Treating Employees as Customers

Most organizations attribute their success to having made a conscious effort to put the customer first.

For many organizations, this means developing a superior user experience that offers a seamless interaction across multiple channels as well as access to highly customized products and services. In many cases, companies have even developed models to predict future customer behavior, thus proactively addressing issues before the customer even makes a request.

While many organizations have taken this approach, some are also applying these same principles to employees. Using this approach, organizations view employees as customers and serve their needs in the same way — resulting in stronger employee engagement and loyalty, improved resource forecasting and planning and reduced cycle times.

This can help companies remain competitive and have a positive effect on the bottom line.

To reap these benefits, however, organizations will have to rethink the way they deliver services to the workforce.

A ‘Customer First’ Approach

Few executives underestimate the importance of a dedicated and committed workforce. It is employees who serve on the front lines of customer service and represent the company as brand ambassadors. It is employees who help meet business objectives. And it is employees who are ultimately responsible for the organization’s success.

If a company wants employees to make a meaningful contribution, it needs to invest in and treat employees as if they were customers. And yet, relatively few companies have applied significant resources to improving the employee experience.

This customer-centric approach to human resources can be referred to as “consumerized employee services” — a one-stop shop for managing employee needs by coordinating points of contact across the organization to deliver a smooth and consistent experience. Taking the employee-services approach often requires companies to not only rethink the way they interact with employees, but to also re-evaluate the structure of the organization and the way they manage workforce-related tasks.

For example, a company that takes a traditional approach to HR might host an employee onboarding session that offers orientation and training and benefits and payroll management. A company using the employee-services approach, however, reaches beyond this basic information to help new hires navigate some of the broader services, such as obtaining a personal computer, securing building access and setting up a mobile device.

The employee receives an end-to-end experience, often leading to higher levels of satisfaction, engagement and productivity. HR services are integrated with functional services, such as IT, finance, facilities, procurement and other business units that support employees. The goal is not to structure each interaction so that it is aligned to the function, but rather to create a new experience for the employee that incorporates all relevant areas seamlessly.

Management consulting firm Accenture adopted this type of model to better manage client staffing for international assignments (Editor’s note: The authors work at Accenture). In the past, moving an employee across borders required at least 140 steps coordinated with various functions, including HR, tax, finance, payroll and IT.

To help improve this process, Accenture appointed a leader accountable for the business outcomes related to the end-to-end move and established “people mobility leads” for each location. Accenture also sought people with operations backgrounds to become neutral leaders to oversee the redesign from a seamless, cross-functional perspective.

Recognizing that a single team with deep tax, finance, accounting and HR expertise was needed to foster closer collaboration, Accenture eventually moved budgets and people out of their functional shared services areas and into a new cross-functional people mobility group.

Through this approach, the company has been able to reduce the number of touch points from 140 to 75, eliminating more than 500,000 communications per year. In addition, satisfaction levels for employees rose to 3.8 from 2.6 on a five-point scale, and the number of days needed to staff people across borders dropped to 35 from 60, driving millions of dollars in additional revenue.

We can see that the employee services approach makes a real difference in improving the employee experience, and yet our research shows that only 6 percent of companies have created integrated shared services across functions. There’s a big opportunity for companies to improve in this area.

Everyone’s Responsibility

Crucial to the success of an employee services model is instilling a sense of responsibility for talent management across the organization — IT, payroll and training and development. This means making sure the organization is set up to support such a system, and that functional leadership is in agreement with the approach.

This trend is already taking root in someindustries, especially in high-tech companies where the workforce tends to be mobile, young and digitally advanced. But companies that do not fit this profile should not disregard the idea; the business implications to the employee services model applyregardless of industry, size or location.

Consider the value of HR and talent management capabilities in areas such as finance. Although the gap between these two functionshas been fairly wide in the past, companies now see that there is significant value in having them work in tandem for workforce-related issues such as making complex decisions about workforce planning and talent sourcing, balancing cost and evaluating performance.

Even though there is much work to be done in infusing HR and talent management capabilities into other business functions, one of the most important areas is corporate strategic planning. It’s the unfortunate truth that many business leaders claim that they are either unaware of HR’s contribution to business strategy or that their senior HR representatives have no involvement in business strategy at all. HR executives need to identify the right channels and partners within the organization to support workforce-related strategic planning and forecasting.

While HR will always require a personal touch, digital technology is the key to enabling talent management to become more embedded in the fabric of everyday business. As companies think through infusing HR across various business functions, they should also consider how to apply innovations from elsewhere in the organization into their own processes.

For example, one of our clients is a retail bank that is working with branches and wealth managers to create a more service-oriented culture by blending digital channels with personal interaction (Editor’s note: The authors declined to name the client company). Through this model, the organization is making customer service a true market differentiator.

To do so, the customer value proposition and the employee value proposition must be coordinated and aligned. The chief marketing officer needs to be involved in definingnot only the customer experience but also the employee experience. The chief human resources officer needs to be involved not only in selecting and developing employees that are fit for a service-oriented culture but also in defining how employees are to deliver on the customer experience.

This blended approach has the power to transform both sides in a way that maximizes efficiency and shares the investment of resources.

Digital will also enable HR to drive innovation through technologies like analytics. The power here is to help HR move from historical analysis to predictive analysis — forecasting what’s going to happen and what talent levers will improve business performance.

For example, a company entering a new market or introducing a new product must be prepared to meet future staffing needs that address a variety of scenarios. What is the organization’s plan if the new product exceeds expectations and the sales team must be doubled? What if entry into a new market unexpectedly requires hiring employees with foreign language skills?

Analytics and predictive modeling allow HR organizations to make better-informed decisions to address these issues and countless others. Those companies who are armed with these digital assets have the power to create a new competitive advantage.

Putting Theory Into Action

For many organizations, adopting a customer-first approach to employee experiences is a significant shift from the current model, and it requires bold new thinking from across the enterprise.

In the simplest terms, the employee-services approach requires shattering the boundaries of HR and sharing the responsibility for creating and implementing a superior employee experience.

To do so effectively, we recommend taking action along three key dimensions.

Adopt an enterprise operating model that supports employee services.The company’s organizing strategy or operating model will be an important enabler of a redefined HR capability. In general, much more flexible and agile models will be required to support HR. At HR research firm ManpowerGroup Inc., global HR is made up of a small core team of professionals that manage virtual centers of excellence composed around specific outcomes. The centers include a variety of people from either inside or outside the business, such as employees or representatives from marketing, finance and other areas.

Focus on evolving skill sets. The skill sets of HR professionals simply must evolve. More fluid skills will be needed to help HR and the entire organization be more nimble. For example, companies will no longer need 50 experts dedicated to recruiting but rather 50 talent management experts who can shift easily from recruiting to performance management to succession planning.

Measure performance management according to new standards. As business line professionals grow and develop, a natural part of their capability set has to be talent management. Metrics and accountability must be established by the organization to make sure performance is in line with expectations. Analytics must also be used to ensure the organization is deploying the proper resources in theright way.

 Companies need a new kind of HR strategy to bring people management capabilities to all parts of their business and to attract and retain the next generation of talent. Only then will HR become integrated across the organization, forging new partnerships and building new capabilities along the way. And only then will employees be capable of reaching a new level of engagement, satisfaction and performance.