Is HR like a car dealership?

So there I was post-work on Monday, in the middle of listening to Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals, when my car started shuddering…yes shuddering while I was going 70 miles an hour on I95. Not a good place to be. Little yellow lights popped up saying ECP and Check Engine! So I got off at the next exit, checked the car manual and called my dear hubby to see what he thought I should do. He seemed to think this was a “drive home and take it in in the morning” kind of problem. I thought this was a “do I need to get a tow truck?” kind of problem. After discussion I decided to shudder/drive over to the dealership.

When I arrived I was not amused….

I explained to the service guy’s what was going on and they responded with a quick: “Okay Ma’am (really I could have done without the Ma’am), just pull the car up, I think I know what the problem might be and we can fix it quickly.”

What!? My car was shuddering and making horrible noises how could it be fixed quickly? Another technician came by and asked if I could step over to his desk so he could get some information from me. When I stopped over he said “I’m sorry you are having a bad day. I think we can fix this right away but if not we will get a rental for you right away.” He asked me a couple other questions and off I went to the waiting area. FIFTEEN minutes later he came back, the problem was fixed, it was covered by warranty and he would email me the documentation.

Can I tell you how awesome that experience was? Can I tell you that the service technician made my day? Yes and Yes.

You see, going to the car dealer/repair shop is something I don’t like to do. It seems like anytime I take a car in it’s usually a hassle and costs me time/money. About the only time I like being in a dealership is when I’m purchasing a new car. I don’t even really like looking at cars because there is always some sleazy sales guy trying to sell you something today.

As I was driving home I started to realize that HR can be a lot like a car dealer: Some of our employee’s like the products we put out (paychecks, awards, benefits), many just see us as a necessary evil, same with cars. Whether it’s the car dealership or your local HR office, few actually enjoy going to the dealership or HR. Kind of like the worst car dealers, HR makes you fill out forms, deal with a (sometimes) un-sympathetic person, wait around and in general deal with a lot of hassle that maybe isn’t money out of pocket but it takes time which is money.

That needs to stop

Instead of being the car dealer you hate HR should emulate a great car dealership:

1. Store employee’s information in a good HRIS system – ideally a place that houses everything: benefits, employee relations, performance, you get the gist. That way when Bob comes in complaining that his paycheck is messed up you can pull all his information and see if that is a recurring issue or it’s something new.

2. If you must have multiple systems use the same unique identifier across all your systems, this way you don’t have to look up the employee by last name in one, social security number in another and employee ID in a third. When an employee comes to you all you need is their employee ID. That’s it.

3. Great customer service – this doesn’t cost anything. It is very easy to look someone in the eye, apologize for the inconvenience and advise them you are going to get it fixed as soon as possible. In most cases it is really that easy: acknowledge the problem and reassure them you are going to fix that.

4. Tell them what you can– People feel better if they know what is going on. If you suspect that the problem with their 401k is because the vendor feed is incorrect simply state that. “I think the problem is this. If that’s the case we are already aware of the problem and can fix it quickly.”

5. Cut down on the paper. Really, you don’t need to print everything. Sometimes it’s as easy as saying “I’ve fixed the problem and will email you a confirmation.” Now wouldn’t it be great if an HRIS system could do that for us? Ok that’s another post.

So this is a long story to illustrate how you can have an angry customer and make them into a happy one. I was ticked there was a problem with my car, I had been inconvenienced, it was five o’clock and I was hungry. Not a recipe for a happy ending.

Instead, I left the dealership happy the problem was fixed and with a better perspective on my local car dealership. Maybe no one likes HR at your company; maybe you don’t have all the HRIS bells and whistles or the budget you think you need but that shouldn’t stop you from being able to change their perspective. It starts with the next person that walks into your office.