recommended Questions to Ask HR Software References
Part of the due diligence process for selecting a Human Capital Management (HCM) system should involve checking vendor references. Yes, we know the HR Software vendors are only going to provide you with happy references and it seems like just a formality, but this is a real opportunity to gather and analyze these provided references for their overall satisfaction with the product and the vendor. Considering you will probably have a limited time to interact with each reference’s primary contact, having a plan will help maximize the time spent together. Taking time to establish a HR software reference check plan before you speak with the provided contacts will allow you to determine if your vendor concerns are legitimate and validated by users of the system.
To help you with developing this HR software reference check plan, here are several recommended best practices and suggested questions to employ before, during and after your reference check conversations.
Before Your HR Software Reference Checks
- When requesting references from the HCM vendor, if possible, ask for clients in the same or similar industry, who have a comparable number of employees (i.e. full-time, part-time, seasonal, global, etc.) and potentially in close proximity or area in the event an on-site reference check visit is possible. Best of all, inquire about speaking with an existing customer who transitioned from your current HRIS or HCM solution. This type of reference typically provides the best insight to any of your questions and is capable of providing you with realistic implementation expectations.
- Target and build your HR software reference check questions based on your teams’ feedback regarding areas of concern as a result of the vendor product demonstrations. (e.g. What has been your experience with the vendor’s support, their knowledge and the speed in which to resolve issues?”)
- If possible, request speaking to members of both the HR and finance team in order to get the broadest perspective of feedback from the functional areas that require the heaviest lifting for the HRIS/HCM project implementation.
- Schedule your reference check calls for 45-minutes or less. If you are organized and focused on what’s important, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot accomplish what you need in this time frame.
Be ready with your specific questions in advance in order to make the best use of your time, stay on track and to accomplish your objective of determining if your vendor concerns are legitimate and shared with users of the system.
- Choose your reference check questions carefully and design the questions to correlate with your team’s top vendor concerns. Each person will have their own set of vendor concerns which may include, but not limited to product capabilities, customer support, security and privacy, subscription/software fees, and implementation costs and methodology.
- For example: if the biggest areas of concern your team took away from the vendor’s demonstration was (a) customer support and speed to resolution, (b) timeframe to implement and level of effort required of you and your team and (c) manager self-service training, then focus your line of questioning directly related to these areas which should provide valuable and relevant insight from the reference.
* Expecting your HCM vendor to provide more than (3) references is unrealistic and most likely will be followed with some resistance.
** If you have not already visited independent online review sites such as TrustRadius, G2 or Raven Intel, now would be a good time to do so. These sites offer candid customer evaluations/assessments and feedback regarding vendors, their solutions, and their consulting/implementation partners.
During Your HR Software Reference Checks
- Be respectful of the time given by the reference and stick to it.
- Asking open-ended versus “yes/no” questions will produce more meaningful information and valuable insight. Be mindful however, that these open-ended type questions will burn up time quickly. Try not to get wrapped up in ancillary conversation on any one topic or into too much detail that will not add value to your research.
- Invite a few other members of your project team to the reference check conversation. You don’t want the entire selection committee to participate in the conversation, but having a couple of additional team members will help ensure all questions are asked and responses to these questions are remembered.
- Don’t evaluate information while you are gathering it. Take good notes and evaluate your notes afterwards with the team.
- End the reference check conversation by asking the client if you can reach back out should you or your team have any follow-up questions?
After Your HR Software Reference Checks
- If you feel like you need more references than what the vendor provided to you, consider searching online for customers of the vendor and reach out on your own. One way is to visit the vendor’s website and see the clients they are showcasing as success stories. We have had other clients request a conversation within specific LinkedIn User Groups.
- Conduct a short debrief meeting with your team after each reference check conversation. Take time to review notes and discuss the client’s responses to your questions and/or concerns. This quick meeting will help ensure everyone is in agreement on what was conveyed during the conversation with the client and determine if any other questions need to be addressed by the vendor.
- Follow-up with each primary reference contact with a “thank you”. You’ll never know when you might need to connect with them again.
To get you and the team started, here is a list of sample HR software reference check questions that you can use as a guide for building your own questions or to simply pick and choose from in order to compile your specific list of questions. The questions are focused in (5) general areas: vendor and the partnership; product and capabilities, implementation and training; customer support, and project insight and lessons learned.
Questions focused on why selecting this vendor and the partnership
- Can you share why your firm end-up selecting this vendor?
- What type of interaction did you have with the vendor’s staff (e.g. sales, services, executives, etc.)?
- What other HRIS/HCM and/or Payroll systems did you consider in your evaluation?
- Besides price and the technology, what other items attracted you to or surprised you about the vendor?
Questions focused on vendor’s product capabilities
- What impressed you and the team most about the vendor’s system?
- How does the system actually perform versus how it was demonstrated?
- What are the best features of the system?
- What limitations have you discovered?
- Have you encountered any surprises related to the solution?
Questions focused on vendor’s implementation and training
- Did the vendor implement the solution with you directly or did you use an outside implementation partner (i.e. vendor certified implementation partner or 3rd party consultant/firm)?
- Did the implementation team you worked with fully meet your implementation expectations? If not, explain where or how the implementation failed in meeting your expectations.
- What would you do differently with regards to the deployment of the system?
- What could the implementation team you worked with have done better during the implementation?
- Did you implement and are you using everything you initially purchased? If not, why?
- How responsive was your implementation team to challenges and implementation issues?
- How would you describe the implementation’s team approach to training your team?
- How would you describe the implementation’s team approach to the transfer of knowledge to your team?
- Describe the “system launch process” or the method to taking your system live.
Questions focused on vendor’s customer support
- Compared to previous software vendor relationships, have you seen an improvement with this vendor’s support model? If so, what is different and better?
- How long does it typically take to get a response and answer to open issues?
- How knowledgeable and responsive is your primary customer success manager, if a primary support contact is even made available to you?
- Is the vendor proactive in helping to address any significant HR or payroll related events (e.g. open enrollment, performance reviews, salary planning or year-end tax planning)?
Questions focused on lessons learned and project insight
- What would you do differently if you could do it again?
- What significant benefits have you realized since implementing the system?
- What advice do you have for us in working with the vendor?
- Would you select this vendor and their solution again?
- What additional costs have you incurred that you were not expecting?
- Is there anything else you can share that may help us make a decision?
Being prepared for your HR software reference checks is important. A little time spent upfront planning on what you want to accomplish and what insight you want to garnish from these conversations will help ensure you are selecting the right vendor for your firm. Not to mention the possibility of eliminating some unexpected surprises during your deployment.
If you have not yet started reviewing product demonstrations, please take a look at our 3-part blogs series that examines the three primary stages in planning and evaluating the HCM demonstration: