What HR can learn from digital marketing

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 25, 2016
Salesforce and Workday consulting partner Appirio is bringing digital marketing techniques into the HR realm with the aim of improving the worker experience

There's a growing awareness, as enterprises progress with whatever digital transformation projects they're undertaking, that it has to be more than a superficial makeover. While the focus is often on improving the customer experience, if the transformation is limited to where the customer touches the enterprise, then the organization's capacity to follow through on the engagement is severely limited.

A further learning is that it has to go beyond technology. A great mobile experience to track your parcel's progress is no help at all if it's been mislaid at the depot. A social media campaign promoting helpful staff rings hollow if they haven't been empowered or incentivised to resolve customers' issues. It's essential to get the people on board and ensure the processes are there to back them up.

What this means is that any initiative to reform the customer experience has to be owned throughout the enterprise. It can never be merely a marketing, sales or customer service initiative.

Worker experience

This message has been a recent focus for cloud integrator Appirio, which is in the news after its acquisition by IT services giant Wipro was announced last week. As a Salesforce partner, Appirio has long been an advocate for the CRM vendor's emphasis on customer experience, so it's only natural that it should choose to bring a similar focus to its Workday HCM practice, with an emphasis on worker experience.

This notion is not a new idea, as Denis Pombriant pointed out only yesterday in commentary on Walmart's decision to tackle customer experience failings by paying its workers more — a century ago, Henry Ford raised wages at his car manufacturing plant. But even when workers are paid at market rates or above, there are many other aspects of their experience at work that influence their engagement with the company's goals.

Speaking at an Appirio event for customers in London last week, Greg Bohlen, senior director of strategy and digital, recommended focusing on three aspects of the work environment where digital technology has made it possible to make significant improvements:

  • Provide software that delivers a consumer-grade user experience
  • Enable flexible ways of working, particularly through mobile apps
  • Eliminate barriers to information

The third aspect has a lot to it — it's not merely about access to data, it also means changing the way communication takes place in the organization. Here, Appirio advocates adapting many of the techniques that have become common in digital marketing for use by the HR function. This is an aspect I discussed with Harry West, VP of services product management at Appirio, when we met at Dreamforce earlier this month.

Learn from marketing

West says HR teams can learn from their marketing colleagues how to use digital platforms to foster more engaged communications within the organization:

Internally a lot of HR organizations have made the mistake of imagining they can manage communications. But they're not thinking about a conversation.

So instead of running conventional employee engagement surveys that can only ever be a historic snapshot of how the workforce felt at one point in time, use social listening tools to monitor sentiment in real time, or track how often your workers refer potential candidates for job openings to get a feel for how positive they feel about their employer. Instead of sending everyone the same email whenever there's a change to HR policies, borrow digital marketing techniques to segment the workforce into interest groups and incorporate content that encourages feedback or engages attention.

Another concept borrowed from marketing is journey planning, which maps the various stages of the worker experience. It's a simple question which many enterprises have never considered, says West.

When we go in as a strategy practice to talk about worker experience, we ask what should it feel like to work for your brand?

Often, the experience that's on offer is one of repetitive form-filling, difficulty finding out information and poor communications.

When we point that stuff out, no one argues. No one's defending those processes any more.

A lot of organizations are starting to understand at a business level they have a problem.

My take

This cross-fertilization of marketing tools and techniques with HR practices is a theme that I'm hearing from several vendors. Of course Appirio has a commercial interest in promoting this message because it allows it to sell more Salesforce into its Workday accounts, and vice-versa. But it also has a business rationale for the customer, if it can be shown to improve worker engagement with the organization's goals. Enterprises are having to become more responsive across the board and it makes sense that an engaged workforce is better able to deliver that customer experience end-to-end.

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