience (CX) is literally the experience of dealing with any business from the customer’s perspective. If employees are told to smile when greeting potential clients, that’s CX. Any time a staff member remembers a customer’s preference, this personalisation greatly adds to the company’s customer experience. With an array of options available to customers, it is likely they are choosing brands which provide them with a positive experience. For example, in retail an individual can choose from Ikea’s augmented reality furniture app, Amazon’s two-hour delivery service and vast array of discounts available on eBay. These days, the onus really is on business to deliver more than a product.

It’s about appealing to a mindset of ‘what have you done for me lately’ to ‘what can you do for me now, and in the future’

Why is CX important to the business?
According to 2019 research conducted by retail assessment company Customer Thermometer, 54% of customers have higher expectations for customer experience today compared to one year ago. For those aged between 18 and 34 that percentage jumps to 66%. Additionally, 96% of respondents claimed that customer experience is the most important factor in encouraging brand loyalty, whilst 87% of organisations agree that traditional customer service no longer satisfies customers. These firms especially should be worried as research by Gartner suggests that 89% of businesses are expected to compete mainly on customer experience in the coming years.

Discovering how customers experience your service
According to a Gartner study, companies that successfully implement customer experience projects begin by focusing on how they collect and analyse customer feedback. This could be as simple as asking them to push a button to show whether they had a positive or negative experience; it could also be incentivised by offering discounts in exchange for reviews, or it could be part of your B2C upselling policies. Other businesses reply on sites such as Yelp and Trustpilot to secure data – but be warned, customers are more motivated to leave feedback if they’ve had a bad experience.

Why should HR care about CX?
In this environment, HR needs to ensure that it’s adding value to the customer experience. Carol Kavanagh, Group HR Director at Travis Perkins, the well-known builder merchant, goes one further: she believes good customer service can only be born from effective HR policy. “There is a strong and positive correlation between good customer experience and employee engagement, so we are now exploring how we can build an even greater colleague experience to deliver on our outstanding customer service ambition,” she explains.

There is a strong and positive correlation between good customer experience and employee engagement

As a result, Travis Perkins has changed internal HR policies to align the customer and the employee. She explains that this involved thinking of colleagues as customers and working with them to identify and build the clear differentiators they buy into as part of the colleague experience. “We use this compelling ‘promise’ to deliver organisational improvements,” she adds. “It’s about appealing to a mindset of ‘what have you done for me lately’ to ‘what can you do for me now, and in the future’ and creating, developing, and nurturing a culture that is as employee-centric as it is customer focused.”


Benefits of aligned CX
Michael Maddick, Director of People at The Children’s Trust, a South London charity, agrees that aligning the customer and employee experience is beneficial, adding that connecting the people function to CX actively contributes to employee purpose and direction. Maddick says: “90% of our staff would recommend our service to their friends and family. Alignment between the rhetoric of serving the customer and the reality of the internal culture is greatly helped by having a clear purpose that staff sign up to when they join.”

The majority of HR’s activities should be directly aligned to the strategic goals of the organisation

Beth Verrechia, HR Director at Blue Cross, an animal welfare organisation, agrees that there’s an intrinsic relationship between HR’s policies and the quality of customer service that the company provides. She says that at Blue Cross the onus is on leadership to ensure that customer experience goals and strategy are being actioned against. “The majority of HR’s activities should be directly aligned to the strategic goals of the organisation. Within Blue Cross we ensure that every director has a bespoke ‘people plan’ that clearly identifies the goals of the directorate and the activities required by HR to help realise these goals. Therefore, the majority of our conversations are focused on how we are helping to deliver our customers goals and how we are adding value,” she explains.

The tech problem
In this modern age – with mobile apps, chat-bots and AI to help handle the flow of customer queries – Gill Palfrey-Hill, HR Director of Specsavers, believes HR has to fight harder to keep the human element of customer service central. She says: “As customers, we are increasingly getting used to using self-service checkouts, digital check in desks, online banking, try on apps and at the same time, we still want the human touch, the warmth, care and personalisation. This same humanity of experience, where customers feel cared for, cherished and valued is no different to the feeling colleagues who work in our businesses want to feel. And if they don’t, is there a lack of authenticity and alignment?

“We want our customers to feel good, cared for and valued - surely it should start on the inside with colleagues? That’s where we come in. Are you living that experience on the inside?”


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