Ready To Invest In New Technology? Here Are Some Questions To Ask

What did you do the last time you invested in a new HR system?

If you’re at all similar to the thousands of other HR leaders that have gone through the process, you probably assembled an inter-departmental group from across the company and began creating lists of all the features anybody suggested.

Like other companies, that list probably didn’t include such vendor questions as:

  • What is the turnaround time on resolving system problems?
  • What is the turnover in your customer support staff?
  • Can we request a change in our primary customer representative?
  • When do we have to pay for system upgrades? Can we refuse an update and still receive support?

An article in the September issue of the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership addresses the issue of post-sale service and support for HR technology systems. The article (available only by subscription) talks about the advice experts like Leighanne Levensaler of Bersin and Associates and HRchitect’s Rick Fletcher and Matt Lafata have for companies planning an investment in HR technology. (Incidentally, they all agree that mere lists of features is the WRONG way to go.)

They, and, surprisingly, the vendors I spoke with for the article, all agree that the most overlooked area in systems acquisition is customer service.

After the system is up and running, the most important feature becomes service and support. That the systems have user-defined fields and configurable screens matters hardly at all if you can’t get the vendor to help you batch post job listings to multiple sites.

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That’s why Andrew Curtis, director of customer support at iCIMS, suggests that once you’ve got a short list of vendors, and are making a decision, the post-sale support and service “should carry a 100 percent weight.”

OK. So that might be overkill, but SilkRoad technology’s COO, Brian Platz, says, “How much weight would I give to post-sale issues? I would give it 50 percent of my criteria.”

Now that you’ve got some sense of just how important the post-sale service is, how do you go about checking out the vendor? The Journal article offers more detail, but here are some tips from the consultants and vendors.

Who to interview when checking references

  • A regular system user in HR. For talent acquisition systems, this is probably a senior recruiter, or lead.
  • The primary liaison between the user and the vendor. This may be the project lead or the “go to” person, but not necessarily.
  • The user’s in-house tech support system. Large companies may have an HR tech specialist. Most others will not, but they may have one person who has more specialized knowledge of the system than other techs. In the smaller companies, there may not be an IT support person. In this case, find out who gets asked the “How do I do this” questions.

What to ask

  • Does the vendor have a single support contact person for the user? How often does the contact change?
  • Is the vendor proactive? Is the vendor interested in how you are using the system? Do you get advice and tips on improving efficiency? How regularly do you hear from the vendor, not counting sales calls?
  • How often is training offered? How effective is it? What’s the method of training?
  • Is there a portal where training materials are available, information is posted, updates are announced, and especially, is there a user forum or online discussion where users regularly exchange information? (Ask the vendor for access to it and see what users say.)
  • How long does it take to get through to a live person when you have a support call? What is the quality of the response? What has been your experience when the problem is more complex than the first-level support person can handle?
  • How long does it take to get a call back in an emergency situation?
  • What do you like most about working with this vendor?
  • Would you use this vendor again?

Tips

  • For the demo, ask the sales team to bring a support person or client relations manager. Sales will bring along the best person they have. That’s the person you want to insist on as your own contact.
  • Specify in the Service Level Agreement that you have the right to approve and change the support contact or client rep.
  • Require that the lead implementation person remain onsite (if an on-premises installation) or otherwise be available for a period of time after going live with a new system.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.

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5 Comments on “Ready To Invest In New Technology? Here Are Some Questions To Ask

  1. John, you are absolutely dead on right. Over our 30-plus years of delivering technology solutions to the staffing and recruiting industry, I’ve seen time and again the value of exemplary post-sales service and support to the success and even the survival of those firms. The supportive relationship between customer and technology vendor has to be a partnership that fosters mutual success over time. Anything less reduces the effectiveness of the solution and the success of the firm employing it.

  2. John
    Although you’re right that package selection committees have historically under-emphasized post-sale issues, the core problem lies not with the selection processes or with the vendor support but with the outdated demand/supply business model of enterprise HR software.

    Business owners have become as resentful of these costly internal committees as they have of the technology vendors themselves. They want HR solutions that are free, provide value instantly and leave their options for support open.

    Gregg Dourgarian
    CEO, Tempworks

  3. John- Nice post, great topic, totally agree with your findings as they are parallel to what we are hearing in the marketplace. Also, kudos iCims and Silkroad for taking support seriously and investing in their customers’ success.

    Currently, our support issues are handled by our product management team as they are the most familiar with the product and because we want them to see where customers are getting stuck, confused, hung up etc. After we fully address a support ticket/ issue, we discuss the issue at weekly design review meetings to see if we can alleviate the problem for all of our users through design enhancements.

    There is another issue at play here – product design. If HR technology vendors designed smarter, easier-to-use products, with less features and less need for customization then subsequently support wouldn’t be such a major buying issue.

    Finally, Gregg’s comment is really telling. There is no doubt that friction exists between buyers and sellers in the HR technology space. It is up to the sellers/ vendors to fix this problem. In time, this will be done by designing better products and by delivering these better products with a smarter business models that don’t create animosities. I would start with non-punitive contracts and cancellation policies, pay-as-you-go services, all inclusive pricing plans, and more affordable, less risky pricing. After all, technology is getting less expensive to deliver and better infrastructure means better reliability. It’s time customers benefit from this- not just vendors. More value- less talk!

  4. Just to echo one of your sentiments, customer service is a prime reason to choose your HR software. More than just the implementation to get customer’s investment up and running, vendors need to understand the clients recruiting style and help them tailor the experience. Without that you’re probably using 10% of an otherwise amazing system.

  5. I do not entirely agree with forcing a vendor to change the support person. This could adversely affect the customer and vendor’s ability to solve problems. Most vendors will quickly agree with a customer and identify when a support relationship is not working and make the change. In some cases, especially if done without thorough consideration, you can do a diservice to the customer by taking a qualified support person away based on a solvable problem. In the past, I have always tried to model support teams to match skillsets to customers. If forced to change the rep that is most qualified to support a customer, it could actually further harm the relationship. A better service to a customer might be to identify the behavior challenge and rectify that.

    When it comes to references, I think it is critical to evaluate the project team on both sides as well because tha reflects the vendors and csutomer’s culture. Vendors and customers are only human and a full understanding of the chemistry might help to identify if the vendor may have had some challenges out of their control.

    Some questions I might add:
    For the reference side:
    – What did your internal project team look like?
    – Who were your project sponsors?
    If there were any negatives about the vendor:
    – Were your processes and business requirements fully outlined before you began the project?
    Note: This is critical for any vendors success. Many great vendors have lost credibility for things out of their control.

    Questions about Vendor:
    – Were the resources provided industry experienced?
    – Did the vendor provide a clear project roadmap with milestones and deliverables for both parties?
    – Did the vendor clearly identify budget concerns early?
    (note: I have never heard of a project that didn’t at some point have budget concerns that needed discussion. Find out how they were handled and make sure the vendor was willing to communicate early.)

    Thanks, Michael Brandt

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