Hello PPMA members and friends

Our blog post this week has been written by our good friend Peter Reilly from IES (Institute for Employment Studies) and as always gives us some food for thought.

As a vicar might say at Christmas time, ‘my theme today’ is HR customer service, but I’m examining it through the lens of the Post Office/Royal Mail and their customer service offer (not least because at this time of year their services are more in demand and their quality more evident).

What I’m about to say will no doubt seem unfair to those fine organisations and to the government whose actions seem to have induced recent changes. Yet in a way unfairness is irrelevant to my point: this post (pun intended) is all about customer reactions and nothing to do with a logical corporate vision.

What I am about to describe may have happened in your town. Following the closure of sub post offices that has inconvenienced customers, the split between the Post Office and Royal Mail has led to further frustration. The full business logic of the organisational separation meant that facilities under Royal Mail’s control could not seemingly be offered under the Post Office’s auspices. Thus the mail box in the wall of the post office was closed and a new pillar box built 50 yards away (inconveniently across a busy road). The parcel collection office in the post office was closed and we were invited to collect parcels in another busy town 5 miles away. Finally, rather than the posties having rounds at set times of the day we have the flexibility of delivery at random hours delivered by unknown agents.

The customers were not happy and made their feelings known. Whether in response or as part of an original plan I don’t know, but the consequence has been the building of a pillar box inside the post office (!) and a parcel collection point at one of the service counters of the post office. Nothing has changed in flexible delivery.

What you might say has this got to do with HR’s service delivery model? The answer is HR transformation. One important, indeed dominant part, of HR transformation has been structural change. Like the split between the Post Office and Royal Mail, HR transactional activity has been separated from expert help and strategic business support through the creation of shared services, centres of expertise and business partners. For many customers this logical segmentation has removed a one stop shop and replaced it by fragmentation. The customer has to work out where to ask, who to speak to and what sort of questions to frame, depending on where on the administrative to strategic, specialist to generalist scales it sits. They too get their services in a flexible delivered by the most available agent, be in through a contact or service centre.

As I have argued elsewhere , much of this change has been delivered to suit functional needs (cost reduction) rather than customer. Moreover, the level of customer consultation has often been weak to non existent. Managers and employees have been presented with a fait accompli, justified on the basis of an improved service (sic) or, more honestly, a cheaper service.

The comparisons with the Post Office and Royal Mail should now be obvious. The match is even stronger where you see HR Directors adding back in resource to deal with the gaps in service provision pointed out by their customers – often operational support to close the gap in the middle (the ‘polo’ problem ii).

When will we learn to take a more consumer and less producer view of the world, and when will we learn to model change before implementation.

This brings us to the same problems that can occur with the e-enablement of HR processes with added dimensions of depersonalisation and disenfranchisement of the offline community. But that will have to wait for another post….next Christmas.

Peter Reilly

Director, HR Research & Consultancy, IES

Reilly P (2012) ‘Transforming HR to support strategic change’ in Francis H, Holbeche L, Reddington M, People and organisational development, CIPD
ii Reilly, P (2006), Falling between two stools, People Management, 23 November