The role of HR in customer experience

Professor Steven Van Belleghem explores the link between HR and customer experience.

I was recently asked a question about the role of HR management and employer branding in customer experience management. It’s a great question. There is a very important link between HR management and customer experience, and it’s one that I believe is too often underestimated.

In the current climate, if you want to excel in the field of customer experience, you need to focus on three pillars of your business: the right processes towards your customers, customer measurement and the culture within your company. Of these, I would argue that culture is by far the most important aspect, and culture is led by the HR department.

If you were to ask me, ‘Who is mainly responsible for creating happy customers?’, I would always say it’s HR, because HR creates the context, the mindset within the business that ultimately leads to good customer experience. It is HR that recruits the people who will contribute to and reinforce this mindset.

People always say that happy employees make for happy customers, so in this sense HR is crucial. This is often forgotten or underestimated, and HR is seen as having an operational role rather than the leading role it deserves in the whole field of customer experience and the overall success of the business.

Digital transformation in the workplace is now increasingly related to artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive evolution. Many employees are worried about being replaced by computers, and with the imminent arrival of, for example, driverless cars, their fears are not entirely misplaced. AI is going to have a big impact on the workplace as we currently know it, changing both workflow and types of employment.

However, it is essential to remember that HR plays a crucial role here, since it is humans who differentiate between a good customer experience and an average one. In a digital environment where genuine human interaction is increasingly scarce, humans will always be the winning element of a business. Jobs for humans will need to focus on the emotional – the role of empathy, of creativity and of passion.

As an example, I’m a happy client of KLM and fly their routes regularly. All of their flights are good. Some are exceptionally good, and in these cases the flight will make my day. They’re not exceptional because of the planes, though. Of course not – it’s the crew that makes the difference. KLM’s crew are always obliging, happy and polite – but sometimes they are also enthusiastic about their roles, beyond what the job demands. It is this enthusiasm that makes their customer service exceptional.

It is HR that must lead the necessary human transformation, to develop the understanding that humans are the key differentiator in customer experience. This will reinforce the position of the HR department within companies, and keep the culture game at the fore of business development.

I believe that companies that move wholesale from human resources to AI will be replacing a strength with a weakness. If an organisation’s key priority is to replace human capability with AI capability, the business will suffer for it – I predict that within a year or so, customers of that business will notice a significant fall in the quality of customer experience. They will shift their custom elsewhere, and it will be really hard to win back that lost ground.

The challenge for companies is to manage the digital and human transformations side by side; and the human aspect should be led by HR. So motivate your HR people to consider how they can play a role in this human transformation… They might be onto a winner.

Professor Steven Van Belleghem is an expert in customer focus in the digital world. He’s the author of the award-winning book When Digital Becomes Human, published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99. Follow him on Twitter at @StevenVBe, subscribe to his videos at or visit