Robot with a human face. Customer service doesn’t just say a lot about the way a firm treats those on the outside, it also says a lot about the treatment of people on the inside.

organisational performance:
It’s what’s on the inside that counts

3rd December 2018

How an organisation engages with its customers says so much about how it engages with its employees. It’s time for firms to put staff at the core to help improve organisational performance.


If I was every asked to choose what to put in Room 101 it would be poor customer service. My bête noire – to use the French – is definitely feeling short changed by an organisation.

For those unfamiliar with the BBC’s Radio and TV series, the concept of Room 101 was originally the creation of British writer, George Orwell. In his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell named his torture chamber Room 101, apparently after a meeting room at the BBC where he’d often suffered endlessly long and boring meetings (we hear your pain, George, we’ve all been there, right?).

Lately, I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair bit of bad customer service and I’ve been listening to colleagues and friends around me who’ve been having similarly poor experiences.

Don’t call us and we won’t call you either

The other week, a friend complained that she had not received the outcome from a recent job interview. Having fully prepared and attended the three-stage selection process, the (not insignificantly sized) employer had failed to respond, even after an email was sent, politely requesting some sort of feedback.

Customer service doesn’t just say a lot about the way a firm treats those on the outside, it also says a lot about the treatment of people on the inside.

Sadly, bad service - whether you’re a client or a candidate - seems to be part of life these days. Not only is it frustrating for the person on the receiving end, it inevitably does little to enhance public perceptions of an organisation. Even if news of your experience doesn’t quite make the headlines, those around you normally bear the brunt, as you recall your tales of woe.

Of course, friends will often relay these stories to those in their own network and as the anecdotal net is cast wide, the chances of an organisation passing the all important “pub test” starts to diminish.

Poor customer service means poor people policies

For me, customer service doesn’t just say a lot about the way a firm treats those on the outside, it also says a lot about the treatment of people on the inside. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll often unearth underlying organisational issues. Over the years, academic researchers have relentlessly examined how HR and people management impacts a company’s competitive advantage. There’s probably not a textbook out there that won’t lay claim to the importance of the relationship between an organisation’s HR infrastructure and its fiscal performance. Yet still it falls on deaf ears.

In a study by Ayree et al (2016), they found that organisations that are highly reliant upon customer service to survive (in this case the retail banking sector), can only effectively leverage a customer orientation strategy, if managers invest in developing High Performance Work Systems (HPWS). The capabilities of staff and their levels of motivation are driven by the types of HPWS put in place. Put simply, the type of people policies a company chooses to adopt, has a knock-on effect on the ability and motivation of those within it and this impacts how customer service is delivered.

The customer is not necessarily king

In a recent interview veteran entrepreneur, Richard Branson, was quoted as saying that at Virgin, the customer comes second. This might seem a perverse comment to make, but when you read his explanation, you realise that he’s completely on the (Virgin) money.

His argument is that if you give your staff the tools to thrive and they receive the respect and trust their deserve (in short, you treat them like adults), then you will find you build an organisation that is proud of what it does. In turn, this will filter outwards and improve customer service. Employee; customer; candidate; supplier and shareholder - will all be winners.

As an HR expert, it’s hard to understand why so many businesses still struggle to join up the dots and see the bigger picture. It would be wrong to name some of the organisations I have come to know over the years, who still fail to make the link between delivering for the client and delivering for the employee. However, it’s no coincidence that many of these firms are not performing at their financial best.

If everybody looked the same

It’s encouraging to note that some organisations are moving away from the term “human resources” to “the people department”. To the outsider, the change in name may seem insignificant, but it marks a more positive approach by leaders. Unlike other resources, the human variety are inherently flawed. We don’t all arrive at the factory in neatly uniform packed boxes. We are all different.

So it’s important that managers take time to get to know their teams and understand what makes them tick. Then policies can be flexed to reflect the needs of these diverse individuals. And by putting staff at the core and building an organisation around them, leaders will improve their customer service and ultimately create the sustained competitive advantage they desire.

Robot with a human face. Customer service doesn’t just say a lot about the way a firm treats those on the outside, it also says a lot about the treatment of people on the inside.
Customer service doesn’t just say a lot about the way a firm treats those on the outside, it also says a lot about the treatment of people on the inside.