Why customer loyalty starts with HR

To what extent do your HR team strive to deliberately drive customer experience for your organisation?

Why customer loyalty starts with HR

HR has a critically important role to play in enabling any organisation to win the confidence of customers and keep them for the long term.  The simple reality is that customer loyalty is directly tied to the depth of talent your team offers and ultimately how they choose to behave.

Reflect for a moment on how often as a customer have you been left doubting the sincerity of an organization’s efforts to serve you faithfully?  Have you wondered whether some people care at all about doing business with you again in the future? Reflect also on the perceptions you hold of any business, and how the people you’ve interacted with have influenced your confidence and desire to keep going back. 

The culture of an organisation has the greatest influence on the quality of customer experience provided, and in turn the depth of loyalty earned.  In other words, how people typically think and behave has the biggest influence on customer retention and endorsement. Of course skill and knowledge are important, but no matter how capable your people are, if they behave badly, your customers are unlikely to keep coming back. 

At the end of the day you need people to approach their work in ways that are consistent with the promises you have made to your customers about what they can expect. 

Take for example the vastly different experiences of flying with Qantas versus Virgin Australia airlines.  While the two brands have arguably merged somewhat since Virgin’s push to win more of the Business traveller market, 10 years ago the difference was very clear.  If you were looking for a professional, somewhat formal or traditional approach to service – best you fly with Qantas.  But if having a laugh with staff being a little bit cheeky and pushing conventional boundaries of professionalism is your preference, Virgin was definitely the way to go. 

HR plays an essential role in supporting leaders to build teams of people who bring both the depth of talent and strength of behaviours that will not only win customers but keep them. Among the most important things HR can do to bring your customer experience vision to life include these.

Define what success looks like. Leverage your organisations values to clearly articulate the behaviours needed from every member of the team to create desirable customer experiences.  While values that keep your team safe and happy are essential, so too are those that enable customer centricity and service excellence. 

Work with leaders across your business to build a clear view of what customer service excellence means and how the team can collectively deliver on those outcomes.  Help leaders to see their current reality and what aspects of capability or behaviours need to improve.

Get it right from the start. Recruitment is undeniably the backbone of HR strategy.  Refect on how often you have observed leaders hire people for their technical strengths, despite their inabilty to behave in ways that are needed.  The reality is, it doesn’t matter how clever or qualified someone is.  If their approach is likely to undermine customer loyalty, its not worth having them on the team. 

Take a planned, disciplined and somewhat uncompromising approach when looking for new members of your team.  Irrespective of how excited a manager is about a prospective employees skills or experience, if the culture fit isn’t there, work hard to help them to see the problems that are likely to arise.  While you’re unlikely to win every battle, have the courage to let leaders know when they are about to make a hiring decision they may later regret. 

Build awareness. Don’t assume your people understand the things that have the greatest impact on customer engagement.  Invest in your own understanding of the touch points between your customers and business, and the opportunities people have on each occasion to make a positive difference. 

Leverage your onboarding process to ensure every new team member understands not only who your customers are, but also why they come to you and what they expect.  Of course ensure they understand the role they are expected to play, but also how other members of the team contribute to delivering on the best possible customer experience outcomes. 

Support leaders to have quality conversations with their teams about the ways in which they influence customer loyalty. While that may be plainly obvious for teams such as customer service or sales, others may find it harder to recognise the difference they can make.  Regardless of whether a team directly come in contact with your customers or not, what they do and how they go about it matters.

Take action. All too often organisations espouse values but do little to hold people accountable for behaving in line with them.  If you observe poor behaviour that is a threat to customer experience or relationships, do something about it.  While that may seem too obvious a point to bother making, all too often leaders and HR people ignore or overlook destructive behaviours despite the serious consquences of doing so. 

You can guarantee if your team are feeling the undesirable consequences of their colleagues approach, your customers are likely to be too. Take for example the team who made complaints of bullying against a senior colleague to their employer.  The issue was largely trivalised or ignored until the same team member behaved like a bully to an eldery customer.  Only then was the ugency needed in dealing with the issue understood.

Karen Gately, a founder of HR Consultancy Ryan Gately, is a leadership and people-management specialist. 

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