Ready To Invest In New Technology? Here Are Some Questions To Ask

Jul 16, 2009

What did you do the last time you invested in a new HR system?

If you’re at all similar to the thousands of other HR leaders that have gone through the process, you probably assembled an inter-departmental group from across the company and began creating lists of all the features anybody suggested.

Like other companies, that list probably didn’t include such vendor questions as:

  • What is the turnaround time on resolving system problems?
  • What is the turnover in your customer support staff?
  • Can we request a change in our primary customer representative?
  • When do we have to pay for system upgrades? Can we refuse an update and still receive support?

An article in the September issue of the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership addresses the issue of post-sale service and support for HR technology systems. The article (available only by subscription) talks about the advice experts like Leighanne Levensaler of Bersin and Associates and HRchitect’s Rick Fletcher and Matt Lafata have for companies planning an investment in HR technology. (Incidentally, they all agree that mere lists of features is the WRONG way to go.)

They, and, surprisingly, the vendors I spoke with for the article, all agree that the most overlooked area in systems acquisition is customer service.

After the system is up and running, the most important feature becomes service and support. That the systems have user-defined fields and configurable screens matters hardly at all if you can’t get the vendor to help you batch post job listings to multiple sites.

That’s why Andrew Curtis, director of customer support at iCIMS, suggests that once you’ve got a short list of vendors, and are making a decision, the post-sale support and service “should carry a 100 percent weight.”

OK. So that might be overkill, but SilkRoad technology’s COO, Brian Platz, says, “How much weight would I give to post-sale issues? I would give it 50 percent of my criteria.”

Now that you’ve got some sense of just how important the post-sale service is, how do you go about checking out the vendor? The Journal article offers more detail, but here are some tips from the consultants and vendors.

Who to interview when checking references

  • A regular system user in HR. For talent acquisition systems, this is probably a senior recruiter, or lead.
  • The primary liaison between the user and the vendor. This may be the project lead or the “go to” person, but not necessarily.
  • The user’s in-house tech support system. Large companies may have an HR tech specialist. Most others will not, but they may have one person who has more specialized knowledge of the system than other techs. In the smaller companies, there may not be an IT support person. In this case, find out who gets asked the “How do I do this” questions.

What to ask

  • Does the vendor have a single support contact person for the user? How often does the contact change?
  • Is the vendor proactive? Is the vendor interested in how you are using the system? Do you get advice and tips on improving efficiency? How regularly do you hear from the vendor, not counting sales calls?
  • How often is training offered? How effective is it? What’s the method of training?
  • Is there a portal where training materials are available, information is posted, updates are announced, and especially, is there a user forum or online discussion where users regularly exchange information? (Ask the vendor for access to it and see what users say.)
  • How long does it take to get through to a live person when you have a support call? What is the quality of the response? What has been your experience when the problem is more complex than the first-level support person can handle?
  • How long does it take to get a call back in an emergency situation?
  • What do you like most about working with this vendor?
  • Would you use this vendor again?


  • For the demo, ask the sales team to bring a support person or client relations manager. Sales will bring along the best person they have. That’s the person you want to insist on as your own contact.
  • Specify in the Service Level Agreement that you have the right to approve and change the support contact or client rep.
  • Require that the lead implementation person remain onsite (if an on-premises installation) or otherwise be available for a period of time after going live with a new system.