Want to be a commercial HR leader? Then focus on the three Cs

4 minute read

Customer, culture and communication: these are the keys to a commercial HR function, says Jeremy Campbell, chief commercial officer of HR and payroll solutions provider SD Worx

SD Worx

For Life. For Work.

Sian Harrington

engagement customer service revenue

It’s been a long day and all you want to do is to get home, have dinner with the family and re-energise ready for tomorrow. But when you turn up at the train station you find it is closed. Not only that but every train line home is down. You seek a staff member to find out what is going on and, more importantly, advise how you can get home. But when you find one all you get is a shrug and “it’s not our fault”.

This, says Jeremy Campbell, chief commercial officer at SD Worx, is a classic example of poor customer service and employee engagement, and a typical missed opportunity. It’s one he's experienced. The employees are right, it is not their fault. They are not empowered to help customers by giving a refund or organising a bus. All they can do is deal with angry and frustrated customers, tired at the end of a working day.

Where’s HR in this scenario? Nowhere. And that’s the rub. For, says Campbell, if HR wants to be more commercial, it needs to put itself firmly in the customer’s shoes while empowering employees with the information and tools to deal with frontline situations like this.

Moments of truth

At SD Worx these situations are called moments of truth. “When the customer doesn’t like something, it’s the moment you have to show how good or bad you are,” explains Campbell. To do this, HR needs to adopt a customer-centric mindset, open to the most critical feedback.

“If you want to understand what is going on in your business and with your employee engagement you have to go and talk to customers,” he says. “The people and engagement agendas go hand in hand with customer centricity. If you listen to your customers and colleagues long enough, they’ll tell you how to run the business.”

Campbell has had both HR and commercial roles at SD Worx and says the company has worked hard on understanding the link between the engagement of its employees, its net promoter scores and revenue retention. This link is critically important and SD Worx’s evidence finds that a highly engaged workforce produces great customer service, more retention of revenue and new customers.


To get to this, customer centricity has to be central to culture. “It’s about getting the mindset that every single interaction with the customer is important,” says Campbell. Here HR has a key role. “It can make a huge impact to any organisation by helping to change the culture,” says Campbell, though he acknowledges that culture has to start at the top. “If the CEO and board are not really customer-centric, you have a problem.”

He illustrates a customer-centric mindset through the simple email out-of-office message.

“When you set up your out-of-office reply, do you think you have got to write something professional and courteous or do you use it as a way of reflecting your culture and who you are as an organisation?”

The typical email

Communication bad

“How does this make you feel as a customer? Basically, it says, I’m out of the office, good luck!”

The customer-centric email

Communication good

“This approach is simple and costs nothing but is a massive reflection of who we are as an organisation. We work in an incredibly competitive arena, and could just be the difference that makes people want to work with us.”

If your internal communications cannot be used externally, why not?

The internal message should be reflected externally if you are taking a customer-centric perspective. Take your company values. If these are good enough to communicate internally, then you should be able to communicate them externally. “If you generally believe them you should be able to share them outside as well as inside. If not, then they are just something you are putting on the wall,” says Campbell, who notes that any SD Worx presentation to prospects includes the company values at the beginning.

Transparent internal communication is also essential in creating a customer-centric organisation, Campbell adds. Leaders needs to make themselves available and take accountability for any changes in the business rather than hiding in head office. “You have to become persistent in communicating and you want feedback. The best communication days we have had is when we get hammered by our colleagues.”

Who does it well?

Zappos is as a good example of a customer-centric business, says Campbell. Its mantra is that it is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.

“If you ingrain that into your organisation, seeing yourself as a service organisation and whatever you do as a by-product, it takes you to a totally different place,” says Campbell.

Customer centricity, culture and communications. If you put these at the heart of what you do as an HR leader, you will put to bed the argument about where HR adds value to business.

Published 7 November 2018. Jeremy Campbell was speaking at The People Space’s How to Become a More Commercial HR Leader event, which SD Worx sponsored

The people and engagement agendas go hand in hand with customer centricity. If you listen to your customers and colleagues long enough, they’ll tell you how to run the business

Enjoyed this story?
Sign up for our newsletter here.