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3 ways my HR career prepared me for my customer-facing role

Toya Del Valle

Chief Customer Officer, Cornerstone

Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of fields. My first role after undergrad was as an elevator sales consultant. After that, I joined the airline industry, and during my time there transitioned from customer care to operations and human resources. And for 15 years now, I’ve worked in HR, leading talent and recruiting teams focused on the tremendous possibility and contributions of people.

When I joined Cornerstone over eight years ago, I was able to take my critical HR skills and apply them to a new area for me — customer success. Now, I find myself embarking on the next step in my career as Cornerstone’s Chief Customer Officer.

I’m genuinely thrilled about this new role, and honestly, I feel more confident than ever. The combination of skills I’ve learned throughout my career in HR — empathy, grit and perseverance — and the skills I’ve learned serving our customers around the world have enabled me to anticipate their needs.

I recently collaborated with some of our customers and colleagues in Paris, and the energy our teams and customers feel for the future is contagious. During my time there, I gained first-hand knowledge from one of our customers, Danone, about their next-level workforce engagement, growth and learning opportunities. I came away from this trip even more passionate about our work and making sure our customers are always at the center.

How to be customer-first in your organization

I like to think I have a healthy “customer obsession.” I’m always thinking about what Cornerstone can do better as an HR technology provider and advisor to uncover practical ways to turn ideas into realities.

As the global workforce and economy brace for more change and challenges ahead, it’s time for every organization to be laser-focused on their customers’ needs and feedback. Based on my experience supporting both HR and customer-facing functions, here are three ways businesses can practice customer-centricity.

1) Be employee-centric first

While I might be partial, I truly think running a customer-centric business starts with being employee-centric. The way your people feel about your organization has a lot to do with how they’ll make your customers feel. If you focus exclusively on customers at the expense of employee engagement, satisfaction, growth opportunities and more, ultimately, you’ll be doing your customers a disservice.

Choosing to be an employee-centric organization can lead directly to greater customer-centricity in a powerful way. When your people are successful — continuously learning and growing and fulfilled by their jobs — their energy and excitement can come through in every customer interaction.

2) Let feedback inform your strategy, not define it

One of my favorite parts of visiting with customers is hearing what they think we can do better. It’s not always easy to have these conversations, but they can prove to be extremely helpful in guiding your strategy.

Let me give you an example. Our customers told us that they shouldn’t have to operate in a walled garden. They’re looking for technology solutions that can integrate easily with others, enabling them to have more options when choosing a solution that’s right for them. That feedback was key to why we made a couple of essential acquisitions this year — EdCast and SumTotal. They allow us to provide more choices to our customers and help them use the best technology that’s right for them.

I share this as a great example of how customer feedback can lead to impactful change and growth for the business. When a customer is willing to take the time to share valuable feedback, we must listen. But we also must be careful with feedback and avoid the instinctive response to fixevery gripe immediately.

Our job as business leaders is to listen, digest and prioritize decisions for the good of the organization and the collective customer base. I encourage us all to listen more than we speak and always be thoughtful in how we react to feedback.

3) Be a strategic advisor for your customers

Often when I meet with customers, they’re very interested to know how other Cornerstone customers are using our products — particularly new approaches to new challenges. Customers want to understand whether they might be missing something in their own approach to learning and talent development, and they also want to get ahead of anything they haven’t yet anticipated.

These conversations always remind me that our customers aren’t just looking to us for a quick transaction. They see us as experts in our field with knowledge and insights that they don’t have access to themselves. So as HR leaders, we must go beyond delivering products and services to them and excel as strategic advisors who help them unearth their challenges, strategize solutions and achieve their goals.

It’s important not to let your advisership wither after the sale. Make an effort to share trends you’re seeing among your customers, share stories of success regularly and schedule a recurring time to discuss challenges and brainstorm new approaches. You’ll gain the advantage of having your finger on the pulse of your customers’ needs, and you’ll be first in line when those needs turn into new opportunities.

A customer obsession is worth the work

Being a genuinely customer-obsessed organization takes both time and effort. But if you commit to treating your people well, listening to and prioritizing customer feedback, and consistently counseling and advising your customers, you’ll reap the rewards far greater than your investment.

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