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September 1999


Eight Steps To A Superior HR Services Center

BY MICHAEL GEORGE AND GARY LOWE, INTERLYNX TECHNOLOGY

Call center, shared services center or HR services center: these terms can mean different things to different organizations. The call center itself is nothing new. After all, people have been dialing toll-free numbers for years to shop by catalog, check their bank statements or snare the latest gadget from a TV infomercial. What is new is the transformation of the call center from a traditional customer service tool to an efficient and effective employee service delivery mechanism, sometimes referred to as a shared services center, HR call center or HR services center.

At the crux of this transformation is the continued quest of human resources to provide high-value, low-cost, end-to-end transaction processing. Employee self-service (ESS) and manager self-service (MSS) enable initiation, routing and approval of many routine transactions. Properly staffed, and configured with the right variety of tools and technology, the HR services center can handle the more complex, high-cost transactions.

So, does it work? According to Steve Hutton, vice president of First Maryland Bancorp (FMB), the results speak for themselves.

Optimizing Service Delivery
Like many human resources executives, Hutton faced the mandate to improve employee services while reducing costs, in a very short period of time. Improving the quality and efficiency of services provided to employees and retirees is no small challenge, especially in the middle of a merger.

“We knew self-service would help by letting our employees process their own transactions, such as benefits enrollments and job postings,” said Hutton. “But to optimize service delivery and our technology investment, we decided to go the extra mile.” FMB created a HR service center that offers one-stop information access, transaction capabilities and live assistance provided by representatives equipped with tools to effectively handle all types of inquiries.

The HR service center is not just a call center that translates retail industry order processing into HR administrative tasks. It is a powerful force, delivering relatively short ROI that can help HR professionals move upstream and become agents of change for the enterprise. “Many companies are currently considering some form of HR call center/service center,” said Bob Hunter, global managing partner for human capital at Andersen Consulting. “Some of these centers are outsourced, but many are internal. The key question is how to move the call/service center supporting administrative activity to supporting value-added HR activity. Metrics need to change from purely efficiency to effectiveness and value contribution. When these centers move to this level, there is a new ROI measure supporting the overall goal of helping HR to assume its role as the change agent/navigator for the enterprise.”

Good HR services centers deploy an innovative division of labor between HR generalists and specialists. By applying a tiered response system, they keep quality up and costs down by giving generalists the tools they need to complete tasks formerly reserved exclusively for HR specialists. Armed with case management software, transaction applications, workflow and knowledgeware that may yield the answers to hundreds of employee questions at the click of a mouse, even an entry-level HR generalist (tier 1) can field the majority of calls. Only requests exceeding the generalist’s training and tools are passed along to specialists (tier 2). To route such a request, the generalist uses case management software to open a case, inputting a narrative description of the issue. The case is then sent to HR specialists. It enters a queue of cases awaiting the next available representative. In rare instances (about 5 percent of the call load), an especially complex or sensitive case will move to operational managers or center of excellence specialists (tier 3). At First Maryland Bancorp, in combination with self-service, the front line of customer service representatives is closing 70 percent to 80 percent of HR, payroll and benefits transactions.

“Centralized service is making a significant difference not just for our customers, but also for professionals in FMB’s human resource centers because they can now perform more strategic work,” said Steve Hutton. “With centralized HR services, we are hoping to significantly improve our HR staff/employee ratio as well as our administrative support costs. Goals include a 30 percent reduction in missed transactions and a major decrease in the total volume of HR interactions with employees.”

Eight Steps To Success
So how do you create a world-class HR services center? Can you use your company’s existing call center? The following eight steps have been laid out to help you implement the right center for you.

Know the stakeholders. This is very important. Know who the stakeholders are, what documented processes they currently have in place, what servicelevels you need to provide and in what volume. Your stakeholders may include other areas such as benefits and payroll in addition to HR. Even though you will ultimately change the existing processes, taking over undocumented or undefined processes from any of your stakeholders will make it difficult to establish service levels and measure success.

Think customer service. The employees are your customers, and they will want choices. New technologies and flexible work arrangements are blurring the distinctions between work and home. Employees expect to choose how they will interact with you. Telephone service cannot be the only means of communication. Access to services should be around-the-clock, from wherever the customer chooses. Many employees will prefer to locate information or complete transactions on their own.

“Both self-service and a service center are needed in an ideal framework,” said Bill Carney, associate partner with Andersen Consulting’s Human Capital practice. “Efficient centralized HR services require a mix of direct self-service employee transactions as well as a live employee support function. This is changing the nature of what HR has to manage. Consider benefits and payroll. Self-service can handle up to 70 or 80 percent of transactions and information requests, although recruiting and compensation areas may have a lower level of penetration for self-service. However, in those cases where self-service does not resolve the issue, a HR service center needs to provide employee support. The shift in support will be away from transaction processing toward more focus on complex policy issues and other employee concerns.”

Evaluate core technology. The service levels you provide will be affected by the technology you implement. Core technology falls roughly into four categories: call distribution, transaction management, knowledge management and case management. In addition to your HR management system (HRMS), you will require multiple software applications, and that can be costly. To hold the line, first look at the technologies your company already has in place � you may find some, or perhaps all of what you require.

Determine call center infrastructure. Your company may already be using interactive voice response (IVR) software for automated call answering, data collection and reporting and automatic call distribution (ACD) to allocate incoming calls. If your company is not using these technologies, consider adding them for your service center. They can optimize service delivery and distribute calls evenly across all service representatives, reducing hold times. ACD also provides the first line of service-level reporting, such as average speed of answer (ASA), average talk time, average wrap-up time and abandoned call rate. All of this is important for measuring performance.

There are also other benefits associated with the use of IVR. It provides the opportunity to leverage telephony features such as computer-telephony integration (CTI) and automatic number identification (ANI). These features enhance the level of information a services center agent receives about the caller prior to answering the call. IVR will also enable triaging of calls � determining which calls your service center should accept, and redirecting those calls which must be handled by the outsource provider.

Provide automation technology. For the HR service center to be effective, your agents must be able to deliver myriad services that go well beyond just answering a call. However, questions asked and answers given must be considered. Remember that a mixture of call types will come in, yet the agent is a generalist who knows a little bit about everything, but lacks the expertise of a specialist. Since HRMS, payroll and other back-end systems are the gatekeepers for employee data used in both services center and self-service transactions, how will the generalist initiate a transaction on behalf of a caller? How will the interaction get posted to the back-end system? Most HR organizations provide their services center agents with direct access to HRMS screens (i.e., PeopleSoft, SAP, etc.), thereby equipping staff to complete transactions at the source. This requires significant training before agents can effectively do their jobs “under fire” in the services center. In addition to mastering telephone and computer interface skills, generalists must be able to field a variety of questions about HR, payroll and benefits.

You’ll need to arm your generalists with reliable information to field questions. You can direct them to the existing sources such as policy manuals, books and documents. However, to ensure accurate and consistent responses, you may want to automate the process by providing hyperlinks to static Web content or adding a full-blown knowledge-based system.

While knowledge-based products are tremendous tools, they may prove to be too costly for smaller service centers. You may also want to consider an alternative called “transactive content.” Transactive content is a smaller subset of the information provided by knowledgeware systems, designed to provide decision support information around a specific transaction. When provided in an ESS or MSS environment, transactive content turns employees and managers into decision makers. In a service center, it turns generalists into efficient, productive agents and requires a minimal amount of training. Perhaps the most notable benefit of transactive content is the ability to reduce a company’s liability around questions asked and answers given, by enabling generalists to provide accurate and consistent responses.

Add case management software. Detailed documentation is critical to minimizing liabilities associated with numerous employee transactions. Case management software enables a generalist to open a case and route it quickly to a specialist. In addition, it enables tracking and documentation of the case to completion. Important reporting data such as how long it took to resolve a case and the caller’s history can also be reported by case management software. To minimize “answer shopping,” representatives are alerted to when and how often an employee may have called about the same issue.

Staff accordingly. Your back-end systems, the way you handle transactions and the level of automation you provide will all have a tremendous impact on your staffing profile. How many agents will you need to provide the desired level of service? What skill sets will they need? What kinds of training must you provide? Plan for staffing all tiers: generalists, specialists and call center supervisors. The level of automation you provide will help determine the breakout of how many people you’ll need at each level. Bottom line-automation can result in a leaner, more effective staff in less time and with less training required.

Think multiple versus integrated technology. Start-up costs, including consolidation of physical facilities, employee relocation and staffing, training and technology are obviously substantial. But there are ways to economize.

“First, look to see what can be done using self-service,” said Anderson Consulting’s Bill Carney. “Second, ask yourself if you have the support to do it. As you deploy self-service technologies, we think it’s key to consider the services center as a supplementary environment. From a rollout perspective, perhaps pilot the services center, then train, before going enterprisewide. HR is seeking greater access to enterprise resource planning (ERP). Companies that specialize in enabling and support technologies can help.”

On the technology side, you can go one of two ways: a “buy and build” solution that leverages comprehensive capabilities and multiple software products, or a single-product solution that leverages core capabilities, providing more limited functionality, but at significantly lower cost. For companies with deep pockets, the buy-and-build solution offers the variety of capabilities you’d expect from multiple vendors, such as transaction modeling, workflow, full CTI screen pop, comprehensive knowledge management software, financial modeling packages and full-functionality case management systems. For budget-conscious HR organizations or companies looking for a more integrated “one stop” solution, the answer may be core functionality in a single product that leverages the same transaction processing and content (knowledge management) software to deliver both self-service and shared services.

As you consider technologies, the bottom line is to choose the solution that will best meet your organization’s specific business goals both today and tomorrow. Improve employee service and quickly reduce cost by shifting emphasis away from self-service as an independent solution. Early implementations of Web-only or voice-only self-service proved to be ineffective and more expensive than providing no self-service at all. To achieve a more positive result, think strategically. Focus on end-to-end employee service delivery, including self-service and shared services. Provide employee-, manager- and call center-facing applications with Web and voice response user interfaces to deliver all access, all the time. Deploy transactive content to turn your users into informed decision makers who initiate their own transactions and support everything else that cannot be addressed in a self-service transaction with live assistance provided by the HR services center.

Finally, remember this needs to be your strategic direction, but be careful not to take on more than you can handle. Establish your infrastructure first and deploy applications incrementally over time. Soon, you too should have quantifiable results that demonstrate your success.

Michael George is co-founder of Interlynx and is a frequent speaker and author for national and regional industry conferences and publications.

Gary Lowe is the interim vice president of sales for the company and is also responsible for identifying and developing strategic relationships in the areas of technology, applications and implementation support.







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