HR Vision Podcast #23 – The Backstage of Customer Support in HR Tech ft. Michael Bates

By FourVision
Dec 8 • 1 min read
HR Vision Podcast Episode 23 ft. Michael Bates

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After an HR system is up and running, customers will inevitably face challenges or uncover errors in the system. The complexity that is inherent to HR Tech can make the lives of Customer Support tough.

That’s why Michael Bates joined us this week to share his experience working as a support consultant in HR Tech. In this episode we talked about the process of supporting customers, how a good relationship is key to effective problem-solving and how customer feedback is used to improve the product.

Ivo:
Hey everyone, and welcome to the HR Vision Podcast. I'm your host, Ivo, and every week I'm going to have a conversation that matters about HR. This week I have Michael Bates with me. Welcome Michael, how are you?

Michael:
I'm good thanks. How are you?

Ivo:
I'm good. Thank you for being here. Michael is based in the UK. He's a support consultant at FourVision, and today we're going over his experience and the work he's doing as a support consultant. I think it's the first time we have in the show, kind of a developer, so we'll see how that goes. So let's start. Are you ready?

Michael:
Ready yeah!

Ivo:
Good, good. OK, let's start from the top like almost any guest. I would like to know more about about you, your background, and how did you come to this to this position; to this place?

Michael:
Yeah, OK, I've been with FourVision just over a year now. Started in September 2020. Previously I worked with a FourVision customer on an implementation of HR Plus. So that was basically; I've got to meet a number of people from FourVision. So Geert, Bert, Rebecca, a number of the consultants. So I got to meet plenty of people. And I got to sort of a crossroads where I was at the customer, where they were looking to to change direction in what they were doing. So it made me think, I can either use this knowledge that I've learned. There's a couple years doing the implementation, or go and learn something else. So I approached Bert, who had met before, saying pretty much: 'I would be interested in coming in using the knowledge that I've learned I've learned over the last couple of years', and they were very receptive to that. Fortunately, Bert and Peter were very much in agreement of 'Yes, you can come and work for us', and it was a relatively stress free interview process. So yeah.

Ivo:
Awesome. You background was always in technology? Anything related to HR, or studies in those kind of things?

Michael:
Not really. So I'm a chemist by trade. I did a master in chemistry, yeah. I had the unfortunate pleasure of graduating just as the first recession hit the UK. So it was a bit of a tough time. Fell into sort of an administrative role where I worked at my previous company. And then saw a role come up as a business analyst. Ignored it the first time, thinking I've got no experience doing this. I don't know what it's about, so I ignored it. Then it came up again. I just thought, you know, apply. See what happens.

Fortunately I was successful there. After about a year in that role, we started looking towards doing an ERP implementation. And I sort of became responsible for the HRM payroll side of things. So all my knowledge of HR processing and software has come since maybe 2017, I think we started working on that, so it's been quite a hectic and steep learning curve, but it seems to be doing well for me.

Ivo:
I can imagine, but you're still enjoying enjoying it, I guess?

Michael:
Yeah, it's good. Yeah, it's interesting to see how things have even developed over the last three or four years. Everything started changing and evolving and all sorts of things helping people make decisions with data and analytics and how apps and everything are becoming more the norm and people are starting to understand the power of sort of the data that's out there and how they can use that. So yeah, it's interesting.

Ivo:
OK, alright. The interest in technology, was that something that you always had, even as a chemist, or even growing up I guess? Did you have that already in you, or did the business analyst position that you took just drive you there?

Michael:
I mean, I've always been a bit of a gamer geek. It's been one of my biggest hobbies of my life really. That and cricket. So yeah, the technology interest's always been there through my personal time. So when the role came, or the opportunity came up to move into that business analyst role of being involved in technology and looking at how we can develop and improve processes. That sort of linked into things I was interested in, and I think, you know when people say 'Well why are you working in IT? You're a chemist.', those skills surely don't match. But a lot of chemistry lends itself to IT, and particularly process management because it's a lot of 'Why do we do with this?', 'What can we do to improve it?', 'Where are the pinch points?'. And it's a similar process of looking at why potentially a reaction doesn't work to why the process isn't working in a business. It's those sort of skills that are very much transferable I've found.

Ivo:
Interesting, alright. So yeah, let's move to what you do now. You know, my question is what is it like, you know, to be a support consultant in this business, HR tech. But what does it mean? What have you been doing? What do you think are the must haves to be successful at that position?

Michael:
It's a bit of a cliche that I hear quite a lot, but no day is the same. Especially in support, because it's not as if it's a typical 'Monday this is going to happen, so I'm going to do this too. Tuesday I'm gonna do this.' It's very much reactive to what is happening with the customer, whether it be, you know, something's going wrong or something is being developed and they need a hand developing any process.

It is quite interesting and no day is the same. It's not monotonous. It's always new and interesting. We have daily catch-ups. To see where the issues are, where the pinch points are. It is agile, fast moving, but I really enjoy the fact that it is. It doesn't get stagnant and bar and it is varied every day.

Ivo:
OK, cool. You arrive to the process after the implementation is done right? So you you start working with customers. What people might expect is that when the work is done, or the implementation is done "We went live", but actually your function is very important to just as the name says, support the customer through that journey. Using the profits, see if the requirements were really met. Can you tell us a bit more like what is; How do you do that? What is that process of getting the support done with the customer?

Michael:
Yeah, I think the first main point for me, and what I find most important is: Getting the customer to understand what information we need as support, and I think I can understand completely why a customer will say "This is not working. I need it fixing right now." But there's not a lot of detail in there, and it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack. If you just get 'this is not working', you know trying to explain the needs of 'Has anything changed?', 'Are you trying to do something different?', 'Have you updated something?', 'Have you clicked on something that you don't usually do?' and sort of training the customer' mindset to be like 'Alright, OK I need to provide all this.'. And then move back to the prioritization.

Because again, I completely understand that every customer thinks their issue is the biggest issue and needs the most priority. Working with with leave people are very protective of their leave, and people see issues at leave, and then 'Oh no, this is the biggest problem ever. But it's trying to have that relationship with their customers, to say and stay calm and say: 'Yes it's not working.' But you know the people. No one saying you can't have leave just because a number on a screen doesn't say what you're expecting it to, and try and support them to sort out the name of the department.

So just help people and make people realize that 'Yes. It is an issue.' Yes it is going to start it, but if you provide me all the information, it's going to make my life in your life much simpler because I'm not going to come back to you bombarding you with 20 questions about what is going wrong? What changed? I need this? I need that. Let's have another meeting. Let's talk about this'. Just training the customers have that relationship really.

Ivo:
Yeah, I totally get that. That comes a bit to the next question, which is: What are the common challenges that you face when you get into the support stage of the process. The most common challenge is of course, probably is exactly what you said. The fact that you know the customer doesn't know exactly how to explain what is happening, what, what, uh, you know what. What are the mistakes that they've made using the product? But can you tell us a bit more like what are common challenges that you face being in support?

Michael:
Like we mentioned that going through and getting the right amount of information is difficult. And again the priority. When I say everything everyone thinks their issue is the most important. And then just other things. So when we get an issue, we'll go away and try and replicate it internally. And there's a number of situations where people say "Well, I'm doing this and I'm getting this result and it's not right", and then we'd go away. Test it. Come back and say, "Actually, in our standard environment where everything is set up as it should be it does work OK and you get that sort of impasse between yourself and the customer where we're saying, "well the products right, and they're saying, well, it's your product and it's not working for me.' and it's trying to get to where that responsibility lies to say yes it is our product but it's not working. But the issue is potentially with your data, with your infrastructure. Also, something specifically on in your environment, that's sort of the biggest challenge, because people will see this is a FourVision product., it's not working as it should do. Therefore it's FourVision's problem. Which I can completely understand.

But again, it's just building that relationship and trying to get that report with customers for them to start trust what you're saying to them. Because trust is is a key part of the part consultants role. You know, we're supposed to be the people with all the knowledge, and people need to trust that what we're sending back to people is correct, because they've spent and invested a lot of time and money and resources on these systems. So they need to trust and have that report with us that everything we're going to send back is correct and is having their best interests at heart, I suppose.

Ivo:

Yeah, that is very interesting, because from what you've been saying, I think you probably get a lot of insights coming from the customer side. You know. Coming from those challenges that you face, the problems that the customer faces, with the process that you can feed into the company to improve the product and all that. Does that happen often often?

Michael:
Yeah, I've been involved in sort of the support as well. I get to do a lot of testing of the new releases so the web apps are constantly evolving and being developed at a massive pace. You know, as soon as we release one version there's more and more features just coming out in the new one. And we're on a constant so conveyor belt of testing, new functionality, and there are situations where customers will come back to us and say: "Wouldn't it be good if if this particular part of the Web App did this?". Then we go away and think about that. And it comes 'Oh yeah, yeah, that would be really good.' and that sort of evolves into our core product.

So it's always, it's like a two way street where if a number of customers say. "Ideally we'd like this in the web app." You know there's that potential need there to evolve our products and make it more worth using for more customers. So the product is always evolving, it's always improving. And it's always meeting the needs of more customers so. Yeah, that relationship is is key for the web apps to evolved.

Ivo:
Yeah, that makes total sense. I see that you are sometimes active on some of the Microsoft Community channels, because you're working with the platforms and you're feeding in new ideas all the time. And I know that it's something that you like to test and you get excited by my new features on the products that we develop. So even sometimes problems to solutions that you get, end up being passed on to customers. Can you tell us a bit more about that process? Does it always come from you or mostly from the customer side?

Michael:
The majority of certainly requirements do come in from customers where they've looked at what the web app does and said 'This is a gap for. (Uh, not a gap, an opportunity) for developments within the product. But there are like I say, we do a test on every release of every web app. There are opportunities for us to import and say this bit of functionality does this, but wouldn't it be better if this happened, or this happened? So there's always always opportunity there, because we're right at the start of the product being put out into the wild, that we can see sort of gaps in functionality or bits that need an extra bit of sort of touching up and get those out with customers.

It's good to be part of the department that can help shape and grow the product that we're offering.

Ivo:
Alright, alright. Imagine that a customer that never went through implementation is starting the process now with us, or is thinking about it. After the implementation comes to support stage, not all the customers actually depending on what they're doing, request a support contract, but when they do what they can expect, when you know how early in the process do you or the team get in? Can they expect like a cadence of meetings, is it only by request? How do you work on that?

Michael:
We try to do everything use in DevOps, so that's quite a major part of our role. Managing DevOps, we have two separate areas, one for developing the products and one for managing customer tickets. There is some resistance, sometimes on customers because it is another new system that they have to learn how to use and have to get into their day job. But from in terms of managing issues, managing changes, managing what people are looking for, what people are expecting, getting that far more sign off, it's such a key tool for us to manage what's going on.

I've had a couple of support issues in the past where it's been a lot of back and forth by email. You know, email is great for certain things. But tracking an issue that's been going on and on for weeks and weeks and weeks, you'll lose things in the thread or in the detail and you end up having to go back and ask the same questions, where if you've got the customer on their own specific platform where they can log things in a structured manner, everyone knows where to look. Everyone can look through the history. "OK, what's Michael done? What's development done? What's the customer project manager doing? What are the end users doing it?" Pointing out those roles and responsibilities and making everyone clear on what they want to do makes everyone's life just so much easier than sending emails to everyone.

Ivo:
Yeah, I'm sure. So when they're coming in, do you guys have like an introduction meeting with them? Explaining other DevOps platform works? What is, if you can give me like a step by step process?

Michael:
Yeah, yeah. So I've just started working on one of the projects now in terms of supporting through UAT. So they've had their introduction to DevOps from one of the consultants, being told how to structure things. So now they've moved on to testing. All their requirements are on Dev Ops and their tests are linked to there. So they go through out their test steps, what they've done on there, and if there are any problems, raise an issue. We treat it as an issue, see if their issue meets what's been agreed in the design, just so we've got that traceability.

It's that people are saying 'This is an issue because I think so, it's actually an issue because it doesn't mean what it says in the design.' Then look at whether we can fix that in terms of. Is it some config that's that's wrong? It some confidently changing, is it a data issue? Data migration issues I'm sure are common throughout every project. Just because it's such a massive undertaking or is it something that needs developing extra and it's having again, just having processes in place and having a project structure that everyone knows how the following makes just everyone's life just so much easier.

Ivo:
Of course. Yeah, I can imagine. Now I remember the question that I had before this one. You worked with all our web apps or most of them.

Michael:
All of them.

Ivo:
All of them. I was just curious if you have a favorite of yours.

Michael:
It's a difficult one. I mean, there's so many that do different things. I think in terms of being the most powerful: Performance Management and Requests are there. You know, with the with the push and pull of data from D365, the. The process that you can do through there are really impressive, particularly with requests and the amount of configuration there is in there. Whether that would say that makes it my favorite. I'm not sure, because it makes my job harder. Because there's so many things to look at if things have gone wrong, it's sometimes a bit of a nightmare.

Because I've been fortunate, like I say, to do all the regression testing on the way to releases. I get to see the functionality of all the web apps, whereas maybe someone, you knowm, in consultancy may have never worked on a project that has Request. May have never worked on a project that has Timesheet Management. And they maybe miss that experience, whereas in the support team we get to see everything that the company is working on. It gives you a big, rounded knowledge of everything that we're doing.

And I think the way we're moving forward now into getting the web apps to integrate with each other with Request pushing, documents into document management, or Onboarding pushing documents into document management, integrating things with with DocuSign. It's making the sort of the offer that FourVision have so much more powerful than a standalone.

Before I worked at FourVision, the only experience I had with the web apps was using the Leave app. Which... yes, it's great. You can book leave on your phone rather than using F&O, which potentially doesn't look so great on a mobile phone. But it's very much a web app of one function booking leave, but the way we've evolved now and the way the web apps are set up. There's so much more that they can do, and there's so much power there.

Then using the O-Data feeds that are available out of those to get that data and have analytics of: 'Well what are people using the web apps for?' You know what, what volume of transactions are going through there, how many documents do we have stored? What type of documents are we storing? Which do we potentially need to look at? You know changing our process, changing our setup and it's just that even in just the last year that I've been, the functionality that's been available within the web apps has just grown so much.

Occasionally it's a bit of a poisoned chalice for support. Where potentially developments move in a lot quicker than then we can learn internally, and that's probably quite of a challenge to get everyone within the support department up on that knowledge. Straight away, as soon as they're available. But it's, I think, essential for FourVision as a business for those web apps to keep evolving and keep expanding the customer base by meeting more customers' needs.

Ivo:
Yeah, and do you normally access the data? How do you look into that? Do you guys as a team, as a process, improve the web apps based on data? How do you store it? How do you do you have a process for that?

Michael:
Not often, really know. We're aware of how it's done. So getting the data out and using Power Query to acquire it in Excel for example. Just to see what data is there. I think it's very much a customer- sort of issue process. For the customer say right. 'I want to report on this and this.' but just for us to know the process of 'OK, this is how you get that data out.' How you want to manipulate that is entirely up to you, but we can support you in getting that data out so you can make your business decisions based on what that's saying.

Ivo:
Yeah, no, no, I get that. That was not exactly what I was asking, not the personal data of the customer. Of course we can't have access to that, but if we look through the data like the backend. What are the features that customers use the most? You know, what are the features that actually giving more problems or more bugs? Let's say. Do we look into that and we use that to improve. We have a process for that? That was what I was intending.

Michael:
OK, no we don't at the minute. But I think that is something that we can look at. We do use quite a lot of tags within DevOps. To see which customer has log in issues in with which web app. So that information, and we have got dashboards available for looking at that sort of information. But from some of my part of view, where I sit in support, it doesn't really influence the development road map. I think the development road maps quite set in stone and we I think we're trying to move towards a model of the web apps becoming standard offer rather than specific people saying "Oh well, I want this bit in my web app.".

Standardizing everything makes things a lot easier for their business, for us to say: "This is our standard web app offer" that we can then back up with documentation. Because it's the same. From 'this is the best practice process. Here you go.' This is how we do it and it potentially could speed up implementations but help customers know we can give all that information. On demand I suppose as the customer needs and say here you go - Digest this as you want, and then we'll see how you want to set it up.

Ivo:
Right, yeah, makes sense. Yeah, one last question for you, it's more like looking into the looking into the future. So you can see a lot of developments. The latest things that we've been working on, the connection with Dynamics 365 HR. Now it's coming back to F&O and all that. My question to you is: Do you see anything coming in the pipeline for development. Integrations, maybe. I don't know, more automation, more AI. Do you see interesting stuff? What are the trends that you see coming in, that you think will be awesome to work on are awesome for the customers?

Michael:
I think. Just going back into my background on my previous job, there was a lot of repair work and jobs being organized, work hard has been organized for members or staff at that business. And I think the exciting thing for me in the future is being able to use that HR knowledge that exists for everyone. Be as simple as whereabouts, do they work. What are they trained to do? What can they do? What time of day do they work? And using that knowledge and leveraging that knowledge to start assigning tasks and work to them in sort of a smart fashion. So not having someone there looking at lists and lists of data all day, saying "Right I know this person works here. I know this person can do this." and having to rely on someone that knows the business, that's been there for years, having all that knowledge in their head.

You know, having that sense or repository of data where anyone can come in and manage the system to assign the work and the jobs as it needs doing, I think. Using that data and leveraging the data that's there to make smart business decisions is the next step for me in HR. Because it's nice to have all that data there. It's nice to have it all in one place. But the benefit is: How can I make my business more efficient? How can I make my business more cost-effective by using that data? Do I need more people trained to do a certain job? Do I need more people in this area? Do I need less people in this area? Do I need to pay people more in this area?

Just being able, instead of having to give someone a massive load of data and say 'figure these answers out for me'. We can just ask data in D365. 'You know what's the answer to this question?' and that makes it sound really simple, which obviously it's not quite that simple. But the functionality is there and the power is there, in that data, to influence and answer those questions for people. And I think that's really exciting.

Ivo:
Look, that's very practical. I think everybody can relate to that, and I think people looking for systems or whatever. There may be to improve their their HR processes can certainly relate to that. They want to have more power in their hands, more decision power on their hands, and data is the only way to go. And it's a great possibility that technology brought. So yeah, I think that's very practical. It's a very good note to end to end this episode.

Michael, once again, thank you so much for for coming in.

Michael:
Thanks for having me on.

Ivo:
I hope you enjoyed it. I did. So yeah, I'll see you around. For people listening out there. We'll see you next time.

Michael:
Thank you very much.


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