12/03/2014 05:54 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2015

Who's Your Best Customer?

Workforces are more transient than they were a generation ago, globalization and off- or near-shoring are commonplace, and more people are looking to telecommute out of financial necessity or personal preference. In this environment, the pressures on human resources extend beyond recruitment and retention into training and organizational development, with a focus on employee and customer-oriented culture. A routine-oriented workforce has to give way to a knowledge-based workforce. This is resulting in a decrease in the overall effectiveness of traditional human resources departments across the employee life cycle, most specifically in the development and engagement of employees to further drive their own, and customer, engagement.

Many companies focus on the customer experience as a brand and business differentiator; true innovators tie that to employee performance. JetBlue has been featured in multiple case studies illustrating how the company evaluates its progress in engaging employees and tying this to measuring customer experiences. Beginning with a simple "ask," the company regularly surveys crew members about how likely they are to recommend JetBlue as a good place to work, and they ask customers how likely they are to recommend JetBlue to others. They correlate the answers across employees and customers and monitor the results to ensure an upward trend against both measures of success. Although it is a service business, JetBlue believes that only 10 percent of customers' perception of their brand is visible externally through customer interactions. The other 90 percent of brand perception is driven by the management of people, processes, policies, and organization. JetBlue has won J.D. Power and Associates airline satisfaction studies every year from 2006 to 2013. Other signs of strong customer engagement include 1.86 million followers on Twitter and close to one million likes on Facebook.

Dell tapped into social media early on, creating an employee advocacy program to engage with customers. The program is building legions of thought leaders and experts who are answering questions, thanking customers, writing blog posts, and connecting with potential hires. According to the company, the program has "certified over 10,000 employees to represent the brand on social media sites and top advocates are personally recognized by Dell's CMO and featured on their advocacy platform's 'Wall of Fame.'" The company understands that employee training and advocacy is not about marketing and sales, it part and parcel of their human resources strategy to reinvent the culture of a company by shifting "brand identity" from logos and products to its workforce as the face of the company and the DNA of its culture.

To be truly competitive in today's marketplace, company leadership will need to shift their mindset, putting their employees first with the understanding that an engaged employee leads to better, more profitable customers.

(This is an excerpt from a reported entitled, "Why the CMO Should Own HR" published by GigaOm Research and Talentedly in October 2014. Tweet #CMOHR if you would like a copy of the report.)