Thoughts on the role of HR in an integrated customer excellence strategy

Steelcase, a leading designer of cutting edge office environments, invited me to a Cultural Roundtable. Steelcase has lots of research to show that well-designed workplaces can amplify the performance of people, teams and organisations, hence the eclectic mix of designers and human resource directors, debating organisational culture in Clerkenwell, fuelled by a steady flow of champagne and stylish nibbles.

The discussion was lively and very informative, but I hadn’t expected HR to seem so down in the dumps. One of the speakers, intending to provoke the discussion, suggested that companies with a strong and effective culture do not need an HR department, and a succession of senior HR leaders wholeheartedly agreed.

I completely disagree. HR has a vital role and an opportunity to become the guardian of an intentional, integrated and consistent customer-led culture. Customer experience needs an overarching framework, because, in a world of multiple media, technologies and channels, it cannot be sustained through mass improvisation or the default perspective of diverse departments.

I know from my operational experience in complex global service businesses that the overarching framework must be designed to connect employee behaviour with customer expectations, empowering rather than stifling, and purposefully avoiding any tendency to micromanage. Once the framework has been established, leaders must permeate the right behaviours throughout the entire workforce, and it’s here that HR holds all the cards.

Hiring the right people, training those people correctly, communicating effectively with them, caring for them, recognising them in a way that makes it easier for them to care for customers, and even holding leadership to account for doing the right things, in my experience these are all core competences of the strategic HR professional.

I unexpectedly found myself defending HR and arguing that, once a culture of customer excellence has been intentionally established in an organisation, it would be preferable to disband the customer experience team and pass the baton to human resources. HR is not only well placed to nurture a culture of customer excellence, but rather like a Patek Philippe watch, it is also likely to do so without ever actually being seen to own it.


Chris Humphrey (chris@innovationbubble.eu)

Chris is a customer strategist who started in market research, has worked in advertising and held senior international roles at the Walt Disney Company, and is privileged to have worked with teams that not only understand what customer excellence looks like, but also have a proven methodology for achieving sustained commercial success.  He is now working with Innovation Bubble (innovationbubble.eu), a group of commercial psychologists, and looking for a dedicated customer excellence team.