Super size me Service, please!

According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, “Super” is defined as being “of high grade” or the quality of “exhibiting the characteristics of its type to an extreme or excessive degree.” Merriam Webster’s online dictionary also defines “Serve” as “to be a servant.” So, really “Super Service” can be said more powerfully as: extreme servants delivering excessive service.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could super-size service like you can super-size your lunch and transform your company culture to one of extreme servants delivering excessive service? This is certainly a dream come true for many growing companies. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy to get to Super Service standards. It is possible however, over time to position your company to Super Service by adopting the following, mostly simple (one not so much), recommendations.

Know the needs and service history of all of your customers.

Starting with the sale, continuing through setup, onboarding, and then ongoing with continuing service, it is essential to document your customers’ service needs and open issues to be able to super serve your customers on a consistent basis. At Mangrove, we use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to store relevant customer information such as sales orders, setup documents, etc., and then document customer encounters to create a customer profile with the institutional knowledge that is essential to serving our clientele with Super Service. When we engage a client, our service person can quickly review the CRM and determine the background information for important customer handling clues, such as: Has the recently called for a similar issue? Is someone else already working this issue? What out-of-the box service commitments do we have with this customer? This CRM allows us to perform as a united team and to collaborate toward developing and sharing a full understanding of our customers’ service needs and service history.

Communicate service expectations clearly and concisely.

In many cases service failures occur when the customer expects one thing, but your firm is doing something different. To be a Super Service organization, you’ll need to consistently manage your customers’ service expectations by documenting your service commitments and then sharing those documented commitments with teammates so you’ll effectively collaborate toward exceeding service expectations as a united team. With every customer exchange, a Super Service organization takes their obligation to communicate an understanding of what the immediate key service objectives are, develop and then communicate a plan to meet those objectives, and then arrive at an agreement of how success will be measured for achieving the previously defined objectives. This protocol of establishing an up-front agreement takes the guesswork out of service and ensures success, as long as you follow through with timely performance of your agreed-to service plan.

Measure your performance and how customers perceive your performance often.

Internal and external measures of your company’s performance are essential to maintaining Super Service levels and to making appropriate changes to improve service levels that aren’t making Super Service grades. At my company, Mangrove Software, we use a variety of tools to measure our performance including monthly department-level score cards, which objectively report our performance against our defined internal service levels and external customer surveys that help us gauge how our customers feel we are doing.

It’s not enough to just fix problems. Do something for the customer’s trouble.

The timely fixing of a customer’s complaint is essential to good service, but it’s just not enough to qualify for Super Service. To be a Super Servant, you must mend the relationship and rebuild trust that has been damaged by the service failure. Often the customer accommodation doesn’t have to be extravagant or excessive. Your customer will feel better if you simply recognize their inconvenience. It is always reasonable to credit charges for services failures, but often a small denomination gift card is more personal, powerful, and effective.

Follow up.

A few days after the dust settles, follow up with an email and a phone call. These follow-up communications are needed to reinforce your commitment to service and will help to strengthen your customer’s perception of being valuable to your firm. The intention is to convey these few things in this email and phone call:

  • A sincere apology and the accommodation provided, if a credit was issued. Personal gift cards should be handled in a separate communication.
  • An explanation of what went wrong, how the issue was resolved, and why it won’t happen again in the future.
  • Thanks for their patience, trust, and continued patronage.

Learn from your failures.

View every service failure as an opportunity to learn how to provide your clientele better service. Many customer service issues are symptoms of issues elsewhere in the organization and can and should be avoided with some planning and better, more concise communication. Empower your frontline service people to document service failures and then hold your leadership team accountable to identify the root cause of the service failures and create the needed policy, product, documentation, and/or service changes required mitigate these issues and keep them from happening again.

Put your money where your mouth is.

This is by far the most difficult recommendation to implement, but it is the one that can have the greatest immediate impact toward culturing Super Service. Give your customers control over a portion of your fees that will be earned by you based on your service performance, and then directly align your service team’s compensation with customers’ payment of these at-risk fees. This concept of having some percentage of your fees at risk where your firm earns its keep based meeting periodic measures of service-levels and/or quality expectations forces your service team into some important Super Service behaviors. For this program to work, your service team must define service expectations with the customer upfront and then manage to them with periodic and meaningful performance reviews with the client. This alignment between your customers’ expectations, service needs, and service, along with customer-controlled incentives to serve, is a very powerful tool toward being Super Service organization.

Taming the monsters inside us

An awful lot is written about security from an Information Technology perspective, so we are pre-programmed to think that security means firewalls, encryption protocols, password policies, tokens and the like. Unfortunately, organizations are most at risk of theft and fraud from those that have intimate knowledge of their inner workings. We often don’t hear about these events because they are perceived to be embarrassment to the victimized entity.

Over my career, I’ve seen a number of situations where organizations have unwittingly put themselves at great risk for internal or even customer fraud. I’ve also been privy to some clever (but misguided) attempts that have failed miserably.

And I’d like to share a few of these past situations that have left an indelible impression on me.

I’ll start with the Canadian felon who duplicated a legitimate client refund check and then proceeded to issue hundreds of duplicate checks off this account. Then there was the controller that embezzled cash by processing refunds to inactive client accounts and redirected the refund deposits to his mother in-law’s bank account. Another incident involved an accounts receivable clerk that literally cashed hundreds of customer checks into a duplicate company account that she fraudulently opened in her name only. I was once exposed to a situation where a payroll manager cleverly voided federal tax deposits and then transferred those exact funding amounts to her own bank account. I should also mention the former Human Resources manager that used his still-valid payroll login credentials to change employee net pay bank account numbers to fund anonymous electronic payroll debit cards. Not so long ago, an IT worker retaliated against his soon-to-be former employer by posting all employee salaries on multiple bulletin boards at work. And finally, the data processing technician who gleaned bank account numbers from a payroll export file and then made payments to credit cards online using those stolen account numbers.

The common denominator in all of these situations is an insider. Well thought-out internal security protocols and procedures are our best defense against this type of fraud.
Here are my recommendations to be protected against being defrauded by the monster inside us.

Be ever vigilant with your cash and cash accounts. Reconcile bank accounts frequently and separate the reconciliation responsibility from those who processes payments or create client accounts. Use online banking access to match checks, electronic payments, and deposits to your accounting system daily. Require two signatures and/or electronic authorization for all checks or transfers greater than a threshold amount. Place blocks on your accounts so only authorized third-parties can debit funds from you. Use positive pay banking features, and flag unknown transactions and investigate them immediately. Good internal controls and procedures are the best deterrent to internal fraud. These basic steps will not only reduce your exposure to fraud but they’ll help you identify it really quickly when it happens so you can mitigate your damages substantially.

Separate Duties. I’ll say it again for effect. Separation of duties is essential. For example, never-ever-ever have the person who receives the money and credits the client accounts also produce your client billing. Client setup and termination should never be handled by the person that collects and posts your money. The person who reconciles the bank accounts should be different that the one that makes journal entries into the accounting system. You get the idea here: Separate duties so one accounting function provides a built-in audit to the other accounting function.
Expire access to systems and facilities prior to terminating employees. Termination can trigger retaliation and drama. Don’t put your company at risk for embarrassing post-termination drama. Get your ducks in a row prior to letting all employees go by terminating their access to all systems, collecting all their company assets, and ensuring that their access to facilities is limited.

Treat your payroll vendor like it is giving away your money. Just because you’ve outsourced your payroll doesn’t mean that you are safe from fraud. Make sure you separate the duty of changing account numbers from the person that reviews account number changes. It is a good practice to audit direct deposit account changes prior to processing each payroll. Also verify all third-party deposits. Review all manually entered checks, adjustment checks, and voided payments. Ensure that appropriate security is setup so sensitive information like salaries, social security numbers, and account numbers are available on a need-to-know basis. Limit those who can create output data or exported reports with sensitive data. Interface and export files should be encrypted at the source before they are downloaded or transmitted. A good payroll vendor will provide features such as warnings and detail reports to make these audits and verification steps fast and painless. If your payroll company doesn’t support these important features, then get a new payroll company.

The above recommendations are not intended to be exhaustive. The examples should make you think and assess your fraud risks and create a plan to mitigate them. Disciplined audit and security protocols are a great deterrent to fraud, and that deterrent may just be enough to tame those monsters inside your organization.

The Social HCM

With more than one billion active Facebook users already, social networking is strong and getting stronger as literally hundreds of millions of new users join a social network this year.

Unfortunately, business adoption of social networking hasn’t extended much past the marketing department. Business has made its social network investments targeted toward gaining more customers and selling more products or services. Companies are behind the eight ball in their use of social network tools within the workplace and aren’t taking advantage of social networking’s potential to reinvent how workers connect, collaborate, and learn in the workplace. These tools can ultimately improve profits and promote a happier and more engaged workforce.

The modern dispersed workplace needs “social.” Business suffers with fundamental communication issues ranging from misinterpretations and assumptions to lack of follow-through, privacy issues, and inadequate distribution of vital information.

A workplace social network solves these problems because it redefines communication in fundamental and convenient ways. We now connect with friends and family and share multimedia content, update statuses, and check-in at familiar destinations—all paradigms that didn’t exist ten years ago. These new paradigms take social media beyond its entertainment value and improve communication in ways that benefit the sender and the recipient, making social media the most convenient means for sharing information. With such a dynamic shift in people’s communication preferences, why has business been so slow to adopt social networking tools for its workforce? This is for one simple reason. Current social collaboration products simply mimic the features of consumer products and lack the game-changing benefits needed for organizations to adopt them. Businesses will adopt a workplace social network when the products transcend novelty and entertainment-value to become an actionable tool for communication and vital business decision-making.

Human capital management fused to a social network is what is needed. The social graph inherent to the Human Resources function is the foundational element for building a “socially networked” workforce. This Human Resources function, once made socially-aware, can be used to identify, predict, and facilitate many of the actionable aspects of Human Capital Management to drive substantial productivity gains and cost savings. I refer to this game-changer as Social Human Capital Management or Social HCM for short.

A few of the productivity gains and cost savings that can be expected from a Social HCM are as follows:

Speed information flow and decision making.

A social network with its diversity of relevant connections increases communication and collaboration. When employees communicate and collaborate they are more careful and thorough in their thought processes, and in turn they develop better plans. Better planning improves speed, quality, and execution. Agility shortens the cycle of innovation and learning, and these are the keys to establishing a competitive edge and profits.

And it doesn’t stop there. Social HCM distributes actionable events, polls, and notifications, all within an easy-to-follow and familiar interface for information consumption. Users need only to look in one place for all relevant actionable items, such as time off requests or other items needing review, action or approval. Define and schedule favorite informational reports and event notifications to be delivered to your stream or to others as well. And keeping tabs on the whereabouts of your subordinates is gracefully managed by following check-ins and status updates from your direct-report workgroup. A manager can offer his employees instant feedback or tag items for future reference. As feedback from manager to employee is more frequent and conveniently indexed, the chore of managing performance is minified, and reviews can be conducted more accurately and more often with the most relevant content and feedback organized chronologically, by good or bad, or even by competency.

Improve relevancy and avoid Information overload.

The social network is an intelligent design with an intuitive framework for managing the high volume of information that workers face today. Replacing e-mail as a primary business collaboration tool will accelerate the benefits of the social network since the social network allows you catch what you need from the flow information, when you need it, without having to consume the entire river of information. Documents, multimedia files, ideas, and experiences can be exchanged privately or to entire departments, locations, workgroups, special project groups, or private communities. This flow of information can be tagged and retention periods defined so that relevancy for future learning remains high. Like, view, comment, share, alerts, along with tagging activities for follow-up—these concepts are intuitive ways for information consumption and exchange that are adopted from the consumer social network and optimized for use in business. The end result is relevant information accessible like never before–from your desktop browser or mobile device.

Promote employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” ― Tom Peters.

Recognition is a very effective and often underused form of motivation. Ask any HR professional and they’ll say that a recognized worker is more likely to be a satisfied and long-term employee. Social HCM both automates and provides for ad-hoc distribution of frequent, consistent, and fair public recognition to those employees deserving such recognition. Connect social badging metaphors to HCM’s traditional award and points tracking capabilities, and you’ve removed the chore of managing and assigning points for redemption of gifts or other company rewards.

Speeding the feedback loop between project stakeholders and contributors is essential to ensure that projects remain on track. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?”Communicating status and milestone updates regularly to the stakeholders and contributors is one way that Social HCM helps teams stay connected, engaged, on-track, and held accountable for their individual and team productivity. These are the very teams that are most likely to take pride and ownership in their work and perform better.

Increase compliance and utilization of intranets and self-service.

How do you get highly distracted employees to focus on quality initiatives, complete paperwork, read and follow important corporate communications, and respond to surveys without making them feel badgered and controlled? You provide simple and intuitive means for employees interact with the company by adopting the social network metaphor. Punching time clocks gives way to check-ins, status updates serve to update project milestones and project members, pay stubs are securely delivered to an employee’s stream, and events like open enrollment are simplified by virtue of the familiar easy-to-use interface—all of this making these tasks feel more like entertainment and less like work.

Improve knowledge transfer and business continuity.

In businesses, data is typically recorded and information is filed. But what happens to the great percentage of information that resides in the minds of employees? How do those in need of learning connect to those who can teach? For all businesses, it behooves them to establish a dialog before a vast amount of knowledge walks out the door as millions of baby boomers retire and their replacements lack essential core competencies. Social HCM can be the critical resource used to facilitate mentoring and sharing of organizational knowledge. Its metaphor both motivates and reinforces appropriate and responsible corporate citizenship as the social network promotes convenient, open, and transparent communication—the type of communication that is so much less likely to be ignored.

Social HCM will find its way into businesses as HCM software vendors fuse the social network metaphor to Human Capital Management. The virtues of this combination will be just too compelling of a technology for businesses to ignore.

Leading the horses without having to make them drink

High performing teams are led and not managed. A horse when led to water should drink on its own just as a performing team when led with vision should achieve its stated goals.

Traditional managers are dinosaurs. Today’s younger workforce isn’t responding favorably to old school management techniques. They expect to be constantly informed, engaged in problem solving, recognized, and empowered through a common vision and goals. They just don’t respond to direct orders or micro-management techniques. The newer worker gravitates toward teamwork and collaboration and favors constant communication. That’s not to say that every tool of traditional management is obsolete, but proper leadership is the essential ingredient for a fully engaged modern workforce. Leadership is the bridge to productivity, loyalty, and ownership. Without leadership, you risk a disengaged workforce that is marginally productivity, with high turn-over, and very little commitment to the stated objectives.

Consider the attributes of the old school management philosophy versus those of a leadership model.

Management Model

Leadership Model

Manage: Submissive to one’s authority,   discipline, or persuasion. Lead: Guide, direct, or influence.
Manager: An old-school boss who focuses activities on   tracking, reporting, and controlling their direct reports’ individual   behaviors and contributions. Leader: A visionary who recruits, influences, and   motivates highly-productive, collaborative teams that are focused on   achieving a shared vision and common goals.

It’s been said that you have to be born a leader. I disagree because I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with a handful of natural leaders and a few who I personally witnessed mature into leadership roles. I have also been privy to a few failed efforts that resulted from a lack of leadership. So, I’ve seen both sides of this coin and benefited greatly from my experience.

There are lots of opinions on what makes a great leader. Some might say it requires eloquent public speaking, great personality, or even good listening skills. It is my opinion those attributes are certainly nice to have but won’t make for a great leader without the following eight qualities of leadership.

1.       Evangelize the vision, and light the fire within, not under them. Be the focal point for the vision. Inspire, motivate, and keep your messaging simple, realistic, and concrete. It is imperative that followers buy-in to the plan and how it will benefit them and the organization.

2.       Is your vision relevant? You should validate your vision periodically for relevancy to your organization, the market opportunity, and customer needs. You don’t want to lead your followers down a dead end or else they won’t easily follow you again. As Yogi Berra best said, “The future ain’t what is used to be.” Be sure to validate that your assumptions haven’t materially changed in a way that requires your vision to be revisited.

3.       Empower, coach and co-create. The focus should be on developing the right behaviors and achieving great results. Lead your followers through the decision process and allow them to arrive at a solution that they have crafted. Resist the temptation to waive your magic wand and just fix it.

4.       Keep your ear to the ground. Assess periodically if you have the necessary buy-in and sponsorship to make the vision a reality.

5.       Walk the talk. Say what you mean, and do what you say. Set a great example and use your behavior to reinforce your vision and the corporate culture that you embody. As a leader your actions are studied often, and your actions can be an opportunity to communicate, inspire, and empower. There is nothing more demotivating to followers than a double standard.

6.       Recognize and celebrate success. With success should come public celebration—it’s not necessary to have blow-out party, but you need to recognize your successes. The thrill of success is contagious. So often, great leaders assign the full credit for success to the team and take personal responsibility when thing go wrong. Never chastise failures, but instead study them for the purpose of not repeating the same mistake again. Avoid assigning fault to individuals as this process is counter-productive and de-motivating to your followers.

7.       Raise the bar. Great organizations constantly improve since maintaining the status quo while your competitors are improving is a recipe for ultimate business failure. What happened to Circuit City, Borders Books, and Blockbuster?Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and Red Box took market share and forced them out of a leadership position. And great leaders promote high achievement. High achievers expect to be constantly challenged or they become bored and go somewhere more challenging. So either raise the bar, or go the way of Circuit City, Borders Books, or Blockbuster.

8.       Leave go. Lastly and most importantly get the right people involved then inspire them with vision and get out of their way.

Avoiding the “Saashole”

Software-as-a-Service (“SaaS”) is a software delivery model where the product and its associated data are hosted in the cloud, and users gain access to the application via a web browser. In recent years, many business applications including accounting, customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, and human resource management have moved from on-premise licensed installations to SaaS as a primary delivery method. Gartner Group estimates that SaaS revenues will reach a projected $21.3 billion by 2015.

I should say upfront that I am a big fan of SaaS. Its simplified product and service model yields lower retail costs, improved vendor profitability, and makes customer support more convenient for everybody. Unfortunately this sometimes means that all customers have to be shoe-horned into “the box” of canned functionality. A “one size shoe that fits all” solution may work well for some organizations, but it often doesn’t for all. Organizations that have customization needs or unique integration requirements will find that SaaS is too restrictive for them and in turn may end up in the “Saashole” trap. There are often better choices for these organizations such as hosted or an on-premises license.

Here are my tips for avoiding the “Saashole” trap:

Review service level agreements for reasonable up-time guarantees and response time measures for all major application functions. SaaS applications are cloud-based, meaning a shared infrastructure of web servers, applications servers, and database servers that are accessible via the public internet. SaaS does not offer exclusive use to a single organization so performance can be impacted by what other users are doing at any given time.

Does the vendor support the browser and platform that you desire? Now days SaaS is accessed using a web browser. Are you patient enough for browser-only access? Is your intended use conducive to browser access? Is your internet connection stable and fast enough?

Choose a vendor with a more evolved reporting capability that shields end-users from system complexity. SaaS vendors commonly use a large data repository comingling customer data as this is most efficient and affordable for them. This multi-tenant design requires programming to separate customers logically and adds complexity to data reporting. Techniques like de-normalized database views and metadata layers facilitating intuitive data relationship, grouping, and summaries go a long way to enhancing the productivity of reporting. Ultimately the best approach eliminates all reporting complexity by abstracting the data relationships from the end-user. This yields point-and-click report definitions, grouping, and summaries in the most user-friendly format available.

Make sure the vendor’s “box” of capability is big enough for your needs. A single code base is another key tenant of SaaS. A lot of SaaS providers have application policies to customize look and feel, and in some cases, parts of the customer experience, so that doesn’t necessarily mean that every customer is stuck with the exact same user experience. But it what it does mean is that code customization for the unique needs of a single customer is not supported. Keep in mind that mature products tend to have a bigger “box” of capability that allows more organizations to be easily supported by the product.

Don’t get “Saasholed” into a long-term contract without cancellation options. Yes it is true thatSaaS has a subscription pricing model, but many vendors impose minimum contract terms or early termination penalties. It’s no fun to be pigeon-holed with a contract for a product that is not working well for you. And what if your organization requires change? You must consider your future needs as well.

Don’t overlook your system integration points, data imports, and data exports. In our business of HR, Benefits, and Payroll, getting data in and out of the system in a secure and efficient manner is an essential requirement for our clientele. Employee loads, time imports, carrier feeds, G/L files, and published web service integration points are just a few examples. Does the SaaS solution you are considering meet your integration requirements?

The key to every successful SaaS implementation is matching customer requirements to the capability of the solution. Before making a buying decision, conduct enough due diligence to know if the solution is a good fit for your unique requirements. Like with so many things in life, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. One sure way of avoiding the “Saashole” trap is to try the service before signing a long-term contract.

Are you hunting Purple Squirrels?

The Purple Squirrel is a term used by recruiters to refer to the most elusive of candidates matched to the most difficult of job requirements. A highly sought after and elusive Purple Squirrel candidate possesses the perfect match of education, experience, and qualifications to fit a job’s diverse requirements like a glove;  it is therefore assumed that this prized candidate can immediately assume the job’s responsibility with little or no training and perform with enhanced productivity.

Recruiters dread the “setup-to-fail” Purple Squirrel candidate search because it can be nearly impossible to satisfy a hiring manager’s unrealistic expectations for these job openings. And it is a growing problem. The current buyer’s market for talent has led to hiring managers with expectations that are unreasonably selective where qualified candidates are passed over with the hope of finding more closely matched candidates or even ones with lower compensation needs—a really frustrating no-win situation for the recruiter and the candidate. It is a tragedy that more people aren’t working while so many jobs remain unfilled for months while organizations conduct exhaustive searches for their Cinderella of candidates. This is not an entirely new problem. A few years back I was involved in the sourcing of candidates for a company with many job openings. Our team was excited about the size of the opportunity with this new client but we failed to realize that this client had engaged us in a Purple Squirrel hunt. This client’s expectations were so impossible to meet that after several months of unrewarded efforts we parted ways. When we discussed the situation with the client he mused that a workforce of perfectly matched employees would enable his businesses unit to function with fewer workers and greater productivity.

So why shouldn’t we be incredibly demanding and selective in hiring? What’s wrong with this thinking?

Extended candidate sourcing expenses can exceed the incremental training costs for traditional candidates. Purple Squirrel jobs are so difficult and time consuming to source that the cost-of-hire for a Purple Squirrel can often exceed the incremental training cost for hiring less well-matched candidates. Time is money and wasted time leads to missed opportunities. Wasting excessive amounts of time interviewing and sourcing the Cinderella of candidates can leave your department or organization lagging in productivity or even behind schedule in other areas of the business altogether.

Technical capabilities have overwhelmed your sourcing criteria. If you are recruiting Purple Squirrels you are likely weighing the technical capabilities of your candidates too heavily. Candidates should be evaluated in a balanced manner where qualities such as cultural fit, self-motivation, willingness, adaptability, aptitude to learning, and the ability to work in teams can be just as important to long term job success as a specific degree, certification, and targeted industry experience. Weighing technical qualifications too heavily in the recruiting process can leave you open to turn-over and cultural and morale issues down the road.

You can’t predict the future so don’t paint yourself in the corner by hiring a one trick pony. Markets and organizations change and so do job duties. A better employee is so often the one that can adapt to change, learn new skills, and rise to future challenges.

Been there and done that already. Employees perform best when challenged with growth assignments. The whole concept of a finding a perfectly matched Purple Squirrel candidate is counter to the concept of a growth assignment. Do you want an employee that is willing to settle for a job that really isn’t that challenging, growth-oriented, or provides them with a learning opportunity?

For Pete’s sake…let the stale air out and bring some fresh in. Promoting from other departments or sourcing from outside your industry has real benefits. You gain employees with fresh perspective, access to sources of new talent, and ideas; this in turn creates fertile ground for positive change. Any additional training or startup costs for hiring newbies can be defrayed by lower initial compensation requirements.

Don’t let the parade pass sourcing Purple Squirrels. Here are four recommendations to limit your organizations exposure to the wasted time, effort, and the missed opportunities that accompany Purple Squirrel hunting.

1)      Set a fixed reasonable duration for sourcing candidates for each job opening. Use a talent management system like PeopleGuruTM to define reasonable durations (like 90 days) for sourcing open jobs. Hold HR, recruiters, and hiring managers accountable for executing within these defined time intervals and escalate the recruiting process using workflow notification events at defined points throughout the sourcing window.

2)      Encourage hiring diversity, equality, and balanced candidate evaluations by defining corporate-level hiring standards such as cultural and physiological evaluations along with job specific evaluation criteria; enforce these standards via automated online questionnaires and ratings with assigned balanced scoring and knock-out criteria ensuring that the job-specific requirements do not overwhelm the candidate sourcing process. This has an added benefit insomuch as it ensures that candidates are evaluated in the same manner and judged using the same criteria.

3)      Engage internal candidates first. Release new job openings to employees via employee self-service for at least two weeks prior to accepting outside candidates. This will ensure that your internal candidates get priority consideration and foster a culture of achievement.

4)      Track cost of hire accurately. To accurately track costs of hire you have to consider all recruiting costs including internal and external costs. Use your HR or recruiting system to assign costs to each phase of the recruiting process and not just the external costs. Track internal costs by allocating expenses and overhead to the internal resources consumed in addition to external costs. Only this approach will provide a true picture of your total cost of hiring for each job opening.

Purple Squirrels may sound adorable and harmless; I assure you they are not. For job seekers and recruiters alike it’s a growing nightmare of unfilled jobs waiting for a dream Cinderella candidate that really doesn’t exist.

How to keep a Customer when things go wrong.

Remember how hard it was to score that customer, right? What do you do when Murphy’s Law kicks in and you now have an unhappy, or even furious, customer on your hands? How do you retain them?

Most people recognize that mistakes happen and things can and will go wrong. Your company will be judged most critically on your ability and finesse in managing these challenging situations.

Empower your customer-facing associates to follow these five simple rules, and I believe that you will find good success in turning the unhappy customer into a loyal advocate.

  1. Communicate often, maybe hourly depending on the nature of the issue. Answer and return calls promptly. Be patient and listen to them vent. The customer will often provide you with valuable clues on how they expect you to resolve the situation. Acknowledge your mistake (only if you made one), apologize sincerely for their trouble, and steer the conversation toward the plan to get their issues resolved.
  2. Only make promises that you are sure you can keep. The client is already upset, so it’s not the time to add fuel to their fire. Empathize, and don’t over promise. If you are not sure of a fix timeline, then don’t provide one with certainty. If it is an involved process to resolve their issues, then take extra time and precautions to fix it properly the first time. While you are working diligently on the resolution, always refer back to Rule Number 1.
  3. Cut out the red tape internally to avoid additional inconvenience for the customer. Be your customer’s advocate internally. Good news travels fast, and bad news travel faster. In the age of social media, industry forums, and complaint advocacy websites, even the smallest of customer issues can put your company and your personal reputation at risk for bad publicity. Enlist help from your supervisors, other departments, and co-workers and make a good case for why this customer takes priority over current work.  Avoid solutions where the customer incurs extra work or additional charges.
  4. Do something for the customer’s trouble. The accommodation doesn’t have to be extravagant or excessive. Most often your customer will feel better if you simply recognize their inconvenience. It is always reasonable to credit charges for ineffective products or services, but often a small denomination gift card is more personal, powerful, and effective.
  5. Follow-up. A few days after the dust settles, follow-up with an email and a phone call. These follow-up communications are needed to reinforce your commitment to service and will help to strengthen your customer’s perception of their value to your firm. The intention is to a convey these few things in this email and phone call:
    • A sincere apology and the accommodation provided if a credit was issued. Personal gift cards should be handled in a separate communication.
    • An explanation of what went wrong, how the issue was resolved, and why it won’t happen again in the future.
    • Thanks for their patience, trust, and continued patronage.

So you think you want to go with my competition? Why I could say I told you so, but won’t…

Their lower price is not what it seems.

The old expressions are true that “there’s always a catch,” and “a low price usually equals inferior products or service.” In our business of Benefits Administration, HR, and Payroll software services, new customers come to us for a variety of reasons. The number one reason is frustration with service. We see clients that are just tired of painful and inferior help desk support, and sometimes others have more tenuous and complex system difficulties, and even some face significant compliance penalties.

Getting service is like finding Waldo.

Our competition has become data-processing-centric with service as an afterthought. And while the data processing aspects of the Benefits Administration, HR, and Payroll software services business are vital, I don’t believe that it is reasonable to expect our customers to be experts in our business. We see it as our job to be there to guide our clientele through the process of getting the most of our service and product capabilities. How many times a month or a year do you make a change to a Paid Time Off policy or 401K match algorithm? I’m sure that for you it will not be that often, but, for us, we see these things every day. Our service model encourages our customers to engage us to assist in these types of events for your convenience. In our model, you can help yourself or be helped—either way is fine by us.

Don’t get sold a billed of goods: Implementation, schmimplementation.

We’ve been doing this for fifteen years. Our sales process engages our prospect to include enough information to understand our prospect’s needs. We generally skip the boring PowerPoint®, and limit ourselves to five minutes on “where we came from,”“who we are,” “what we stand for,” and “where we are going.” We spend adequate time justifying the project and defining project success criteria upfront. We follow-up our sales process with a client onboarding team that continues and validates the initial due diligence and works toward the orderly achievement of the defined project success milestones. We do focus on education so our clientele can get the most of our systems and services. And finally our systems and service are flexible and scalable so you are never painted in a corner or outgrow its capabilities.

System conversions are expensive and time consuming—don’t make the wrong choice. Of course it’s nice to see a prospect return to us after few months with our competitor, but I hate the fact that time and money were wasted in the process.

They won’t love you as much as we do.

I know this sounds corny, but it’s true. We bend over backward for our clientele. Your account manager is and will be knowledgeable and accessible because your account manager won’t be overloaded with too many clients—by design. In fact, client retention is a major part of their compensation structure. It is their job to keep you happy and retained. We strive to keep our employees’ interests aligned with our customers.

We are mature, reliable, and user friendly.

This is a business where focus, experience, and maturity counts. Is our competitor really worthy of your business? With fifteen years of singular focus in the Human Capital space, we know this business and can serve your needs in this area. Our systems are state-of-the-art, easy-to-use, and accurate. They work well for thousands of clients all over the USA. We manage all things compliance related in-house—it’s too important to leave to a third-party processor. We are not perfect, and I’d be skeptical of any firm that tells you that they are. We fix our mistakes, stand behind our company, and provide real service guarantees.

Terminations with poise and grace

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So you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being the bearer of bad news. Here are a few things that I have found will make the whole experience of terminating someone a lot easier for all those involved.

Don’t make it personal. Simply state the facts and leave out additional narratives. Explanations like:  “Your position has been eliminated due to a restructuring” or “You failed to meet the objectives of your performance improvement plan” are reasons enough for this final conversation. The focus of your discussion should be on turnover of work and post-termination benefits. Avoid promises to provide personal references or future job opportunities to non-performing terminated employees. Save your favors for the people who deserve them.

Be private, nice, and sincere. Find a private and quiet place to conduct the termination and check your anger and frustration at the door. It’s too late to save the employee’s job so criticizing their past performance isn’t going to help your cause or be constructive in any way. Try to find a sincere way to thank the employee for their contributions and efforts. You can empathize with the employee’s situation but steer clear of offering advice on what they should do next.

Don’t rub salt in an open wound.  Termination compensation can sometimes be a complicated affair. Is there accrued and unused vacation, unexercised stock options, or unpaid overtime? Provide the employee with instructions on contacting the company after termination and allow the employee to challenge your computations. Document your decisions regarding claims for additional compensation. This is one place that being the Grinch can really come back to haunt you. Err on the side of caution and pay the employee everything due to them at termination or shortly thereafter. Lawsuits are expensive so providing the employee a reason to file one is not wise. When necessary, take extra time to explain to the employee how their termination benefits are calculated and obtain their agreement of your math thereof.

Save the termination interview questions for a much later date. Time heals all wounds so give the employee a few weeks to cool down before asking for feedback.

Save the security guards for reality TV shows. It’s generally a good practice to escort the employee out quietly. If handled properly, terminations rarely get out of hand so having menacing security presence is only going to make you look weak and insecure.

Document everything beforehand and prepare for the worst. Make sure you have your ducks in a row before you pull the trigger. You can use the following points as suggestions for your future termination events.

  1. Employee File. Is the employee’s file updated with all the necessary documentation regarding events leading up to and including the termination? Has the file been reviewed by HR and legal?
  2. Notification. Are you prepared regarding coworker and customer notifications? Has your IT department been notified to disable login accounts, remote access and to safeguard and protect intellectual property? Have you planned for how incoming email and phone calls will be handled?
  3. Company Property. What keys, badges, or company assets are in the employee’s possession? Don’t forget about customer lists, billing records, and other company information that the employee may have.
  4. Post Termination Expectations. Do you have a separation agreement prepared? Is the employee subject to non-compete or non-solicitation for a period? You should cover these and your expectations of the employee post termination.
  5. Comply with Special Termination Laws. You may have a requirement to coordinate COBRA benefits at a State or Federal level or pay the employee their final paycheck upon termination. Compliance penalties are expensive and time consuming so outsourcing these activities is often the best solution for most companies.

Use these few simple suggestions effectively for your next termination to reduce uncertainty, anxiety, and liability and to increase your confidence during these unpleasant but necessary duties of a being manager. Your company and former employee will appreciate your handling of the most difficult of situations with poise and grace.