Why I want Zebras for customers, and not just because…

Zebras are majestic, unique, and beautiful.

The software-as-a-service industry caters products and services to the bell curve of customer requirements—our industry calls this vanilla service model of product and service capabilities “the box.” Little emphasis or focus is placed on handling the out-of-the-box situations or unique customer service requirements because a limited service model is much easier to develop, implement, and support. A simplified product and service model with an assembly-line support infrastructure yields improved profitability and lower costs, right? This of course means that all customers have to be shoe-horned into “the box.” This “one size shoe that fits all” mentality may work for some organizations, but it doesn’t work for all because this is often the reason organizations contact my company—PeopleGuru. At PeopleGuru, we’ve affectionately nicknamed these unique organizations “Zebras.”

A Zebra’s stripes are as unique as fingerprints, and no two are exactly alike.

So what makes an organization a Zebra? We define a Zebra as a client that requires more flexibility in their benefit administration, payroll, time and labor, and/or HR product and service model. Often these organizations have unique policies or procedures that are of cultural significance and provide a unique competitive advantage—policies and procedures that these organizations firmly believe are worth preserving. Zebras are often forced to resort to labor intensive manual administration of their unique needs outside of their core systems. Organizations like a 1,000 employee health insurer with a generous but unique 401K company match eligibility requirement that is subject to an annual look-back of earnings and hours paid. This same organization has a paid time off accrual policy with more complexity than is the industry norm and an online benefit enrollment process with tons of employee choice. Or a beach resort that employs 900 who when facing a serious compliance dilemma and substantial wage and hour fine, engaged PeopleGuru to preserve their long standing practice of assigning wait staff to both the banquet and the restaurant during the same shift. Another is a 750 employee home improvement contractor that records hours and jobs in the field and feeds this data real-time to an in-house system.

All Zebras have two things in common; they choose to be Zebras, and they take great offense to being treated like they aren’t.

Zebras have excellent senses; they can even see at night and in color.

It’s my opinion that our Zebras are more industry savvy and competitive. They don’t swim upstream or create policies to be difficult. They see opportunity where others miss it, and they operate their business with a unique competitive advantage because of it. Yes, it is true that Zebras really take advantage of PeopleGuru’s unique product and service capabilities, and we love each other because of it. And we are always welcoming new Zebra clients.

Of course, you don’t have to be a Zebra to be a PeopleGuru customer, since we literally serve thousands of organizations that aren’t. Then again, you may find peace of mind knowing you can show your Zebra stripes in the future if you ever need to.

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.