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What HR Directors can learn from customer service teams

Latest McKinsey research finds HR operating models need to be redesigned. Three of the more interesting HR innovations; Adopt agile principles to ensure both strict prioritisation of HR’s existing capacity and swift reallocation of resources when needed, enabling a fundamentally faster rate of change in the business and with people and how they work. Excel along the employee experience (EX) journey to win the race for talent in the time of the Great Attrition, enabling both employee health and resilience. Re-empower frontline leaders in the business to create human-centric interactions, reduce complexity, and put decision rights (back) where they belong.

The general function of HR has always been to support the broader goals and objectives of a company by attracting and retaining top talent, developing a unique  value-centric corporate culture and promoting employee development and engagement. This emphasis on talent and employee experience has always been more important for companies that manage customer service processes.

The reason is easy to explain. If a company comes to you and asks your team to manage their customer service processes then the supplier becomes the public face of the client. The end customer doesn’t really know who is answering the phone or a chat message. They need help from a brand such as Uber or VW – anyone answering their call for help is representing that brand.

Therefore the customer service team cannot just be signing in and watching the clock. They need to be engaged, informed, and interested in helping customers. If they are not then complaints of poor service will soon arrive and the client will be looking for a new customer service partner.

I was thinking about this when I reviewed recent HR research by McKinsey. It outlines eight different innovations that are reshaping how HR operating models need to be redesigned. I’m not going to repeat the McKinsey research verbatim, but I want to outline three of the more interesting HR innovations;

  1. Adopt agile principles to ensure both strict prioritisation of HR’s existing capacity and swift reallocation of resources when needed, enabling a fundamentally faster rate of change in the business and with people and how they work.
  2. Excel along the employee experience (EX) journey to win the race for talent in the time of the Great Attrition, enabling both employee health and resilience.
  3. Re-empower frontline leaders in the business to create human-centric interactions, reduce complexity, and put decision rights (back) where they belong.

The McKinsey research evidences three thematics; 

Agility is essential: The rules of employer and employee relationships have been redefined in the past few years. More flexible workplaces and working from home has created a new set of expectations. The CEO of Fiverr recently suggested that people are not quitting employers, they are quitting traditional jobs and exploring more flexible work that may previously have just been a side hustle or gig. Agility is not only a benefit that companies need to offer to their clients, it is essential for employees too.

EX attracts and retains talent. In customer service processes, the quality of a customer experience (CX) is often a product of Employee Experience (EX). A motivated, well-trained team that enjoys helping customers will always outperform a team that is only interested in how to get paid the most for the least work. Our experience in customer service is applicable across organisations more generally.

Decisions go to customer-facing people. Business decisions should go to the people on the frontline. Traditional customer service processes gave very little scope to the agent on a call to make a decision, especially to spend cash fixing a customer problem. Several companies questioned this approach – Zappos is one of the most famous – and it is easy to find case studies that show how giving scope and flexibility to the customer-facing team to make decisions often results in customers being delighted.

I’ve witnessed these themes repeatedly proven to be fundamental qualities when  designing customer service solutions. It’s comforting to note these elements transfer so effectively in the McKinsey research to HR strategy. In my own experience, allowing customer-facing employees to make more decisions can have several benefits, such as:

Improved Customer Experiences: When employees are empowered to make decisions on the spot, they can respond more quickly to customer needs and provide customised solutions, leading to a better overall customer experience.

Increased Employee Satisfaction: When employees are given the trust and responsibility to make decisions, it can increase their job satisfaction and motivation, as they feel valued and recognised for their contributions.

Faster Decision Making: By giving front-line employees the authority to make decisions, organisations can eliminate the need for decisions to be escalated to higher levels, resulting in faster cycle-times and more efficient decision-making processes.

Effective Problem Solving: Front-line employees often have a deeper understanding of customer needs and the practicalities of a situation, allowing them to make more informed and effective decisions.

Organic Company Culture: Encouraging employee empowerment and decision-making can help to foster a positive company culture founded on values and trust, promoting qualities of self-reinforcement and growth.

Naturally it is important to prepare people for any increase in their scope for decision-making. They need adequate training, the right tools for the job, and support from supervisors when requested. The guidelines and processes to manage risk should also be transparent so everyone knows how to make decisions that delight customers, but also ensure that all processes are safe and accountable to the regulator.

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