3 HR Strategies for Excellent Customer Experience

Author - Nicholas Vinther Skov. Head of CX Advisory

At the heart of a successful business is a deep understanding that great customer experiences start with the people themselves. This realization is not new. What's new is the spread of the realization. In my article archive, I have research articles with 20 years of dust on them that demonstrate the connection. And, if GDPR hadn't deleted the material, I would also have 20 years of statistical analyses from my work at Ennova that prove the connection.

Nonetheless: It has lived a somewhat quiet existence - and (too) often the interest has been more about whether the link was there, and less about what it means in practice for how business is conducted. But now, something is happening in CX (Customer Experience). It's the talk of the town. Learn how a strong employee experience translates directly to improving customer experience and why it's all about culture. Customer culture.

In this article you will find insights about:


What is the link between EX and CX?

It's really quite fundamental; without people, there is no business. Think of a business as a clockwork: each tiny cog plays a role in making the clock tell the exact time. Similarly, every employee in the organization plays a role in delivering the service and products that the company stands for. 

But what happens if one of these cogs isn't working optimally? The whole mechanism suffers. And that's the essence of the connection between employee and customer experience. Think about the sound of the gearbox in your car when you don't engage the clutch properly. You can imagine the splinters of metal.

Without engaged, satisfied employees, it's impossible to deliver the quality and service that creates satisfied and loyal customers. This isn't just an intuitive truth; it's empirically proven that there is a direct correlation between how employees feel they are treated and the service they provide to customers.

If you want to read a little testimony about experiencing it in practice, read more in this article from when I was almost a spy of sorts in London:

Read more about employee motivation and customer experience.


3 tips for HR to create EX and CX synergy

It all starts with looking at the employee experience as the foundation of the customer experience. An employee who feels valued, supported and part of something bigger will naturally deliver better service.

So how do you create this magical meeting point between the employee experience and the customer experience? I believe it's all about creating a customer culture.

Culture change takes time. But it starts with concrete changes in how you do things. How you run your business, essentially. And this is where HR is a key player. HR is in a unique position to shape and influence a customer culture - and thus both employee and customer experiences.

Here are 3 concrete tips HR can use to make a significant difference through a culture where the employee experience nurtures and strengthens the customer experience:

1. Let core attributes drive the recruitment process.

The recruitment process plays a critical role: Finding the right people for each position is crucial to the customer experience. A good anecdote I think hits the nail on the head here:

Luxury hotel chain The Ritz-Carlton, along with an international recruitment agency, wanted to better identify what qualities to look for in potential employees in order for them to thrive in their customer-centric culture. 

Horst Schulze, co-founder of the chain and responsible for opening each new hotel, is known for his motto: "We are Ladies and Gentleman serving Ladies and Gentlemen". He firmly believes that motivated, involved employees produce the best results. And his business results confirm that it works. 

But, back to their struggle to find the right employees. It wasn't easy. For example, finding a manager who understood that management wasn't about employees blindly following orders, knowing that the order wasn't good for the customer. 

Horst's management model is to train employees to be able to assess this for themselves - and have the right to do what is best for the customer in the situation. In some parts of the world, Ritz-Carlton had a hard time finding managers who accepted this kind of leadership. It went against the underlying culture. 

Another problem was the doormen. The ones with the top hats at the entrance. It was (of course) essential that they found a doorman who was always welcoming and greeted guests with a smile so that the doorman's appearance matched their brand. 

So they asked themselves: What is the decisive parameter for having these qualities as a doorman? The answer was logical by nature, but perhaps not the first thing that came to mind in a recruitment process: 

Together with the recruitment agency, they realized they needed an outdoor person. Someone who loved being outside in all kinds of weather. Someone who went skiing off the slopes, slept in a shelter or went hunting. In short, Eventyrsport's dream customer.

This was the most important attribute the new doorman needed to deliver the quality of service The Ritz-Carlton wanted.

So, when you're in the recruitment process, ask yourself: What are the essential criteria for the person I'm hiring to thrive in their role over time? Identify 1-3 fundamental criteria to look for and let them guide the process. 

2. Create a culture with room for constructive feedback.

Creating a feedback culture where open and honest dialog between employees at all levels is encouraged is essential. Feedback and problem-solving should be part of the organization's DNA. 

Again, I'll return to The Ritz-Carlton and my anecdotal trail: The luxury hotel chain was struggling with a problem at a newly opened hotel. The quality of room service was too poor. The manager decided to take action and contact the room service staff to find out where the problem was occurring. 

The feedback was that the room service staff were late because there was a queue at the service elevators - therefore the food got cold before it reached the guests. Moving on to the next part: Why was there a queue at the service elevators? 

No one could immediately explain it. So the manager put together a team of employees to investigate. One of the employees came up with the idea of spending a day just riding up and down the elevator and observing. The employees found the problem: 

The cleaning staff kept putting a wedge in the elevator door. They blocked the elevators because otherwise, they would have a hard time getting back and forth to prepare the rooms. 

The employee asked the cleaning colleagues why they were running out of time. The answer was something as trivial as there was not enough bed linen for each room due to budget cuts. 

The golden rule in the industry is that there should be three sets of linen per bed. But the manager had decided that two sets were enough. Because bed linen for a luxury hotel is expensive. But then came the cleaning bottleneck. It's the small cog in the big machine that fails. The manager of the hotel at the time was Horst himself.

So, what can we and Horst learn from this? We can learn how important it (also) is for a good customer experience to foster an employee culture of open dialog - and make sure that each manager has the skills to create an environment where feedback is received and acted upon. 

Horst had already created an open culture around it - but even such a culture is vulnerable to bad decisions. Horst's strength lay in the fact that he dared to give employees the mandate to get to the bottom of the root cause themselves (the fact that it was himself only adds to the anecdote).

3. Focus on customer-centric development. But remember orderliness.

Make sure employee development also has a customer-centric focus. Everyone, from frontline employees to managers, needs to understand what it means to be customer-centric; that the customer always deserves to be treated well, even if they're not always right. And that treating a customer well is not the same as being right about everything. 

I'll just pull poor Horst out of the woodwork. Remember his "We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen". Horst wants his employees to look at the customer with respect and at themselves with self-respect. The same goes for the customer! Reciprocity. 

At the Ritz-Carlton, you as a customer are expected to live the mantra. Sometimes I find that customer-centricity translates into the customer being right about everything. Must do everything. But that's not the case. Sustainable customer orientation and culture is actually a two-way street!

In other words, this is about 1) ensuring that all employees understand how their work contributes to the overall customer experience, 2) that they are equipped with the tools and skills needed to deliver exceptional service, and 3) that they feel confident that it's the right thing to do. It's fair to expect mutual respect.

So, think about how you facilitate employee development. Employees need to see how important they are, take pride in what they do, and understand how much their engagement impacts the quality of the customer experience.


The role of HR: From blocker to standard bearer

Bringing the employee experience and customer experience closer together requires a certain maturity within the organization, which is often lacking. Honestly, I've historically seen HR become a roadblock to customer experience work. 

Not because they want to be a roadblock. But customer culture needs to thrive in the HR department for it to have an impact on their work throughout the organization. And I'd even like to advocate that it's not just about HR not 'getting in the way'. I would love it if HR was a champion for the development of a customer culture. 

It's a good idea to bring in experts to facilitate the dialogue and help embed the changes at a fundamental cultural level - especially if bridging the gap between customer and employee experience is a relatively new discipline in the organization.


The key to a successful business

The connection between employee and customer experience is crucial to business success. HR plays a key role in making this connection by ensuring that the company not only hires the right people but also supports them in their development, listens to their feedback, and creates a culture where service excellence is the norm.

By focusing on these areas, HR can help bridge the gap between employee and customer experiences. The synergy that will arise not only improves employee satisfaction but also drives customer loyalty – and is ultimately the key to a stronger, more cohesive, and successful business.

See how we can help organizations evolve.


Finally, a little bonus info: It's about Horst again. He wrote the mantra "We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen" as a 16-year-old at a hotel school in Germany in the 19050s. A teenager who couldn't see the point of his manager at the training hotel issuing orders left and right that made no sense to the customer. And even less sense in the fact that no one dared to say anything. Maybe not even the customers!

It's all about customer culture. HR, get to work!

References: Harvard Business Review

Nicholas Vinther Skov. Head of CX Advisory

Nicholas Vinther Skov. Head of CX Advisory

Nicholas provides fact-based consulting to his customers on improving the customer experience. With his never-ending drive, Nicholas seeks out, discovers and picks up on the latest trends within his field – and shares this knowledge with the world in this blog.