To Serve Employees?!?

Remember the Twilight Zone episode? Aliens land; man freaks out; calms down after finding their book To Serve Mankind, until he discovers it’s a cookbook!

The same boomers who remember that famous Twilight Zone episode probably remember the days when large organizations had an HR person in every building with their employees, sometimes even one on every floor!

While HR practitioners are still available F2F, more often now they are gathered into shared-service centers or call centers. Sometimes these are labeled straightforwardly as “Employee Service Center” or “HR Help Desk,” and occasionally with that wonderful corporate euphemism “Center of Excellence.” While I’m sure they are all excellent … puhleeze!

Naturally, everyone in HR wants to deliver employee service, but the question now in this era of digital transformations is how much expensive human time needs to be invested to answer each question or complete each interaction? Where does it fall along the spectrum ranging from light touch (online) to heavy touch (human)?

You just had a baby but can’t change your life- and health-insurance beneficiaries yourself online (self-service is the lightest touch possible and known as Tier 0 in the call-center business). So you call (or fill out a form or initiate a live chat) and somebody tells you how, or maybe does it for you (Tier 1 assistance). That transaction just got a lot more expensive with a heavier touch.

If the call center has good computer/telephony integration–and most have for years–relevant information about you automatically pops up on your helper’s screen. Just like when you enter your frequent-flier number calling some airlines.

Or when an auto-dialer fools you into answering the phone and a human telemarketer grabs the connected call to say, “Hi, William,” a name only my mother ever called me. Bam! Or no one gets the call quickly enough, so there’s blessed silence on the line. Bam!

If you’re a manager with a more complicated question about the rules and nuances of firing one of your direct reports, for instance, online manager self-service has never been enough. Your call will be “escalated” to a Tier 2 person with more sophisticated knowledge. Remember that magic word “escalate” when you’re frustrated by a commercial-call-center person and want someone smarter or with better English skills.

If your question cannot be answered on that first call (and often even when it can), you or the helper opens a “case” and completes a “trouble ticket” so anyone in the center can get back to you with information dug out of somewhere to help you. Enter the relatively simple technology of ticketing and the more complex tech of case management.

Tier 3 may mean involving your organization’s employment lawyer.

There’s competing technology for Tiers 0 through 2, all contributing to what many are now calling “the employee experience.” Some HR departments are actually thinking about employees as their customers, which makes their job even harder since, as customers in the world outside work, they have come to expect personalized and simple experiences with automated processes that deliver what we need pronto. Often without stepping outside the house!

I don’t know about your house, but mine gets a package every day from Amazon, delivered free by UPS (right to the door if the over-scheduled driver has time to follow the rules) or by USPS (to the mailbox), which would probably be bankrupt without that business.

You’ve heard this all before: We’re spoiled by consumer technology, which often treats us so well as paying customers (though your results may vary), and we’re frustrated by the tech at work that doesn’t measure up.

Enter employee service, particularly timely with Ultimate Software’s recent purchase of PeopleDoc, originally founded in France, which has expanded from document management to HR case management, and the awesome rise of ServiceNow from its IT help desk roots to its suite of three applications called HR Service Delivery with 700 customers.

Workday has not yet offered that functionality and customers needing it are turning to ServiceNow, as they have for years to long-certified partner Dovetail Software.

SAP SuccessFactors’ solution started with some existing SAP functionality (for customer relationship case management, of course) and was transformed into the EC (Employee Central) Service Center, which is already integrated but sold separately. Oracle announced an HR Help Desk almost two years ago.

Enwisen, an early independent developer of HR case management software, was acquired by Lawson and then by Infor, which includes its functionality in Infor CloudSuite HCM.

Newer providers include Zendesk, which I must point out got legal protection for using “Zen” in a software company name and now collects royalties from Zenefits, while Zenpayroll changed its name to Gusto.

If you really need to get into the weeds on this subject, analyst Christa Degnan Manning, formerly vice president of solution provider research at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, has staked out service delivery as her special area of expertise for years.

Try to beg, borrow or steal her 36-page research report (which you can’t buy separately) titled “HR Service Operations, Solution Provider Landscape,” which explains and categorizes all the functionality and compares vendor capabilities. She includes outsourcers and software sold by Deloitte itself, which gets no special treatment. Some product details are now a bit outdated, since they are based on surveys ending in March last year, but not the thinking and the analysis.

We’ll just look at the offerings from ServiceNow because I attended its May user conference Knowledge18, saw the products and talked with executives. Plus, I love that it has simplified its world into only two population categories: requestors and fulfillers.

The company has had impressive growth in HR (200 new enterprise customers from May through October this year alone) because it earlier cornered the market for IT help desk case management. It now offers a platform with integrated applications across departments, allowing for consolidated service centers.

ServiceNow has also tackled all the pieces of what is really a more complex problem than I have laid out. The software helping fulfillers has to be linked to a knowledge base of company content that is somewhat automatically managed, integrated with case management and can be powerfully searched. It is available first in a simplified portal for requestors before they go to Tier One!

And there again, we’ve all been spoiled by Google search! And for HCM, that means searching for some content that typically does not reside within the system. So here’s what the company offers:

  • ServiceNow Case and Knowledge Management: Accepts requestor emails and phone calls, helps standardize the data, documentation and fulfillment. As the name says, integrates case and knowledge management.
  • ServiceNow Employee Service Center: The Tier 0 employee self-service portal with powerful search.
  • ServiceNow Enterprise Onboarding and Transitions: Long-time readers may recall that the only reason onboarding’s part of recruiting is more than a dozen years ago CEO Derek Mercer of vendor Vurv (later bought by Taleo) threw up his hand and shouted, “Onboarding! And only Vurv’s got it!” Every ATS vendor then madly scrambled to catch up. Personally, I always thought recruiting ended when someone was hired. No reason ServiceNow shouldn’t include onboarding in the suite–especially since it plays to its strength of integrating IT, procurement and other departments always involved in onboarding–except that it steps on the toes of every big HCM vendor it integrates with. Especially those “transitions” which include discharges, relocation and leaves of absence. Good luck with that.

In any case (pardon the pun), it’s great to see so many ways employees can be served, other than medium rare.

Bill Kutik
HR Technology columnist Bill Kutik, as chairman emeritus, is at the 22nd Annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition® in Las Vegas, Oct. 1-4, 2019. Watch Kim Billeter, the new Americas Lead for EY HR advisory group (PAS), discuss the question: Why is Cloud adoption taking so long? Just six minutes for the current video episode of Firing Line with Bill Kutik®. Bill can be reached at