Service Before Strategy

Last Saturday, I spent hours (and hours and hours) at Walmart. Why? I have a complex relationship with the oil change process. Take it to Jiffy Lube and you get the annoying upsell. Take it to the dealership and you have to either plan ahead or drop it off and leave it most of the day. Walmart? You walk in, drop off your car, buy some groceries, and pick up your car on the way out, paying a reasonable price for your oil change. Or, that’s the way it’s supposed to work in theory.

When I called to check on the wait time, the guy on the phone, Fred, told me it would be an hour and 45 minutes. His tone of voice, while not unfriendly, said, “Don’t come in.”

Of course, I disregarded his advice. I’d been putting this off for weeks, and the idea of facing a busy Jiffy Lube + hard sell vs. a busy Walmart + lack of a sense of urgency had me erring on the side of not being in a hurry. I was rewarded with an agonizingly long wait, and a check-the-box mentality among the folks helping me get something I needed. Ultimately, I got the job done, but I left questioning whether the folks at the tire and auto department really wanted any customers at all.

How many times has our front line given off this attitude and provided this low level of service in HR? We have a captive internal customer, someone who needs something that only we can give them. They are much worse off than I was last Saturday, in that they can’t choose a competitor to satisfy their needs. Employees come to us asking for help, and they should be able to expect for us to provide it promptly, kindly and correctly…except when they can’t. Sometimes we in HR don’t even have what’s needed to solve a problem. We may feel burned out, unnoticed and undervalued ourselves, so that’s what we turn on our internal customers. We may even complain about them, ridicule them, and convince ourselves they don’t deserve our best service.

Rather than simply blame the front-line HR service providers and accept the mantle and reputation of HR mediocrity that other teams in the organization tend to place on us, we need to take it up a few levels. There are several things we’re doing to perpetuate this lack of service:

·       Tolerating poor service delivery from long-time employees who have a depth of knowledge in our processes and history, that we haven’t bothered to document or cross-train

·       Failing to allocate critical resources to the departments where they are needed; telling our front-line employees to “deal with it” when they are understaffed and overloaded

·       Neglecting technology needs that would make delivering and receiving HR services more efficient, pleasant and accurate

·       Allowing a “pass the buck” mentality among service delivery taking place in siloes of specialty in HR, instead of facilitating and rewarding teamwork among departments in HR Operations, and promoting a focus on the internal customer, not passing off tasks

Neglecting the basic need for flawless execution in HR Operations service discredits all of HR, makes building credibility and trust more difficult, and fails to meet the expectations of our workforce. We must focus on delivery of these services first and foremost, whether through third-party services, our own internal HR staff, or technology, before we can move on to the important strategic work through which we can deliver success to the business.  


Photo credit: yonkershonda via / CC BY-SA