Strategic HR…. it’s emotional

11 May Strategic HR…. it’s emotional

As HR leaders navigate the significant changes occurring to job roles, organisational form and workforce structure, at the same time the pressure is on to deliver strategic value to the organisation as part of the customer value chain.

Strategic HR involves deploying talent strategies that enable the strategic plan of the organisation. Customer Engagement is at the top of every CEO’s priority list. The single biggest impact on company revenue is customer acquisition and retention. The rise of the Customer represents a significant opportunity for HR to contribute strategic value and impact the bottom line.

The key is for HR to align talent strategies with customer strategy. HR strategies in relation to recruitment, development and engagement of staff that place the customer at the centre of decision-making and initiatives, are those that have the greatest opportunity to impact the bottom line and contribute strategic value.

Businesses today are relying heavily upon technology to automate transactional customer service tasks. Slowly but surely, automated and self-service platforms are replacing human interaction. However, the need for the “human touch” in customer service remains as important as ever.

This is because when the limits of self-service have been reached customers insist on being connected to the “best agents” – experts who can answer the difficult questions and who treat customers as unique individuals with distinct needs. Digital platforms simply can’t provide this same level of tailored service.

The new front line

The type of person required on the front line of organisations has evolved. Customers can get information online and complete basic transactions using technology. So when they have a problem or are seeking a personalised solution to meet their unique needs, they expect a different type of person to show up.

Customers now expect a highly engaged, empowered and emotionally fit person to show up to deliver an immediate solution based on their individual situation.

At the same time, frontline employees are under a new type of pressure to deliver a brand experience worthy of praise on each and every customer interaction; irrespective of the customer’s situation. More and more frontline agents are experiencing the ‘social bleed’ from the community in their customer interactions. People in financial and/or mental distress, vulnerable members of the community and customers with social and mental health issues, mean front line employees need to be equipped with a toolkit of emotional management skills to ensure their wellbeing and performance.

Employee Engagement

The rise of digital means that a company’s brand power now sits with the voice of the customer. Online forums are where customers evaluate product and service based on what other’s experience has been. And it’s not possible to deliver a great customer experience unless the person serving them is highly engaged.

Highly engaged employees deliver that ‘plus one’ discretionary effort that makes a customer feel valued. It’s not possible to have engaged customers without engaged employees. When HR invests in recruitment, development and engagement initiatives that create a highly engaged front line, this has a direct impact on the organisation’s performance.

Emotional Fitness

However having highly engaged employee on the front line doesn’t guarantee a great customer experience. Frontline agents need to have the soft skills to understand the customer’s unique situation, empathise and create an emotional connection. They need to have a unique psychological makeup that enables them to ‘tune in’ to each and every customer time and time again. The emotional resilience to remain energised in a role that has a high ‘emotional labour’ content and the ability to quickly ‘reset’ after a difficult customer interaction. This ‘Emotional Fitness’ can be recruited for and developed. HR leaders who invest in building the emotional fitness of their front line can expect to see reduced attrition, less unplanned leave and better customer experiences follow.


A new type of leader of front line teams has emerged in the context of the increasing importance of both customer and employee engagement. The emotional fitness of leaders is just as important as the emotional fitness of front line employees. Leaders who can connect emotionally with their employees, translate the strategic agenda of the organisation into high performance on the front line and deliver an experience to employees that makes them feel valued and understood is critical. The role of the frontline leader is a challenging one. It’s fast paced, there’s often a large number of direct reports and the emotional labour aspect of their employee’s roles means there’s a range of ‘people’ challenges to manage. Leaders who have emotional resilience, behavioural agility and customer centricity are essential. This emotional fitness profile can be recruited for and developed but it doesn’t happen by accident.


HR has a critical role to play as part of the customer value chain in an organisation. With the rise of the customer, recruiting, developing and engaging employees in a customer centric manner is a now a fundamental requirement of HR. Yet some organisations are struggling to align HR practices with the organisation’s customer strategy. Those that place emotional fitness at the forefront of recruitment and development practices are streets ahead.

By viewing employee engagement and customer engagement as intrinsically linked and leveraging emotional fitness as a new type of competency HR can significantly impact the bottom line.