My first customer service role was at the age of 16 at a local shop/petrol station, and I quickly learned about the multi-characteristic nature of the customer demographic. I then started to work with customers over the phone in another company where I discovered a new set of characteristics to add to this customer scope. Then I started waiting on tables which broadened the demographic even further to unexpected heights (those in catering know what I’m talking about)!
All in all, I began to see all types of personalities the world has to offer. Some were a delight to serve, some not so. Some were easy to deal with, some not so. Some taught me patience, and did not so.
To me, the customer demographic is a snapshot of the broad spectrum of personalities, and in my opinion, dealing with customers early on in a career develops important people skills that HR professionals can take with them throughout their careers.
The majority of us work with people who come with their own personality (or personalities) and dealing with some of them in a professional capacity can be a struggle, even under the implied constraints of workplace etiquette.
Customers are not obliged to adhere to, or behave under the scope of HR policies, company etiquette, or even social expectation. Indeed, they can throw at you whatever personality they want and there is nothing you can do about it other than react with complete and utter servitude and diplomacy in order to resolve the situation on your toes.
Typically, HR rarely deals with ‘customers’. Those who we provide advice to are ‘colleagues’ – staff, managers, business managers, senior leaders – but at times it can be difficult to handle situations with objectivity and diplomacy as you would with a customer.
So why are good customer service skills important in HR? Here are just five out many skills that are important in both settings:
Using good customer service skills encourages co-operation. Rather than a position of servitude, we must be able to co-operate with our colleagues for the best outcome, one which has the least negative impact by personality negotiation.
Defusing situations before tensions rise is a key skill in both customer service and dealing with colleagues, and by understanding the same principles of the server-customer relationship, we can aim to co-operate better.
We each deserve respect, and in my opinion, good customer service is demonstrated when a customer is shown respect even when they themselves are being disrespectful. This shows a huge amount of integrity.
Showing respect for teams and colleagues means that you maintain professionalism even under extreme confrontations, and will find it quicker and easier to reach diplomatic resolutions. It also demonstrates general good character which is a trait that will help you organically progress in your career anyway.
A good skill in general, listening – or more specifically, active listening – in customer service means you provide the customer ample opportunity to voice their objections and opinions in whichever way they feel is more productive (even when it isn’t).
Even when they’re screaming and shouting, actively listening to this in a responsive, rather than a defensive way, means you’re assessing the emotion and frustration from their vent, thus understanding the impact a situation has on them.
Hearing what is being said, and the undertones not said, you are then much more likely to be able to identify the root of the problem they have experienced. This can be applied when dealing with a frustrated or upset manager for example and use other skills as a HR professional to provide solutions to their problem.
Even if solutions cannot be found, or at least not in the manager’s favour, actively listening will assure the manager that you have taken the time to understand the issue to give the tailored solution.
- Process improvement
As a follow-up from the point on listening, working with customers and listening to their problems provides you first-hand opportunities to identify process flaws or gaps.
You’re at the firing line of the negative impact these gaps have on the customers, and by providing them with solutions to resolve the situation, you are in the position to address these gaps on a more permanent basis by suggesting longer-term process improvements.
In the HR environment, dealing with colleagues and other stakeholders, you act as the fixer between company’s goals and weaknesses via its people. You are in the position of having the business acumen and people skills of an HR professional, and applying these to the day-to-day issues managers and employees experience.
Process improvement is just one step for bigger successes HR can facilitate, for example improvements on culture, employer branding and the employee value proposition.
- Going the extra mile
Customer service roles can sometimes be incredibly satisfying, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes applying discretionary effort to helping customers.
When applying the effort on the frontline, appreciation and gratitude is (mostly) expressed immediately, and the satisfying feeling it gives you makes you want to do it again.
Applying this in HR gets the same results (if you work in that sort of company of course). Just like coming up with discretionary and one-off solutions for customers in exceptional circumstances, HR provides enough opportunities to provide the same for colleagues and stakeholders without expectation of reward or special treatment.
It begins to teach you a great sense of occupational pride, knowing that you have sometimes the capacity to go that extra mile in order for big results to have a positive impact.
So by treating those to which we provide advice as customers, we carry that mind set of pleasing the customer through the things we do at work.
The company’s customers
As an aside, HR does in fact have distant dealings with customers in that whatever we do in our daily role(s) ultimately has a knock-on effect on the customer or end user.
We guide and support managers to deal with staff who are essentially the face of the company to its customers. How this employee is managed and supported by their manager is determined by the support we can give in order for the customer to receive good service.
The benefit of understanding this, and the skills and aptitude needed for good customer service, is that we can better place ourselves in frontline staff’s shoes.
We can begin to empathise with what can be a challenging role, considering, as mentioned, there are very few restraints within which customers should conduct themselves, other than the prohibition of expletives and violence.
The stress that comes with is can be excruciating, and as HR professionals we must be conscious of this fact and factor it into our advice and strategies.
The benefit of understanding the importance of the skills needed for good customer service means we can also work better in the business with our colleagues and stakeholders in general.
Adopting a customer-pleasing approach in the things that we do ensures we go about our work with pride, respect and understanding.
If you are currently in a customer service role and aspire to become an HR professional, I hope this has demonstrated the close link between the two and encourages you to emphasise these great skills to bag your first role.
If you work in a call-centre and you want to move away from that environment, check out this article I wrote on the host of other skills you can transfer away from a call-centre environment that you might not have realised.