If you work in human resources, then you are fully aware that people are always trying to reach you. Whether it’s by email, phone, dropping into the office…whatever, “feeling wanted” is certainly something that all of us can relate to in HR. And chances are, if someone is trying to reach you, it is likely because they want or need something. Personally, I’m still waiting for that call from an employee that just says, “No, I don’t need anything…just wanted to tell you to have a nice day.” (Let me know if any of you get that call in HR anytime soon!)
Woody Allen is attributed with saying, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.” I would argue that in HR and in many fields, “showing up” is even more critical. What I mean by showing up is not just making your way into work and settling into your desk…I mean actually “being there for your customer.”
Before making the decision to make human resources my career, I worked for a number of years managing a financial services contact center. My team was comprised of 60-80 employees (depending upon the time of year) that answered calls from investors from across the country. Anyone who has managed in a call center environment knows that to be successful, you need to consistently find that “sweet spot” where speed and quality service is converged. Yes, we needed to answer and complete our calls quickly, but we also needed to do so in a manner that provided personal, accurate, and quality customer service. I believe that managing in that environment for a number of years has helped to make me a more effective human resources professional by adapting that same “customer first” concept in my day-to-day interactions. With that, I have five guidelines that I would like to share that I think are applicable in most human resources environments.
- Be There
Well, this seems pretty simple…If you’re not “there” whether at work or in your personal life how can you be effective? When I say “there” I mean more than just your physical presence. Besides picking up the phone, reading the email, or opening your door…being there means listening, seeing, and providing your whole self when called upon. That is what I refer to “being there.”
Most employees that seek us out don’t have the same level of expertise, whether it is in employment law, company policies, etc., and quite frankly, they don’t need to…that is what they pay us for! In HR, we are being sought out for a reason, so being there and being accessible is the first key to providing a high level of service.
- Be Responsive
Once you’ve met the first step by “being there”, what comes next? It’s time to respond. Your response will demonstrate whether you were really “there” and if you heard and understood the need. In my opinion, there are two major components of a response: speed and content. How quickly do you respond to voice mails and emails? Early in my career, I worked under a customer service standard of “if I receive a message before 12pm, I respond by the end of day….after 12pm, by 12pm the next business day.” Today, I still try to respond to non-urgent issues in this same manner. The response may be that I don’t yet have an answer yet but will get back to you. This is letting the person know that their message was received and that I will be responding. The other important component is the actual content of your response. Did you answer their question? Did you provide them with other resources? Did you offer to answer additional questions? Providing complete and timely responses is not just good customer service, but it should also be a goal to strive for in all aspects of your life whether it responding to employees, a relative or a friend…just be responsive!
- Take Ownership
Due to the complexity of our human resources profession, in many larger organizations our HR functions are often segmented into functional groups where practitioners are referred to as “specialists.” This can help these individuals and teams develop expertise within complicated functions, but it can also lead to the classic “silo effect.” Unfortunately, I’ve worked in several offices where the common response to inquiries was, “sorry, you’ll need to call…” (translation: not my problem!) I get it, I may work in “Talent Acquisition” and you work in “Payroll” but for the person calling, they are calling “HR.” It may be nuanced, but when I receive an inquiry that is outside of my functional area, I try to respond with something like this:
“Thanks for contacting our office with your payroll question, I am including Jenny our Payroll & Benefits Specialist in my reply as she would be the person best able to respond to you.”
Now this may appear that I’m “passing the buck” but rather, I’m notifying my colleague that there is a question that they should answer, it lets the customer know that we received their inquiry and that we will be responding, and hopefully lets the customer know that in the future, payroll questions can be best answered by Jenny. This approach is in contrast to some that I have seen (recently) which have looked more like:
“I’m not in Payroll, you’ll need to contact Jenny.”
“Hey, Jenny someone has a Payroll question, can you tell them not to call me!?!”
If you are an “HR Department of One”, for better or worse, ownership is not an issue; but in a larger organization, having a sense of ownership for the whole team, not just your functional area, can provide a more positive customer experience.
- Be Realistic (under promise, over deliver)
To respond appropriately, we need to know what we “can and cannot do.” Like it or not, in HR we work under sets of rules, policies and laws. If you are like me, you try to do what you can within these constraints, but it helps no one if we make promises that we cannot keep. For a simple example, promising that you will respond to someone in the next day knowing that you will be out on vacation for the next week is probably not a recommended response and will just result in a frustrated customer. Where HR professionals can really get into real hot water is when they promise things that they truly have no control over. We cannot always say “yes” to every employee request, so look for options and alternatives, show genuine empathy with your customers, but most importantly, be realistic.
- Follow Up
Do you follow up on issues, or do you just assume that they are resolved and move on to the next? I realize that workload and time constraints do not always allow for through follow up, but when you are able, I have found that this provides an even higher level of customer service to our employees when we are able to check back on them. I am not able to do so in all cases, but I do try to put reminders on my calendar to follow up on issues that I previously dealt with. A simple email or phone call just to “check in” on an employee shows them that their issue was important, that they should have confidence in contacting our office, and shows them that they matter. Our goal when dealing with our internal customers should not be to just get them off the phone or out of our office, but truly resolve their issues. Sometimes this means taking time to follow up to make sure the issue was resolved or that no other related issues have emerged. Finding the time to follow up provides a great return on that investment in time.
In closing, there are so many ways that we as human resources professionals can make a positive impact on our employees and our organizations by remembering some basic customer service concepts. It’s not always enough to the process the transaction, file the form, or fill the requisition…taking the effort to remember that our employees are our internal customers is what can help transform an average human resources team into one that takes it to the next level toward world class service. Employees will notice this, and some simple interactions human resources can ripple positively throughout the organizations.
It all starts by “Being There.”