Even with all the information and resources that we have at our fingertips nowadays, the sheer number of human capital management (HCM) applications out there makes it very challenging to know for sure if we're making the best decision for our organization when choosing HR technology.  After all, these decisions don’t just impact our careers as HR professionals and leaders – an HCM application touches every employee, manager, and executive across the company.

Many years ago, using survey-backed research and best practices, I helped companies evaluate their processes and tools to ensure they were helping HR align to the goals of the business. Even today, though the platforms may have changed, at their most basic level these tools are designed to do three things: streamline the back office, keep us compliant, and give us access to data, which in turn can be used to make decisions to help us move the function forward in alignment to the overall objectives of the company. When comparing HCM solutions, there are a few key criteria that every evaluation considers when determining which HR technology option can best do these three things:

  • Ease of use
  • Access to data and reporting
  • Features and functionality that match the pain points we're trying to solve
  • Reputation of the HCM vendor according to references (spoiler alert: they're probably all great, which is part of the challenge)
  • Cost
  • Integration into the organization's existing application ecosystem
  • Implementation and post-sale/go-live support

Depending on the buyer and the evaluation, other factors may play a role, including vendor company culture, stability, and how well they understand the buyer’s industry.

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While some of the above – references, implementation, support, stability, and culture to name a few – are intended to provide insight into the vendor-customer relationship, especially during an active evaluation, it's difficult to quantify how seriously a vendor emphasizes the customer experience.  This is an area where our own research into third-party sources is necessary to complement or contextualize vendor-provided references and responses.  Whether you're currently evaluating HCM technology options or grading your experience with your current provider, these three areas will provide the best indicator of the experience you can expect after you choose your HR software:

1. What are the experts saying about the HCM vendors you're considering?

There are many firms that research the HCM space through surveys, interviews, or deep RFPs to understand how well HR software providers can serve their respective markets.  Most of these firms, and even some analysts that operate independently, are surprisingly accessible to end-users and buyers, even without a subscription. They welcome conversations with executives and practitioners evaluating technology, and in return they provide insights and opinions on how they view different HCM vendors.

Most of these firms also provide insights beyond just looking at features and functionality – things that drive value from a strong vendor relationship, such as implementations, customer success, the ability to deliver a return on your investment, and how much a vendor will continue to innovate.  Remember, it’s extremely rare that an analyst has used any of the tools you’re evaluating, so consider their perspectives as one piece in your greater fact-finding puzzle.

2. What measures of quality can you find?

It's no secret that great employees produce great business outcomes. Whether they're developing products, selling them, deploying them to customers, or supporting those customers, engaged employees stay longer and apply their experience and know-how to add value. So how do you find out if your HCM vendor has those kinds of employees? Sites like Glassdoor are a great place to start.  

Glassdoor allows former and current employees to share their experiences at their respective employers – anonymously or otherwise – to share views of their experiences at the company. These reviews are well-vetted by Glassdoor and serve as a solid depiction of how companies treat their employees. This in turn provides a good idea of how prospective customers will be treated after they sign the dotted lines. Things like the long-term outlook, CEO approvals, benefits to employees, and tenure – all part of Glassdoor reviews – are another set of tea leaves that can help us paint a picture of how well we expect to be treated.

In addition to Glassdoor, there are many other sources of awards and validation of the culture. Fortune and the Great Place to Work Institute are two good examples of organizations that provide this kind of validation. And since as I mentioned engaged, inspired employees are supposed to lead to better business outcomes, it's always good to find sources that validate those outcomes.

Numerous trusted third-party firms, publications, and associations research, review, and nominate vendors or solutions for awards.  In the human capital management space, firms that cover HR, payroll, and technology are more relevant than others.  The Stevie awards, HROToday, and IT World among others are credible sources to consider.

Lastly, through research and surveys, there are organizations that look at HCM specifically through the customer experience lens.  The Customer Relationship Management Institute, for instance, studies survey feedback from hundreds of vendors – and thousands of their customers – before awarding its prestigious NorthFace Scoreboard award to best-in-class vendors who demonstrate the strongest focus on the customer experience.

3. What do the customers have to say?

To truly understand the full story of any HR software – and perhaps this is the most important part of the investigation – we must find the voice of the customer. That voice is much more credible when it comes organically from customers that haven’t been hand-picked by vendors. The advent of internet access and democratization of data has led to the rise of several Yelp-like sites for rating technology providers. Better yet, these resources are only a Google search away in most cases.

These sites are highly optimized for search engines and are easy to find. SelectHub and Capterra, for example, act as aggregators of reviews from actual users of software applications. Some HR software providers have several hundred reviews representing a solid proportion of the customer base. G2.com and TrustRadius are also top review sites that provide very well-vetted (LinkedIn profiles and screenshots of the product in use are some examples of what's required for their reviews) and detailed scoring from users of the various applications. Look for quality AND quantity. Average scores are great, but if a vendor claims to have thousands of customers while only a dozen of them provided reviews, this could be a red flag. From my perspective, this tells me they're struggling to turn customers – even happy ones – to advocates.

Furthermore, even well-known analyst firms are starting to leverage the voice of customers to augment the opinions of their analysts.  A few years ago, Gartner – perhaps the most well-known technology research firm – launched PeerInsights, a review sites where users in hundreds of different software categories rate their technology and the customer experience with their vendors.  Reviews are checked by a research team to ensure accuracy and verify use.  

In some cases, the vendors you’re evaluating will proactively point you to these sources, but if they don't you can seek them out on your own. As mentioned before, they're relatively easy to find. When you analyze this feedback, it's important read and review vendors based not just on product features and functionality, but the whole experience. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Was the sales team professional?
  • How responsive is the vendor?  
  • How did the implementation go?
  • How well do they really integrate with other systems?
  • How is support?
  • Do they seem like they really know their customers?  
  • Do they actively help me to network and share best practices with peers?

Most of these questions are easy to find answers for on the review sites we just discussed.  

Lastly, often people who provide these reviews leave their name and contact info. If you need more information, you can connect with them through the review site or through LinkedIn, as these sites often require LinkedIn profiles to validate identity and accuracy.

Conclusion: Focus on the experience

In a cloud world where vendors can innovate and add features and functionality with relative ease and frequency, working with a partner that provides a best-in-class experience is crucial.  With so much data available to us, it is difficult to get a truly rounded view of a vendor’s ability to meet our expectations. Combining the voice of the customer, insights from analysts, and the views of trade associations and publications through independent research is a best practice that will help us get there. Vetting our HR software's customer experience through third-party sources is key to helping us not only select the right vendor, but also hold our existing providers to higher standards and expectations.

Download the HCM Buyer's Guide to learn more

Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2020