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HR departments lag in employee engagement strategies, study finds

A majority of human resource departments fall behind in customer experience efforts by not engaging employees, a study found.

Despite recognizing the importance of customer experience management, most human resource departments don't help their companies with CEM efforts, according to a new study.

Those HR professionals could learn something from human resource departments that do assist with customer experience management (CEM), said the study's author, Bruce Temkin. Companies that deliver outstanding customer experiences and succeed in business have HR departments with employee engagement strategies, he said.

Temkin, the managing partner of the Newton, Mass.-based research and consulting company Temkin Group, surveyed 302 human resource professionals from large companies about their participation in CEM.

The results revealed that while a majority of the surveyed HR pros recognize that employee engagement is a key component of CEM, most of them haven't helped take that step in creating customer-centric cultures at their companies.

"Human resource organizations have not been involved in employee engagement at the level I think they should be," Temkin said.

Instead of focusing on the bigger picture of CEM, many HR departments devote most of their time to transactional matters such as hiring, training and retaining employees, he said. But to improve CEM, HR departments must also think strategically and create employee engagement strategies, he said.

This means recruiting people who have CEM experience, training them about customer experience, creating competency models for jobs, and configuring CEM performance incentives into employee pay, Temkin said. It also calls for changing the way managers review employees and the way executives review managers, he said.

Engaging employees in CEM can't be overlooked, Temkin said. They are the first step on a cycle that leads to great customer experience and, in turn, loyal customers and strong financial results, he said.

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"If you think about customer service, from the dimension of improving customer interactions to the engaging of employees, it's really hard to do that without having some structural changes in how you handle human resources," Temkin said.

Still, not enough HR departments have input in shaping their companies' CEM strategy, according to Temkin.

Thirty-two percent of the HR professionals Temkin surveyed said employee engagement was a "critical" task, while 42% of them considered it "very important." But the survey also showed those good intentions don't always lead to action: Only 19% of the HR professionals considered their actual employee engagement efforts to be "excellent." Forty-two percent of the HR pros thought their employee engagement efforts were "good."

"In order for companies to have long-term customer experience success, HR needs a kick in the butt," Temkin said. "It's also a great opportunity to be more strategic."

HR professionals can figure out how to motivate, or kick themselves, but to be strategic, they need to look beyond the transactional nature of their jobs, he said.

First, HR departments should overcome the obstacles that prevent them from having a CEM focus, Temkin said. According to the survey, those obstacles include: HR employees not having the time or skills to be customer-centric; direct supervisors and company executives not considering CEM a priority; and HR departments not having credibility in their organizations.

"To the extent that you think of human resources as the gatekeeper of the people in your company, it's really hard to embrace the cultural change around customer experience and have human resources standing on the sidelines," Temkin said.

Getting HR on board leads to strong CEM and business practices, according to the survey. Thirty-eight percent of the survey respondents who said their companies "significantly outperformed their competitors" also considered themselves to be one of the best in their industry at customer service.

HR becoming fully involved in CEM won't happen overnight, Temkin said. HR departments need to "retool themselves a bit," he said.

For instance, customer experience teams are typically built to foster change in companies, but HR departments usually don't have the same skill sets to drive change, Temkin said. Ideally, an HR department should build those skills from the inside, but if it can't, it can closely partner with CEM groups in their organizations, he said.

To get this rolling, CEM teams can show the results of Temkin's survey to their company's HR departments, he said. The survey can lead to a conversation about HR devising employee engagement strategies and collaborating on CEM efforts, he said.

Also, if companies aren't measuring employee engagement, they should establish a tracking system to gauge employee involvement and create a management review process to act on the results, he said.

"I think lots of HR leaders want to play more strategic roles in their companies," Temkin said. "This is a huge opportunity for a chief people officer [HR] to be more strategic."

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