How small changes to the delivery model and approach to customer service helped transform CloudPay into an industry-leading solution
At a global payroll conference last month, a gentleman approached me with some process questions. We spoke for a few minutes, then he grinned and said, “You know, you guys used to have some pretty bad nicknames in the market.”
I nodded. I know we did. I’ve heard the stories and punchlines. They weren’t entirely without merit, to be honest. Prior to 2011, our solution wasn’t the best. We had service and culture issues to address, and in fact our whole offering required restructuring.
Over the past six years, we have made a series of transformational changes to our product, technology, and culture, which has helped us become one of the most complete, innovative global payroll providers around. It began with a gloves-off examination of who we were, where we were failing ourselves and our customers, who we wanted to be, and what was needed to achieve our goals. As it turned out, we had two glaring issues to address—as well as the ability and determination to fix them.
Issue #1: The Folly of Being Too “Nice”
Customers came to CloudPay looking for an alternative to the status quo. They were looking for a transformative solution that would help them improve their payroll and provide them with best practices. We didn’t do that. We let customers dictate how they submitted data. We let them bypass critical business process workflows. We allowed them to set up different processes in different countries, then we let them change those. By giving customers everything they asked for, we enabled them to continue bad habits and avoid adopting best practices and making substantive changes. In effect, we weren’t selling our solution; we were selling whatever our customers wanted.
Without standard data flows and workflows, customers received error-filled data. Supplemental runs meant cost creep and even greater opportunity for mistakes. Disparate processes across locations ensured confusion within organizations, and dissimilar documentation prevented customers from ever fully understanding their payroll. We didn’t have an established system to work from, which made it impossible for us to advise big multinationals and effect necessary process change within organizations. Under the guise of “being nice” to customers, we were actually letting them down.
As a solution provider, CloudPay needed to define our goals as well as our payroll system. As a managed services company, we are the largest users of our own technology. We effectively have a laboratory in which to analyze our issues and evaluate the root causes. And because we have only one global platform on which all country and client payrolls run, we could identify the commonalities across all issues and processes, from data inputs and calendar schedules to workflows, analytics, payments and statutory compliance.
We created global data standards and process workflows, and built automated functionality, integrations, and clear visibility into our global platform. We decided which country- and client-specific exceptions to allow and in which circumstances they would be appropriate. We also clarified the reasoning for our new rules, so we could explain our pushback if customers requested something that would negatively impact the system and jeopardize their payroll. Suddenly compliance, accuracy, and data security became features of the CloudPay solution, rather than aspirations. We could now do what we knew, offer a product we were proud of, and clearly understand and communicate the how and why of CloudPay.
Issue #2: Heroes & Building for Crisis Management
There were changes, issues, delays, and errors on a regular basis with customers around the world—some unavoidable but many allowed for by the regional inconsistencies in our system. Our service team was created to handle those problems as they arose. So rather than professionals committed to helping customers improve their payroll management, our culture of crisis management relied on a group of plainclothes heroes ready to swoop in and fix issues that should not have existed.
In truth, if your customer service needs a daily dose of heroism, something is wrong with your model. Our hero-dependent structure was a clear indication that our system needed a change.
Of course, there will be times when a quick-fix is necessary, but that should be the exception. As global payroll professionals, our goal should be to have a service that is so well-built, implemented, and integrated that customers’ payrolls are processed smoothly, reliably every time.
Introducing Solution Consultants
To support our newly improved system, we adopted the perspective of a service-oriented solution provider. Rather than being ready to put out fires, our solution consultants are now empowered to help customers optimize their payroll and consider products and options that could help unlock the power of their payroll data.
One challenging aspect of this change was that a few employees missed the heroic days. Some individuals who had been indispensable as crisis managers simply didn’t fit with CloudPay the service organization. However, most people appreciated the shift. They transitioned into standout solution consultants and process consultants, and we gave them the platform to succeed in those roles.
The Efficiency Fix
The changes we made at CloudPay were expansive, built into our standard product, and laid a foundation on which to continue to innovate. They needed to be if we were going to resolve our issues and elevate our service, which was the goal for ourselves as much as for our customers.
To be valuable, a solution needs to be efficient, which means everything that goes into it—from data flows and rules to expert instruction and support—needs to be optimized. To achieve this we adopted the idea of “lean” production, a concept developed in the 1960s in Japan, then called “just in time” manufacturing. The objective is to have each next step ready exactly when it’s needed, so that the people managing data are never waiting to receive or deliver it.
For the idea of lean processing to work, you need widespread visibility, efficient communication, and controls within the system to preserve the workflow and prevent omissions. We drastically reduced the barriers between our clients, our experts, and all the data and analytics needed to identify, characterize and resolve issues. Then we made all that information available to all parties with built-in visibility tools and real-time collaboration methods that help payroll teams communicate amongst themselves, with related departments, and with CloudPay.
We introduced rules, standards, and controls that made sense in and worked for nearly every scenario, whether a customer ran three payrolls in one country or 50 payrolls in 15. We established resolution processes that connect people with payroll data and insights, including automated alerts and notifications, robotics, and regular payroll-level performance reviews. We kept accountability and decision-making within the processing teams—both ours and our clients—and hold annual business review meetings with client executives that involve more extensive and relevant metrics than the industry-standard SLA. Finally, we developed additional products to help customers see, manage, and leverage the wealth of data available in their payroll.
Today CloudPay is a pioneering global payroll solution that goes far beyond fulfilling basic functional needs to contribute to our customers’ success. We’re even establishing a new delivery model that removes the inefficiencies inherent in the aggregator models that have become so prominent in this space. Plus, we deliver important payroll-level processing benchmarks that empower our clients to make smart process optimizations as they compare their performance against industry peers.
While it’s easy to recognize the difficulty involved in our transformation, what stays with me every day is the value of having gone through it. We faced our failures, and we made real, important changes that have set us up for the future. Not only did we gain actionable understanding of our solution and our goals, but we earned insights that benefit our customers—and ourselves—at every step.