Nissan North America Transforms HR Services

Niamh Byrne

SSON spoke to Dwain Stevens, Sr Manager of HR operations, Nissan North America, about their North American HR Shared Services strategy and how HR Technology played a pivotal role in cutting costs and adding value.

SSON: I would like to start by asking you to explain Nissan North America’s HR shared services strategy.

Dwain Stevens:
Our strategy was not just to develop HR shared services, it was to transform human resources throughout the entire company, to add more to the business. As part of that transformation strategy, one of the end products was to develop shared services, and the strategy for the shared services was to basically standardize all the HR practices as much as possible throughout the company, as well as remove any administrative, transactional-type tasks from the HR personnel within the different locations.

How have you leveraged technology to transform HR and effectively lower costs?

In the past we didn’t have an effective way to share information with all employees that was HR-centric. We had an employee intranet, but because of the way that it was technically designed, all the employees didn’t have access to it, just certain employees. So we needed technology, a dynamic employee portal, where we could put all kinds of HR-related information, and make it available to employees 24/7. That way, when people have a question, they can look for the answer themselves via any computer—and most of our employees do have computers, whether at work or at home. What’s more, if people needed to make some sort of change that was HR or benefits-related related, they could go online, make those changes themselves and not have to wait for someone in HR to fill out the forms, enter that data, make that change and then see the change take effect later on. Online access has improved everybody’s lives—helping employees obtain the information faster, because of the transactions being faster. It has also eliminated a lot of duplicate entry and non-value-added tasks from HR.

But you moved to a different technology platform, and what was the business case for doing that?

The business case was to save money in a much more efficient and effective way. We carried out an analysis to find out how a portal could help us do that or how can a shared services center could do that. And we ran the numbers, and believed—and have confirmed—that it did make us more effective and much more efficient.

What technology requirements did you choose, and why did you choose them?

Our technology requirements were an employee portal that was available 24/7, and was available to 100 percent of our employees. We wanted single sign-on capabilities, and we wanted it to be HR-centric—in other words, we didn’t want generic or standard service center portal or call tracking technology. We wanted an integrated solution—not two separate solutions that we would have to integrate ourselves. And, again, single sign-on capabilities, which then directly tie to our HRMS system—those were the primary requirements. After extensive research, including lots of analysis, and lots of demos, we chose the Enwisen AnswerSource HR Service Delivery suite, because it met our technology requirements, and it was a great value.

Fantastic, and what were the challenges in moving to the new platform and integrating the new system?

The main challenge that any organization faces is change. Since we were basically transforming human resources, we were going to change the way in which HR services were delivered throughout the entire company. It affected employees, the managers and especially the HR people. We found that communicating what we were doing, and when and how, and doing it in a way that encouraged the employees to believe that it was going to be better for the entire company worked best. That was one of the major changes, because if you think about it, we were going to change their jobs, what they did, where they did it and the technology that they used. We basically upset their entire world. And then from the employees’ perspective, they were used to seeing HR people, more HR people in the facility answering their questions, instead of looking for information on their own. So, through the technology we encouraged employees to do more for themselves. That was a big challenge. Many people, including myself, like somebody to their my hand.

Do you think you’ve mastered that now and has it been really accepted at ground level?

I think that it has definitely been accepted, because I would say that while they don’t have any choice but they still have the HR people in the affiliates. But what HR people are doing in the plants is very different to what they were doing before. And it is still accepted because our call volume is still steady, and at times it grows. When we have HR initiatives, we do a very good job of communicating what those initiatives are—it could be a simple benefits change, it could be a massive benefits change, and it could be communications from the CEO. So when we communicate to the employees, they will call the service center. The service center has become a hub for many different types of initiatives when the employees have questions. After the initial communication goes out, they direct the calls to the service center, for those kinds of things, as long as they are routine, and it has become much more accepted.

What do you think are the major benefits of moving to the new platform, as well as integrating a multi-tier approach?

The major benefits affect different groups of people differently. From an employee’s perspective, because we have a HR portal, a lot of HR-related information—for example, policies, even cafeteria menus—directly links into their pay system. They can see their pay slips to vendors, can find all kinds of information, such as what do they do when they have a baby, get married or just life events. With that technology, it encourages people to help themselves. People want information when they want it, and don’t want to have to wait for somebody else to provide it, so it improves their quality of life.

Then when it comes to transactions, there’s less paper to fill out. For example, they don’t have to fill out the piece of paper with the change form—they do it online. So the problems of the form getting lost, or delays when somebody receives it to when somebody enters that information, are gone. It speeds up the transactional process, from the employee’s perspective.

From HR perspective, since we removed that administrative/transactional stage from some of the HR people, we’re able to focus on different types of work. We have a group of people at the HR service center that focus on the administration as well as the transactional side, but we also partner in the service center with other groups of people, like the business affiliates, when they have a major change. We are their partners in the administering the change and we are partners with expertise when it comes to the conversation of benefits. Because we have data information, we know what the employees’ questions are and we partner with them to share information to say, "here is what they like, here is what they don’t like," and they’re better able to come up with a better benefits change. And then from the business perspective, because we have become much more efficient, much more effective, we have saved money, and saved time. So, everybody wins: the employee, HR and the business.

How much you have saved since integrating the system? Or can you put a percentage on it?

I think the amount of money that we saved would be confidential, but let me say this: When we did the analysis of HR, we were in the bottom quartile of expenditures. That means we were spending more money than our peers. Since we have instituted the HR transformation, we are now in the top quartile, spending the least amount of money compared with our peers.

How long did it take you to achieve that?

The overall transformation, if you think about it from start to finish, was probably a couple of years—maybe two to three years—but the transformation to the HR service center, which really saved the most money, was probably a year and a half from start to finish. If you look at total analysis from implementation, of the technology change, and the launch the service center that was about three to three and a half months. We did a few months prep work before that.

What were some of your key performance indicators for measuring success? You have just explained cost-savings, but how are you tracking key performance indicators and how are you meeting them?

Our primary KPIs are call-center related, and then service-related. For example, how quickly we answer the phones—that’s one KPI. The other KPI is to make sure that people don’t abandon the call. So the first KPI is service levels; the second KPI is abandonment rate. And then the other key measure is first contact resolution, which is an indication of customer service. On all those three primary KPIs, we are at or above the world-class measures.

How many CSRs do you have serving your population of 12,000 employees?

How we are structured may be different to others, because of what tasks that we’re responsible for. We basically have three groups of people, and we follow the traditional tier terminology that many HR call centers use, or any kind of call center really does. Tier Zero is our HR knowledgebase portal technology; Tier One is the HR service center staff directly answering the phones from employees. For us, Tier Two is our benefits administrators, and then we have our COEs, which is Tier Three. For Tier One we have eight people for 12,000 employees and we have two people on nights; and although we might not get any calls at night we currently do it for employee relations.

We are a non-union company, and want to maintain that, so we struck a balance between holding people’s hands and being available for people—that’s why we have the people at night. I would say this about having a HR centralized service center: some people would say, ‘well, you took a HR person away from us in the plant.’ But what we really did, instead of one person being taken away from the plant, we added eight people available to you, basically 21 hours a day, five days a week. By adding eight customer service reps, we have more people available to take your calls, so that improves customer service for employees.

Your self-service platform has obviously been quite effective, because if you can reduce it to eight people responding to 12,000 employees, would you agree with that?

Yes, I do, but it is hard to quantify how many people get their questions answered from the technology. We know how many people access the technology, but we don’t know how many people get their questions answered by it. We do know, because of the technology dashboards, that the portal does get a lot of use. When people call the service center, typically their questions are more complicated than just simple information, so that the length of calls is longer. That’s OK with us; that’s why we’re here, to answer those complex calls. I will also say that our Tier One people on the phones do other things besides answer calls, because call volume is unpredictable, and there are times when call volume is low. So we have taken administrative tasks that can be done in between calls, or we can take somebody off the phone to give them the time to do these administrative tasks. By taking on administrative tasks at Tier One, and it removes work from other higher, more expensive Tier Two and Three staff. And we have also centralized some of those tasks that used to be done by the local nationwide affiliates. So we are able to better utilize our resources.

Are there any other metrics that you could share from the 'Win' HR project?

Our service levels are in the mid 80s, so that means that we’re answering 84-85 percent of the calls within 60 seconds or less. Then our average talk time is four and a half to five minutes. Our first contact resolution rate is not as high as I would like, but there is a factor in there that is beyond our control. Our first contact resolution rate is when the rep is able to answer the first question at the first call: and that’s in the low to mid eighties, anywhere between 82-84 percent typically, sometimes higher. The reason it is not higher, is that we have partnered with other groups that don’t fall within the HR umbrella. For example, payroll does not fall under the HR umbrella, neither does a group of people called lease car, a benefit that we give our employees. Because we don’t have total access to the information that those groups do, and we’re the center point of contact, employees who call us with payroll-related questions, or their lease car questions require more time to research. And we’re able to answer those questions anywhere between 60-70 percent of the time, first contact resolution. But that brings the overall score lower. If we took out lease car, and if we took out payroll, our first contact resolution would be over the mid 90s.

What other areas of HR do you see being transformed in the next two to three years?

From the service center perspective, even from day one after we launched—we went live in September within three to four months—we started an initiative to change the way we provide health coverage. Instead of the traditional PPO plan, we went to a consumer-driven health plan, which is major change for how healthcare is delivered. Within 12 months the entire company was on this new CDHP health plan. Now that amount of work took a tremendous amount of time—not just from our CEO, but from the service center, too, and we were able to do that within a year. And this was with a newly launched service center with new people and newly launched responsibilities and, we did that very effectively.

So we have found ways to constantly standardize our processes, consolidate our policies, automate our processes, and streamline things—in other words, more ways of doing more with less. A good example for this is when we launched this new CDHP plan. When it came time for people to enroll—it was a mandatory enrolment for 13,000 employees at that time—and we were looking at how we were going to take the call volume, with eight reps, we considered hiring more reps and even outsourcing the Tier One calls. It was estimated that we needed 70 people to take all the calls based on our population and the type of plan that was changing. Nissan is very frugal, that is part of our culture and we are very aggressive on cost, too. So, we literally hired 24 people ourselves, trained them, gave them some intensive training on the new technology as well as the new plans, and then with the right tools, the right training and the right time, they were able to take the new call volume with the new CDHP enrolment. And our service levels, even though our call volume went up six times the average of the norm, our service levels were in the mid 90s, with only 24 additional people, which is a testimony to our people, as well as on how we did the training and how we partnered with our contractors but also a testimony to the technology that we used.

The automobile industry was very affected through the recession. Have you seen any "green shoots" of recovery?

Yes, HR really led the way in the re-engineering the efforts; it started a couple of years ago. The company has found ways of restructuring itself without affecting too many people. We hardly had any layoffs, we had people that volunteered to leave, and they were incentivized to do so—because we were very aggressive in our re-engineering efforts, and our cost cutting. Again, this is without massive forced layoffs, so it put us in a position to save money. So we were able to turn around a profit. I think we lost it one quarter, and then we turned it around the following quarter. So it couldn’t have happened without that aggressive re-engineering, not just within HR but from the other parts of the organization. In fact, our market share had gone up during this recession, while others have lost it. This is without any government bail outs.

Adapted from an interview on SSON.