Making Self Service Work in HR


Online retail and banking have continually raised the bar for online self-service experiences. For HR to reduce costs and improve customer service we need to learn why people are so ready to embrace self-service at home but still so reluctant at work.


I remember in the early days of self-service the enormous resistance from managers and employees against using self-service HR systems. From a corporate perspective, it made enormous sense as self-service could (in theory) reduce processing costs centrally by effectively shifting some of the burden for processes out of the centre and onto the line. It also helped underscore the message that HR was trying to get across at the time about people management being a core responsibility of the business line rather than the centralised HR function. In many organisations, managers resented this ‘offloading’ of processing work and fought hard to continue to send forms, emails and phone calls through to HR rather than logging on to the self-service portal.


In a sense, HR was ahead of its time so it’s not surprising that it hit hurdles and obstacles. It wasn’t until e-commerce and e-banking on the web really took off that we all started to learn what the real potential of self-service was.


When I come across organisations now in which there is still a resistance to self-service online systems I always challenge the suggestion that managers “just don’t like self-service”. How many, I ask, of these managers use online banking? How many order books and more from Amazon? I remember having to go in to book shops to order items in the pre-web days and telling the shop assistant what I wanted while they either filled in a form to send off or else typed what I was saying to them into a networked computer. I wouldn’t want to go back to that and doubt many others would. How many of these “difficult” or “resistant” managers put their own orders together through online supermarket services such as Ocado or Sainsburys? The answer is probably all or most of them. We need to think about why people are happy to use self-service at home but resist it at work.


There are three key reasons or principles why people respond well to self-service online systems:

1. They are intuitive. Ask yourself which training course you went on to learn how to use the Amazon self-service website or even the potentially complex world of online banking.

2. They are attractive. The rapid development of e-commerce has resulted in people having very high expectations of the look and feel of online services.

3. They don’t just replace the traditional service, they improve it.


For me, reason number 3 is the big one. For self-service to be a success it has to not just shift the process from HR to manager, it needs to offer the manager additional benefits. This means getting the manager to where I am with ordering books, I would choose the online self-service system ten times out of ten. This has also been the success behind online banking; you can’t just do at home what you used to have done for you by the bank – you can do a lot more.


In the realm of HR and People Management payslips software such as CIPHR is a great example of not just replicating what used to be done centrally on paper, but offering the self-server other benefits too including an overview of their total reward package, easy access to historical payslips and more. Well designed systems like CIPHR also help to make the case with managers that self-service can be better than centralised services and make transitionining other services easier.


Services or products that don’t meet the three tests set out above will never be able to win people over in the way that the big online names have done in their millions. By drawing on these three key principles we can do what once seemed impossible: reduce costs, speed up processes and improve customer service for managers.


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