The Criticality of Customer Success in HR Transformation

We’ve been riding the digital transformation wave for more than a decade now and it’s changed the HR function forever. But here’s the thing: technology alone isn’t enough in HR transformation.

That may seem like an odd statement coming from an HR tech CEO, but it’s the unequivocal truth. No matter how impressive the technology or how well it aligns with modern-day business needs, we still need guidance in how best to use it – and especially in the world of remote and hybrid work.

But yet there’s a clear disconnect when it comes to recognizing the value of customer-vendor collaboration in HR transformation. Without this collaboration, HR teams will not only fail to reap an optimum return on their tech investment, they will find it that much harder to deliver the people experiences they had envisaged.

So what’s the solution for HR Transformation?

First off, HR tech providers need to retire the transactional mindset – and not just pay lip service to build long-term customer relationships, but really invest in doing so. At the same time, HR tech buyers need to place a high value on HR tech companies that are seen to prioritize customer support throughout every stage of the customer lifecycle.

Vendor vs partner: the HR tech differentiator

I’ve spoken to many HR leaders over the years who’ve learned that hiring an HR tech “vendor” is a fast-track route to mediocrity. It’s a costly and time-consuming lesson – and one that buyers are determined not to repeat. These leaders recognize that, in retrospect, engaging a technology partner is where the real opportunity lies. 

But all too often, vendors adopt an ‘implement and leave’ approach – and it not only limits the success of their customers but hinders their own ability to retain those customers and grow. There is little to no collaboration in these “relationships” and it only creates a detrimental impact on both parties.

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The customer success checklist: look for longevity!

When shortlisting potential tech partners, HR teams need to be questioning both the validity and depth of each vendor’s customer-centricity – and almost as much as the technology itself.

Does the HR Tech vendor talk about plans post-implementation, for example, or do you get the impression they will disappear once the deal is done? 

The handover from sales to customer success represents a pivotal point in the HR transformation journey. Done well, it’s a smooth and well-executed process underpinned by transparency and collaboration. But that doesn’t happen by chance. It calls for Customer Success Managers (CSM) to have been in conversation with their customers well before the handover.

Think of it this way: a CSM who has been connected with a new customer from an early stage in the buying cycle will have the advantage of already understanding their specific challenges and objectives. That puts them ten steps ahead when the time comes to pick up and own the relationship. More importantly, it means they will be better positioned to provide the very best recommendations and guidance – after all, you’re not just buying a product, you’re buying specialist expertise and advice.

Another key sign to look for is the presence of a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) – a clear indication that the vendor in question places high priority on customer success. But I’m not just talking about the Workdays of this world. Many HR tech startups are now hiring CCOs to oversee customer strategy and drive competitive advantage. Of course, that CCO will also need a dedicated – and well-resourced – customer success team in order to build and maintain the collaborative relationships that support HR transformation. 

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Perhaps the greatest test, however, comes in the form of speaking to a provider’s existing customers:

  • What do they have to say about their experience?
  • Are they long-standing customers?
  • Do they rave about the partnership and the impact it’s having on their people and business performance?

These are all crucial questions to ask – and HR tech companies that truly invest in customer success will be only too happy to connect you with their customers (read: those that don’t should be given a wide berth).  

Working together in the new normal 

Of course, the definition of success is different for every customer. Variable factors include company culture, industry sector, employee base, size of the people team – and that’s before we even consider the en masse shift to remote and hybrid work.   

In this environment, strong customer support is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must-have’. Your chosen partner should be willing to work with you in your new normal – whatever that may look like. They should help to inform your strategic planning and collaborate with you to set achievable goals with defined milestones. By opting for a technology partner, modern HR teams can make their journey to transformation a far superior experience – both for themselves and their people. 

Extended teams, trust and two-way feedback

But why is the collaborative partnership so essential in HR transformation? 

Collaboration, open communication, trust, feedback, and ongoing support are integral features within any high-performing team, and the customer-vendor partnership is simply an extended version of this team. It requires all of these same features to be present at an operational level in order to drive performance and achieve long-term success. What we’re talking about is creating psychologically safe partnerships whereby CSMs can voice their honest opinions without fear of being penalized. Likewise, customers are empowered – and encouraged – to provide their tech partner with regular feedback, regardless of whether that feedback is good or not-so-good. My point is that it’s communicated and acted upon quickly. It’s valuable feedback that works both ways – and when it happens, it leads to a true partnership whereby customer and vendor are genuinely invested in each other’s success. Mistakes will be made but quickly rectified, and milestones will be celebrated together. 

And it is in these environments that HR transformation can really take off.

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