Internal Customer Service: Human Resource Delimma

Most organizations focus considerable resources on pleasing their customers.  It is one of the true business axioms that if you neglect your customers, then they will neglect you.  Although most of us recognize the need to listen and respond to external customers, it is common for internal customers to take a back seat to those that “pay” our bills.  How many times have you made the decision to not call someone internally back or decide their issues can wait until you deal with someone else?  Leaders can easily start to think of support services as supplemental or extraneous to the core mission of the organization and begin to pay less attention, allocate fewer resources, and afford less respect.

The human resources function as the typical internal service has a history of being thought of as being less critical.  This diminished view initially arose from the belief in the interchangeability and complementary quality of labor in early manufacturing settings.  In essence, why worry about labor and those that deal with it when you can always find more labor when you need it in the marketplace. The rise of the knowledge economy challenged this notion marginally as more began to realize that quality really does matter when innovation, creativity, and performance is important.  However, only the most technology intensive industries have elevated human resources to a level consummate with its contribution.  Another factor that has tainted opinions toward human resources is its dual role of regulatory and support function.  Sometimes the human resources function has to prevent managers from taking action that result in legal penalties or less than ideal outcomes.  Finally, most human resource professionals are not good at advertising their own accomplishments and capabilities.  The professionalization of human resources has increased the capabilities and results in a variety of areas, but usually there is a lack of organizational awareness.

When a function feels second class, it is easy to be second class.  If those around us view us as less important, then it can impact our dedication, sense of urgency, commitment to service, and overall performance.  Time and again, a dual image is applied to human resources: it is treated like a secondary function, but the service is expected to be first class.  A recent study by HCS found that 68 percent of responding organizations felt that its human resource function could improve, while only 21 percent felt it is a critical operational area.  Even more interesting, more than 57 percent of respondents felt that improvement should be a central priority of human resources.  In other words, human resources is not a critical service, but when I need it, it had better exceed my expectations.

There are several things that human resources can do to address this image and meet expectations:

Educate – The organization will not know all the important and beneficial things that you do, if you do not tell your coworkers.  It is important that the human resource function make the organization aware of its capabilities and successes.  Human resources staff can be shy about speaking up, but it is an important part of establishing themselves in the organization.

Communicate – Human resources needs to be in the center of the communication nexus.  As information flows through any organization, it is critical that human resources play a role not only as a conduit, but a resource.

Deliver – When asked to produce, no matter how small, it is critical to produce for internal customers.  When human resources meets or exceeds the service expectations of those its serves as well as externally facing services, it will be recognized.  Perceptions will not change overnight, since the current image developed over years, but repetitious results will improve the position of the function.

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