HR: A Customer Business

Over the last several decades, most human resources functions transformed from being perceived as a costly, support function that might be necessary, but not critical to a reliable resource for assisting the leadership of an organization with attracting, retaining, and developing critical talent.  This growth in scope and value opened doors in numerous organizations and creating the opportunity for more strategic and less transactional emphasis in scope and processes.  Clearly, the transition continues and will for the next decade or more.  Nevertheless, the momentum gained the last few years has altered perception as well as the reality of the value of human resources.

A key part of future growth pertains to how the human resource function serves the needs of its customers.  Specifically, how much additional value can be provided while keeping costs constant?  If we compare the current position of human resources to other internal functions, the next activity is refining the customer experience.  Not only do leaders and employees need to realize the value of the services provided by human resources, but they need to perceive that the value continues to increase.  There are three core questions that any human resource function should ask if it wants to improve customer value:

Who is my customer?

A key challenge of adding additional value relates to the “placement” of the customer.  Depending on whom you ask the core customer varies.  Some conclude that the customer is the employee – those that work for the organization and need support in guiding their careers, dealing with the stress of work and life, and advocating for fairness and equity.  Conversely, many feel that the employer and its leadership should receive the support and the majority of the effort of the human resource function’s effort to deal with employee issues, protect the organization from legal action, and ensure high levels of productivity.  This debate is relevant to any organization and critical for defining the role of the human resource function since an organization develops its capabilities around the needs of those that it serves.  A successful human resource function defines its customers and organizes its processes, services, and outcomes around the groups it serves.

What do my customers want?

The easy assumption categorizes all needs uniformly.  In other words, the easy solution assumes that everyone wants the same thing.  We live in an age where “we can have it our way” as greater customization has been factored into almost every customer experience.  We have hundreds of television channels, innumerable clothing options, infinite shades of colors, and countless accessories for our toys.  Recently, I noticed that the local mall contains several stores dedicated to just selling cell phone cases in every color and design imaginable and ranging in cost from $40 to over $1,000. As customers, we want enough choices so we can easily change what we select with fades, age, and need. A successful human resource function knows what its customers want and balances its offerings to align with those choices.

What access do customers have?

Customers in the last decade taught some hard lessons to organizations that gave customers insufficient access.  Customers want to have an experience with a product or service that engages them.  They want to help design the products, understand the development process, and provide real time feedback.  If an organization does provide information, informal “markets” for information will develop on their own led many times by the extremes: huge fans or critics.  A successful human resource creates and services the market for access.


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