This is the new competitive battleground where businesses will live or die.
Experience economy is now firmly part of our culture. We are no longer surprised to see the General of customer experience - Mary Portas - storming the high street with floor plans, placards and a terse word to ensure we get the sort of service the great British public deserves.
If Mary is our general and customer experience is the battleground, then employees are our soldiers, which mean HR professionals need to claim the strategic foreground.
I recently attended European Customer Experience World (ECEW) to hear speakers from some of the biggest global brands (including Disney, Zappos and Metrobank) discuss how their 'customer first' strategy not only leads to happier customers, better profits and a great place to work in, but also ensured their people became loyal and vocal ambassadors for their brands.
We have also experienced this from the front line as we have helped organisations like ISG Pearce, Peabody Trust and Harbour Hotels Group implement employee and customer first strategies which have seen immediate and concrete returns.
These companies are reaping rewards because they are not frightened of embracing change and of doing things differently. No one is better placed to help companies go through this transition than the HR department - but it will take a dramatic shift in how HR professionals position themselves.
The HR strategy for a business must be aligned to the customer experience strategy, and employees should become internal customers - to be engaged with, valued and delighted just as external customers are. HR managers need a dual vision, looking outward to the end-customer and what they value as well as inwardly to what behaviours employees need to show in order to deliver this.
In this way HR departments can add greater value to the businesses success, with clear and measurable outcomes.
So, what are they key steps HR professionals need to make if they want to embrace a customer driven strategy and add further value to the business?
Set clear HR objectives and outcomes that help to solve business problems and articulate your contributions and measurements of success.
Just as a customer focused business has a compelling story which customers can identify with, so HR departments need a great story to help with internal positive perceptions and relationship building across the organisation, to be seen as serious business partners and to sell the company through recruitment stage - HR has the ability to add great value to external reputation.
Put customer intelligence at the heart of what you do. Understand best practice in your department's roles and those across the organisation. Ask internal customers how they perceive your service and make sure you provide good feedback to the business. Undertake competitor analysis.
Is it easy for your internal customers to do business with you? If you are asking employees to put customers first, so must you. Do you share what your department is doing cross-company? Are you easy to get in touch with and do you respond quickly? Can customers reach you how and when it suits them and in the manner (face to face, email, phone) which is best suited to them?
Recruit for attitude, train for skills. Focusing on recruiting staff with the right attitude and behaviours (as opposed to recruiting based on skills) is key to developing a company culture - sales from highly engaged employees can increase by 10%. Are you giving the management team the skills to do this and are you monitoring staff success?
Ensure your training strategy is focused on behavioural outcomes. Do your training plans match the needs of the employee, the business and the customer and are you measuring the impact on the business this training delivers?
Anne Blackburn (pictured), customer experience director of consultancy Sidona Group