Cloud-based HRIS service models: how to tell if service was built around you

By Dave Lewis, Chief Operating Officer

If you’re among the many HR managers and directors using a cloud-based HRIS, I’d venture a guess that you often deal with your partner’s customer service department. However, the frequency of your service contact isn’t nearly as indicative of a positive relationship/right HRIS fit as the outcomes of those calls. For instance, how often does your cloud-based software service representative ask, “How can I help you?” It’s the question every customer service employee asks regardless of industry or location. In fact, it’s a question many of our customer service reps may have asked you at one point or another. It’s Polite, short, and in theory, service oriented.

But I know a guy who hates that question. When he first told me about his heated sentiments on such a mundane question, I thought, “whoa dude, time for a hobby.” But then I thought about it for a while. Really, it’s a pretty vague question; it’s definitely generic; and is it really that helpful? The more I thought about it, the more I realized, “that really puts the burden of service back on the customer.”

Most customer service relationships, whether in B2B or B2C environments, are in a constant state of change. From restaurants to store to doctor’s office, calling a 1-800 number or dealing with a vendor presents a real possibility that you’ll be dealing with a different person every time. Too frequently, the conversation starts from zero. So, if the rep doesn’t know you, and you don’t know them, how can you collectively jump right to a solution – which is pretty much what the question, “how can I help you,” proposes?

In our industry – SaaS HR (integrated with payroll and time & attendance)– service models vary widely. But often, service models exist to troubleshoot product issues. But simply addressing the problem in front of you does little to help you better learn deep functionality, creative ways to use the software or make you a more efficient user. The truth is, we usually end up gaining business from a lot of companies fed up with this model. If you’re in the market for a cloud-based HR solution, start with service. It may not be your first priority, but it will quickly become your most or least favorite part of your new relationship. The best companies know it’s far easier to keep a customer than to acquire a new one, and it’s pretty easy to tell whether a company wants to acquire your business to meet quarterly numbers or to service it for a long-term, mutually-successful relationship.

Here are the top indicators that your SaaS partner values the second S:

Do you know who to call? There are some pretty impressive trends on breaking down service silos. In Forrester’s Top 15 Trends for Customer Service in 2013, (, the analyst firm flags the breakdown of service silos and “a more collaborative environment with subject-matter experts to increase first-contact resolution rates” as growing over the last few years. We agree. But you should still have more than a number to call. Do you have multiple paths to success? Multiple ways to learn? Do you have a clear means to communicate your challenges so you can reach these subject-matter experts fast? No one person at a software company has all the answers, but they should have the processes in place to make it easy to find them. This is especially important considering another Forrester trend that shows nearly 30% of companies are expressing interest in outsourcing operations.

Having the support of multiple experts is great. But the pass-along is not. I don’t want to tell four people at Verizon why my phone isn’t working, and you don’t want to tell your story over and over again either. How is your vendor accountable for your satisfaction? How can you provide feedback, voice concerns, or repeat prior success? If you don’t have multiple paths to success, the burden sits with you to tell your story over and over again until you reach the right person.

What kinds of questions do you get asked? Yes, you called to get a problem fixed, but as service evolves, the job of the rep may not be to do exactly what you asked. I’ll say that again. The job of a good service rep is not always to do what you asked. In a complex product and a maturing industry, the customer isn’t always right. In fact, I’ve seen reps get into a lot of trouble trying to do exactly what a customer thinks they want. The best service reps don’t try to figure out what the customer wants, they try to identify the customer’s pain. This is especially true in new rollouts.

Maybe processes were disrupted. Maybe data isn’t where you expected it to be. Maybe the product hasn’t been adequately adopted or used by the company. Good service doesn’t start with “what can I do for you?” It starts with, “what are you trying to do?” i.e. – what’s your desired outcome, goal or objective? Which leads me to the next point…

How does the company continually align the solution with your needs? It starts with smart sales questions about HR and business goals, how to win your business, demonstrate ROI, and all that good stuff. But technology and business alignment is elastic. It’s not a magic wand that solves all your HR challenges without human intervention or a learning curve, and anyone who tells you otherwise just sold you a bill of goods. Alignment continues in implementation as the project managers translate your objectives and processes to a new way of doing things. And it continues as service helps you better utilize functionality to meet desired outcomes.

But back to my previous point about questions, if the rep is asking what you are trying to do, they can then tell you how the solution can get you there, which may not always be exactly the same way you were thinking. Often a SaaS HR solution is purchased to change the way things are done, and even though that’s what a customer wants, change can sometimes come slowly. A service-driven partner is focused on continually aligning your needs with your investment in their technology – which will drive ROI.

In fact, they may even have roles outside of the sales team dedicated to proactively sourcing unspoken client needs. A couple of years ago, CNet even identified a growing set of titles in the SaaS world, including “VP of Customer Success.” I’ve even been kicking around the idea of changing my title to “VP of Customer Love,” but I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.

Regardless of title, a company’s overall approach to service shouldn’t change and ours hasn’t. Human resources is about people, and we use technology to strengthen the interactions between them. Can your partner say the same?

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