Prairie Dog

How HR Can Ensure Your Company Exceeds Customer Expectations

Enterprise Rent-A-Car ranks all of its branches monthly with two customer survey questions, one about the quality of the rental experience and the other about the likelihood of renting from the company again. The data collected is critical for many departments, human resources not excluded.

HR is often viewed as being worlds away from the customer, but that shouldn't be the case. Measuring performance against customer expectations is one of the top 25 KPIs that is highly correlated to market performance--as outlined in The People-Profit Chain™--and the majority of respondents surveyed by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and the American Management Association (AMA) stated that their executives support creating customer-oriented cultures.

How does HR take ownership of such a critical objective? Here are five research-based recommendations:

Tie satisfaction into performance management

Customer satisfaction should be an organizational value and one that is emphasized consistently by all levels of leadership. To engrain this philosophy, ensure that customer satisfaction is included in manager performance evaluations--nearly two-thirds of high-performance organizations do this. Just as importantly, tie worker evaluations to customer focus measures and create personal development plans that take the derived insights into account.

Make customer focus a part of career development conversations

While integrating customer-oriented activities into performance evaluations is a good first step, go one further by making customer focus a criterion for advancement. High-performance organizations emphasize accountability, and their use of customer focus as a factor in career decisions--3.5x more than lower performing companies.

Hire customer-oriented employees

High-performance organizations are 3x more likely to hire for customer focus. This is easier said than done, but a good example is Apple: when hiring its retail employees, it "doesn't look for exceptional intelligence or technical mastery." Instead, "the company wants employees who 'take joy in helping others discover tools they can use to change the way they live, work and play,'" according to a Forbes article. "The most important trait to display is a willingness to help the customer."

Ensure internal communication puts the customer front and center

In coordination with sales, marketing, and other appropriate departments, develop a formal communication plan so that your entire workforce is consistently updated on customer feedback and how that corresponds to satisfaction goals.

While HR can't control every aspect of customer satisfaction, it can help drive understanding of customer insights across the company. By regularly sharing this information with the workforce, employees get customer insights quickly and are more readily able to respond to market changes and feedback.

Internal communication should be viewed as only a part of a larger customer focus strategy--high-performance organizations are 3x more likely than lower performers to have an overarching strategy to keep customers at the center of attention for all employees.

Use diversity to your advantage

Having a diverse and inclusive workforce offers plenty of benefits, especially when it comes to the effects diversity has on innovation. Ensure that your employee base represents the customers your company sells to, and use the diversity of thought within your organization to reach new segments or better reach existing ones.

Toy manufacturer Mattel, for example, used its African-American Employee Resource Group (ERG) to assist with the development of a new doll line; the company was able to craft everything from the product to messaging and packaging to better meet the demands of its target market.

For more information on how HR can help, download the research report The Customer-Focused Workforce (non-members: download the executive summary).
Erik Samdahl
Erik is the head of marketing at i4cp, and has nearly 20 years in the market research and human capital research industry.