Many of us reading this attended the 2016 HR Technology Conference and Exposition, which was held in Chicago last week. There were hundreds of vendors showcasing their products and thousands of attendees walking the expo floor. Being a former analyst, I immediately noticed two things – two themes, in fact, that have been prominently recurring since 2013:
- Virtually every HR technology provider is hitting the same notes as its peers: we offer an integrated end-to-end cloud human capital management system that can do everything for you, and with the right configuration, maybe even bake you a carrot cake. Or a variation of that – maybe without the baking part.
- As for the practitioner and HR executives roaming the halls, my conversations yielded a familiar tone of confusion from all the noise. One HR executive from a mid-sized non-profit told me: “All these vendors sound the same to me. I am here looking to learn about what could make sense for my company, and here are all these providers – some I didn’t even know existed – telling me they have everything I need in my HR system.”
While it is absolutely not true that all the applications on the market are identical, let’s assume all the marketing noise is true. Let’s close our eyes for 5 seconds…1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Wake up and voila – every human capital management solution provider now offers the same application – awesome usability, no more spreadsheets, compliance, real-time everything, 100% availability/uptime, perfect reports, etc. Basically we created a commodity where technology has leveled the field. Now what? What should we choose? Putting price aside, commoditizing the product will logically beg the need to differentiate on the experience with the vendor.
In the realm of human capital management, plenty of the proverbial ink has been spilled about the employee experience and the candidate experience. You can even search TLNT/ERE and find over 100 of them over the last couple of years. There are even awards for the candidate experience. However, very little has been discussed about the experience of the buyer and superuser of HR technology. For our purposes, I want to specifically focus on the HR executive(s) or practitioner(s) who primarily own the relationship with the vendor.
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Earlier this year, I had the privilege to attend a marketing event hosted by Forrester Research. The event was highly focused on the customer experience. In one of the keynotes, a Forrester analyst highlighted in a discussion about a B2C customer experience something called “creating memorable moments for the customer.” Immediately, this stuck with me and got me thinking about how Ceridian does that for our clients and how can all vendors create memorable moments for HR executives and practitioners. How can vendors create a customer experience beyond the technology?
- Listen: This is where it starts and ends. Providers must act as a true partner and clients need to be treated as a member of the company. Most vendors monitor discussion forums and social media, and some even have a portal where clients can nominate ideas to be built by the product. This is great but not really proactive. Being proactive is where vendors drop the ball. Encourage customer success managers to have a regular call with clients monthly or quarterly to discuss the overall experience with the company without going through detailed tickets or support issues.
- Understand what makes them successful: We all have career aspirations, and HR professionals… wait for it… DO TOO! Vendors – namely customer success managers – need to develop a relationship where customers can share their goals. Whether they are seeking a promotion or rolling out a new HR initiative where they need research and best practices, vendors can help since we have access to numerous research areas that our clients may not know about or be able to access.
- Be transparent: Yes, transparency is about communicating back the actions resulting from a NPS survey, and announcing what features have been agreed to by the vendor to be included in the next release. But it is also about being clear about the company vision and future. Customers need to understand the itinerary of their journey in order to see how this partnership will help them.
- Connect them with peers and walk away: Even HCM technology providers are starting to invest in collaboration, peer-to-peer learning and other social features in their products because it is clearly an effective vehicle to change behavior and add value. Why don’t we do it for our clients? Customer community portals and hubs should be completely open and the vendors managing them should act as facilitators rather than moderators. Allow clients – whether or not they started or completed their implementation – to learn from each other. Change management is one of the hottest topics among our Dayforce clients – getting people to use the software and ensuring it is used properly. They should also be able to have conversations beyond just the product. What industry events make sense to attend? Should I chair my local SHRM chapter? Where do you get your thought leadership content? Anything that helps them be better HR practitioners should be encouraged.
- Show them that you appreciate your own people: Clients, and especially HR people, know how a vendor treats its own people. They check Glassdoor, they find former employees on LinkedIn, and they are good at reading people. We need to keep an employee focus too. In addition to engagement and retention – no one likes turnover when it comes to primary contacts – employee appreciation, especially at customer events, go a long way. Showing our customers that we are rewarding customer-focused employees is paramount.
- Listen again: We said this is where it starts, but listening is where it ends – more appropriately begins again since the customer experience isn’t a linear process and should never end. By definition, memorable moments are something remarkable, extraordinary and in order for us to continue to be remarkable for our clients, we need to listen to know what’s working and what’s not. How are we doing in all the above? Do our customers feel that their voices are heard? Do they feel that we understand what makes them successful? Do they view us as transparent? Are we giving them enough opportunity to network? Are we empowering our people to better serve them? The answers to these questions will help us be better partners and ensure we are creating more memorable moments for them.
What about us – the vendors? What do we get out of all of this? The answer is advocacy. Creating memorable customer moments will turn our customers into advocates, and this is the holy grail of marketing. Having a booth at a major show, sexy demos, collateral, and other signage saying you can do everything for your clients is becoming less and less of a differentiator. The most effective way to promote yourself is having others do it for you by sharing these memorable moments. My colleague Howard Tarnoff, SVP of Customer Success at Ceridian, sums it up: “Our success is only equal to the sum of our customers’ successes.”