Back in July 2010, Sainsbury’s announced that it was scrapping the HR Director role and creating instead a single role that would encapsulate HR and Customer services. The new Customer Services & Colleague Director, in addition to having one of the longest business cards, would take responsibility for HR, customer services, sponsorship, corporate responsibility, and both corporate and internal communications. A huge role then, and massive undertaking that was described by Gwyn Burr, who was promoted from the role of customer service director, as “an opportunity for HR to become much more focused on strategic delivery”.
So, fast forward 30 months to the announcement that Burr will leave Sainsburys in March 2013 and that Angie Risley, current Lloyds Bank Group HRD will take over as Sainsbury’s Group HRD. It was clear from this announcement that this also signifies a demerger of the customer service and HR roles so should we conclude that the initiative failed?
It was only in 2004 that Sainsbury’s first created the position of Customer Service Director with Justin King, then and still CEO, bringing in ex-Asda colleague Gwyn Burr to the role. At the time he felt the customer service needed to be improved dramatically and although Burr sat on the Board she remained a contractor. She also held, and continues to hold, a number of non-Executive Director roles and whilst this isn’t unusual for board members perhaps in this case it indicates that the move was always temporary.
Certainly Sainsbury’s customer service has improved and they have now moved ahead of their rivals. With various initiatives over the past few years the retailer has tackled the causes of poor customer service with training and technology initiatives as well as better use of the web and the introduction of Click-and-Collect, which has been rolled out to more than 900 stores.
The evidence would suggest that we shouldn’t read into this latest announcement that the HR/Customer Service mash-up initiative has failed. Perhaps the greater focus on strategic delivery has worked and now Sainsbury’s is simply putting in place an organization structure that will keep it moving. We will certainly be watching with interest.
This week’s People Management magazine, the HR magazine of CIPD, featured an interview with Gwyn Burr, Sainsbury’s “Customer Service and Colleague Director” in which she described the changes t the organisation since she undertook the combined role in July 2010. The role was designed by Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King specifically so that Burr could “maximise her experience and personal strengths” and I wonder if it is due to an even wider opportunity that he has seen.
Many of the areas that Burr speaks about in the interview concern her commercial skills and how these are being leveraged into HR. There is also reference to customer focussed activities that are being repurposed for colleague initiatives and mention of touch-points with customers. If the move was born of pragmatism and promoting a talented individual only I would be surprised because I think it could be an inspired decision that takes HR in a direction I have long thought it should go – Customer Experience.
So much of customer experience excellence is about the strategy surrounding and the management of the touch-points that exist between organisations and their customers. Many of these touch-points are at the mercy of individuals within the organisation who are both expensive, compared to self-service, and unpredictable. What better way to align HR strategy with customer strategy than by bringing the two together?
I attended an event recently where research was presented by Gallup that highlighted the relationship between employee engagement and customer engagement. Organisations that had either only good customer or employee engagement performed at about the same level but those that had both out-performed the others by a factor of 2:1 (or thereabouts). That might seem obvious but what was interesting was that companies that had neither good customer engagement nor employee engagement performed better than those with only good performance in one area – customer or employee engagement.
Sainsbury’s has just focussed on customer services and HR at this stage but I wonder whether they will go further and widen the responsibilities if the initiative is a success? Should they or is there the potential for stripping some of the primary value away from marketing? I’d be interested in views on this.