The learning and development (L&D) function often finds itself fighting to be 'heard at the top table'. If we're not there at the top already, then just where is L&D located within the organisation? Rob Keery dives in to the data we uncovered in our recent Role of Digital report exploring the intersection of digital transformation and customer service training. Download the full report here.
Question: Where does responsibility for Customer Service L&D sit in the organisation?
In asking this question of our interviewees we wanted to understand the level of importance attached to learning by identifying the role, level and function of the senior leader responsible for learning within the organisation. But for very few exceptions, responsibility for organisational L&D sits as a sub-team inside Human Resources function.
(The porosity of the modern HR role, its many overlaps and the radically different ways it is deployed in apparently similar organisational structures – as well as the multitude of different names used to describe it, running from People Director to Chief of Talent and covering many others on the way – is a topic to fill a report by itself.)
Whenever you have such clear consensus on a single issue, notable exceptions and anomalies can be more enlightening than the norms. One major retailer’s learning leader reports to the company’s Operations and Retail Director, and there is a clear logic to this: it provides that direct line to the top table, and aligns L&D goals to the organisation's tangible deliverables. Within progressive B2C retail-focused businesses, this means a renewed focus on productivity, customer satisfaction, and their resulting bottom-line effects: customer retention, service agreement upgrades, brand advocacy - in short, new or improved lines of revenue.
These priorities connect directly to the abilities of front line customer service agents to deal positively with complex, often emotionally heightened customer queries. In the age of 'let me Google that for you', customers often come equipped with better information at their immediate fingertips, so the customer service agent has to be able to provide a satisfying interaction while simultaneously accessing the required information to get up to speed. The nature of the customer's complaint is also a vital data point, feeding back into the top of the product development and improvement pipeline.
These place the customer service agent - and the skills and processes they need to understand - far closer to the product-focused side of the business than what we normally think of as the areas under the traditional purview of 'personnel'.
The types of knowledge and capability essential to these interactions relate, on the one hand, to products and systems; and on the other, to emotional intelligence, relationship-building, problem-solving, and other traditional 'soft skills'.
It is widely acknowledged that the L&D function touches so many other operational areas that an ability to move between departments and appeal to multiple stakeholders simultaneously is an essential informal skill for L&D leaders.
Organisational structures that allow for this flexibility are more important than any set ideas around codified ‘best practice’.