Technologies Required for the Multi-Tier Approach to HR Service Delivery

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Barbara Levin

This article is the continuation to How a Multi-Tier HR Service Delivery Model Transforms HR.

To be best-in-class on the multi-tier model, consider these technologies in addition to – and integrated with – the core HRMS:

Portal with identity management and single sign-on:
Employees and managers need a single point of access for all HR information and transactions at Tier 0. A portal with a single sign-on provides the "top layer" for all HR transactional and informational systems – applicant tracking, talent management, self-service and other systems, for example – making the portal easy to use and, therefore, increasing visits. And, high portal usage is consistent with any type of workforce – even so-called "blue collar" workers. Today, only one in five adults is truly disconnected from the Internet – and they tend to be over the age of 65 and without a high school education. Even though that demographic may be some part of your workforce, it is probably fair to say it would be a very small percentage. Don’t underestimate your workforce – they can and will use a portal if it is easy to use and provides relevant information.

Real-life proof point: Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, for example, hires 7,000 seasonal workers for its hotels, restaurants, amusement parks and more. The youngest are 14 – the oldest in their 70s – and less than one percent were unable to onboard completely online when they automated onboarding for the 2009 hiring season.

A highly personalized, searchable knowledge base is the "secret sauce" behind the success of the multi-tier approach. A knowledge base should provide specific answers/information – personalized by job role, location, bargaining unit and any other parameter you define – to employee inquiries. Additionally, the knowledge base should provide meaningful, relevant search results. For example, if employees are searching on "maternity," the knowledge base should display information that is relevant to that particular employee – health coverage based on their benefit elections, a work/life event list that tells them what they need to do to request leave of absence, how to add a dependent, etc.

Real-life proof point: At Unisys, prior to deploying a personalized, searchable knowledge base, it took employees five to seven clicks to find the information they were looking for (which typically was, at the time, generic versus personalized information) – often resulting in frustrated employees calling HR or the service center. Today, employees find their personalized information in two clicks or less – resulting in 90 percent Tier 0 use.

The knowledgebase component is just as critical to the customer service representatives (CSRs) working in the HR shared services center. By accessing the knowledge base, they too have the employees’ personal information at their fingertips – allowing them to provide answers right away versus having to spend hours researching. This results not only in high employee satisfaction, but high cost-savings because a smaller number of reps can then answer a higher volume of calls.

Real-life proof point: At Level 3 Communications, it takes CSRs an average of 13.5 seconds (yes, seconds), using a personalized, searchable knowledge base to find the answer to an employee’s question. This – combined with high Tier 0 usage – has resulted in staffing its service center with fewer than 60 percent CSRs than were originally budgeted, with 97 percent employee satisfaction and 93 percent first-call resolution.

Additionally, because much of the information is readily available in the knowledge base, many employers deploying this model experience improvements in labor arbitrage because CSRs at Tier 1 need less experience and ramp-up time.

Case Management:
A case management tool – particularly one that is HR-focused – will help: 1) track service level agreements, 2) improve performance of the overall HR shared services center and individual CSRs, 3) route certain calls to subject matter experts when necessary, and 4) achieve overall key performance indicators (KPIs). When case management is integrated with a portal and knowledge base, inquiries can often be sent by the employee to the HR shared services center directly from the portal page to automatically open a case. That integration – along with integration with the core HRMS – allows the CSR to see where the employee was on a portal page to better understand his/her inquiry, and pre-populate much of the necessary ticket information. Although many employers are moving toward a complete online model, those HR shared services centers still taking calls will also need to deploy telephony.

Of course, getting answers to questions is only part of the equation – to have true Tier 0, employees must also be able to complete transactions. When the knowledgebase is integrated with transactional systems – such as employee and manager self-service – employees are able to get information and complete transactions in a single session – comparing benefit plans and then enrolling in a plan during open enrollment, for example.

Optional Onboarding:
In its 13th Annual HR Systems Survey, CedarCrestone put onboarding, for the first time, in the HR service delivery blueprint. After all, onboarding is the first service that employers provide to new hires, and can be a drain on HR shared services centers – especially for employers with heavy seasonal hiring or very complex compliance requirements, e.g., health care. Automating onboarding not only engages employees but significantly streamlines costs.

Real-life proof point: Alegent Health, after automating onboarding, was able to consolidate five hiring locations into one, reduce new-hire turnover by 11 percent, and is on track to save US$1.4 million in three years.

The Business Case – Putting the Model Together

It would be easy to write an entire article – or publication – just on putting together a business case. Here are the most salient points:

  • Implementing this model does not represent new expenditures – you are providing these services today. Most employers find that it is not only a replacement of current costs – but a significant reduction as well. If you are mandated to cut costs, many employers experience hard-dollar ROI within months of deployment. If you are not mandated to cut costs – but have other projects that are not budgeted – you can apply the savings to fund other HR projects.
  • This is a win-win. In the past, when HR has had to cut staff and budget, the perception has been that it was "at the expense of employee service." This model actually allows you to improve the delivery of HR services while cutting costs and realigning resources.

Real-life proof point: The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania went live in February of 2010 with a new multi-tier model, and has achieved the following as of the writing of this article (in October 2010):

  • It is answering 90 percent of all inquiries coming in to the service center in 30 seconds or less.
  • Seventy positions have been eliminated (or redirected to other projects) from service delivery – at a hard dollar savings of US$3.5 million.
  • State agencies are now charged back US$80 per employee for HR service delivery – significantly less than what it would traditionally cost the agencies to provide those services directly.
  • High usage amongst the 25,000-plus employees who do not have access at work – who are now able to access the portal/knowledge base from home for Tier 0.

Easier Said than Done? Some Closing Thoughts…

While moving forward with this model does require change management and buy-in, budget should not be a deterrent. Ask HR service delivery vendors and consultants to provide you with a hard-dollar ROI calculation. It is likely that you will find – as stated earlier in the article – that this model can be deployed with a replacement (and often a significant reduction) of what you are already spending on delivering HR services. And, depending on where you are in your HR transformation, keep in mindthat the model doesn’t have to be deployed all at once or only after the transformation "leg-work" is complete. While many employers implement the entire approach in one project, others deploy the model in phases as they move through their transformation – building out Tier 0 by automating onboarding and adding a knowledge base to an existing portal, for example, and then building outthe HR shared services center. Or, the same result can be achieved by creating the HR shared services center first and then building out Tier 0. It all depends on your priorities, resources and culture.

If You Build It, They Might Not Come

If your organization is evaluating build versus buy for HR service delivery, there are significant challenges–and very real hard-dollar costs – associated with building an HR service delivery platform – particularly in the area of the knowledge base, which is so critical to Tier 0, as well as CSR first-call resolution.

Ask yourself and your IT team if you have the staffing resources, budget and expertise to:

  • Create, maintain, organize, and personalize all of the necessary HR content;
  • Build and maintain the integration points to related HR systems;
  • Develop the search capabilities and workflow that puts content in context with self-service transactions;
  • Provide relevant search results and maintain "tags;"
  • Personalize content for employee groups;
  • Manage the security that makes the knowledge base available outside the corporate firewall, 24/7;
  • Provide ongoing support after launch.

In other words, you could build it, but if it isn’t personalized, searchable, and integrated with transactions – and information isn’t available in two clicks or less – employees might not come.