The Intersection of Human Resources & Customer Experience – Observations from Recent Industry Conferences

Posted On February 27, 2019
By Andrew McInnes

We recently participated in two industry conferences hosted by Consero – one for Learning & Development (L&D) executives, the other for Customer Experience (CX) executives. We were struck by the consistent themes that came up across the two events, despite the different audiences and agendas. In many ways, the consistency is not surprising. Employee experience and engagement has a direct and measurable impact on customer experience and loyalty. This is central to our philosophy and approach, and the evidence of the linkage and dependency is well documented. However, in the past, we have not seen L&D executives so focused on customers or CX executives so focused on employees. It appears both audiences are focusing their attention on this critical intersection in order to move their agendas forward.

Here are a few of the themes that stood out from across the two conferences:

  • The customer as the ultimate unifier. As both L&D and CX executives look to align and rally people toward a common goal, the customer is the clearest and most compelling unifier. The customer is the one obvious thing that all people in an organization have in common – even if some back-office people (what we call “experience enablers”) may not recognize that every day. One executive for a large business-to-business (B2B) firm even described a powerful shift from focusing on employee experience as an end in itself to focusing more on customers. While some employees initially shuddered at the idea that they weren’t the center of the universe, most employees ultimately found more purpose and energy in focusing on customers vs. themselves. This gets to the heart of what motivates us as people. We want to serve a purpose bigger than ourselves, and that bigger purpose drives discretionary effort.
  • Customer loyalty as an employee challenge. CX executives have been talking for a long while about the link between employee and customer engagement, but it was interesting to see that CX is also on the agendas of L&D executives. Many of the event participants listed CX and customer-centric culture as top priorities for their HR organizations. Interestingly, though, we still did not hear about very many tight, programmatic relationships between HR and CX teams, suggesting this is likely still an area for improvement.
  • Designing for humans, whatever the goal. Whether they were talking about customers or employees or hailing from CX or L&D teams, the event participants were focused on both big and small ways to engage people more intelligently, based on what we know from disciplines like behavioral economics. On a micro level, both HR and CX executives were focused on “nudging” people to certain ends with decision architecture tactics like anchoring and social proof in order to get them to do things like purchase specific service packages (for customers) or opt-in to certain training programs (for employees). Related to social proof, many executives were taking advantage of our basic fear of missing out (aka “FOMO”) by creating the perception of exclusivity around things like voluntary CX champion networks and optional employee training programs. At a macro level, both CX and L&D executives talked about the power of purpose and human impact in rallying their people – as we mentioned above.
  • Technology to streamline and scale – not as a panacea. Naturally, both CX and HR audiences are investing in technology and systems in all kinds of areas. Interestingly, participants seemed to share a healthy appreciation for the role of technology in making their organizations more efficient, offering more choice to their users, and ultimately delivering more value to more people – and a healthy appreciation for what technology won’t solve. At the same time, though, short-term spending and execution plans tended to show a higher emphasis on technology than the conversations would suggest. We see this a lot, and it’s not surprising. Executives tend to see clearer and more predictable paths to success with technology than with people, while they also tend to overestimate their internal capabilities to solve their people challenges. The result, unfortunately, is that too many organizations end up hamstringing their technology investments with adoption challenges and change resistance.

 

As you can probably guess, we believe the best source of value and competitive advantage for organizations lives at the intersection of employees and customers, and these recent conversations with HR and CX executives suggest organizations are approaching that intersection more thoughtfully than they have before. While still early in terms of defined, coordinated activity, the conversation certainly appears to be headed in the right direction.