Modernizing HR Service Delivery for the Digital Workforce

Foundational Refreshed: 20 July 2017 | Published: 01 June 2016 ID: G00301618



Today's workforce is becoming more global, mobile, social and flexible. Concurrently, workforce expectations for consumer-grade experiences are rising. Meeting the expectations of this modern workforce requires HR and IT leaders to take a fresh look at HR service delivery technologies and models.


Key Challenges

  • Increasingly global workforces with more flexible work arrangements create service complexity that HR departments struggle to satisfy in an effective and efficient manner.

  • Traditional HR service delivery models that rely solely on asynchronous communication can result in miscommunications between workers and HR, and can extend resolution time frames.

  • For most organizations, meeting both current and emerging HR service expectations requires navigating a daunting array of internal process and technical challenges.


For HR and IT leaders:

  • Adopt or enhance a specialized HR knowledge-base/portal approach with robust search that provides personalized results and processes, mobile access and robust analytics.

  • Adopt or enhance an integrated case management tool that provides multichannel synchronous and asynchronous communication options, mobile ticketing and robust analytics.


The emergence of HR service delivery models was originally driven by the desire to reduce service delivery costs and improve operational efficiency. The strategy was to empower workers to resolve their own basic inquiries so that high-value HR professionals would spend less time answering routine questions and more time on strategic HR initiatives.

It can take two to five years for complex organizations to systematize their processes and technologies and quantify a return on investment (ROI). Early North American adopters of HR service delivery models have shown strong results. Service cost reductions of up to 30% have been achieved. In Europe, Latin America and Asia/Pacific, added complexities of multilingual requirements and significant differences in heavy labor regulations from country to country can, to some degree, slow down implementations and ROIs.

At a macrolevel, the integrated HR service delivery model has not changed since its inception. The model has three service tiers supported directly by technology. These tiers are most commonly referred to as Tier 0, Tier 1 and Tier 2. Sometimes a virtual additional tier (3) is referenced for highly sensitive cases or complex escalations, where issues are addressed at least partially if not entirely outside of the standard process and technology (see Table 1).

Table 1.   HR Service Delivery Technology by Tier


Required Technology

Tier 0

Knowledge base, portal/mobile interface

Tier 1

Knowledge base, portal/mobile interface, case management

Tier 2

Knowledge base, portal/mobile interface, case management

Tier 3

Often handled outside of standard process

Source: Gartner (June 2016)

The process for each tier is described below.

Tier 0: Workers and managers search an HR knowledge base that returns personalized responses and related content through an integrated portal or mobile interface. This content typically includes policies, procedures and decision support materials. Single sign-on (SSO) into HR applications is also typically provided so that workers can complete related transactions without leaving the knowledge-base framework. With a well-implemented Tier 0, workers and managers can quickly solve their own inquiries 40%-70% of the time.

Tier 1: If workers or managers cannot resolve their own inquiries by searching the knowledge base, they open a ticket in an integrated case management tool. With a well-implemented case management tool, HR customer service representatives (CSRs) can resolve another 20%-40% of the workforce's inquiries.

Tier 2: If an inquiry cannot be resolved by a CSR, it is escalated to an HR subject matter expert (SME). Ideally, HR SMEs should only need to resolve 5%-10% of cases. Tiers 1 and 2 share the same technology. Tier 2 does not require an additional purchase.

Tier 3: If an HR SME cannot resolve a case, it may be escalated to highly specialized or senior professionals. With a well-managed delivery model, less than 5% of cases are escalated to Tier 3. Senior HR professionals can focus on strategic initiatives. As previously mentioned, some cases may entirely bypass tiers 0 through 2 and be handled directly by experts. For example, an organization may group its executives into a separate service population with dedicated support. Potential labor disputes and sensitive employee relations cases may be handled immediately by qualified or authorized professionals.

Figure 1. Integrated Service Delivery Model
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (June 2016)


While the integrated HR service delivery model (see Figure 1) has produced many success stories in terms of improved efficiency, the modern workforce now places high expectations on employee experience and engagement. An integrated service delivery suite is used more frequently by the workforce than almost any other HR application, so experience with these tools directly impacts HR's reputation as a whole. If an HR department is perceived to provide poor service, it may lose credibility across the board.

Furthermore, the modern workforce expects a consumer-grade customer service experience. HR might consider benchmarking its service capabilities against externally facing customer service capabilities to assess the gap between its employee service and its customer service. Gaps are likely to be identified and could be prioritized according to impact and budget.

HR departments should evaluate each HR service delivery component and consider the following features and techniques to modernize their integrated service delivery experience.

Adopt or Enhance a Specialized Knowledge-Base/Portal Approach (Tier 0)

Foundational to the integrated service delivery model is a robust and searchable knowledge-base/portal solution. It is critical that workers, as well as CSRs, can quickly retrieve accurate answers for their inquiries and cases. They also expect to be able to find these answers from anywhere, at any time. If workers cannot easily solve their own inquiries or do not trust the information they find, they will soon abandon the process. Accurate and easy content retrieval is essential to adoption.

In early implementations of service delivery models, many HR departments built their own sites. These sites relied heavily on manual navigation for workers to locate the information that pertained to them. This could be a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process for workers, which could result in process abandonment or the retrieval of incorrect content. Modern workers are accustomed to the personalized experience of Amazon and the speed of Google search. They expect to access their HR content in a similar manner. Meeting these expectations requires an intelligent and highly organized approach to content management.

The following technologies and practices should be considered when modernizing the HR service delivery knowledge base and portal.


Type-ahead and suggested terms: A robust search engine should include type-ahead functionality as well as suggested terms to assist users in executing a search that will yield their desired results.

Weight key content: Key content within each HR domain should be weighted to appear at the top of search results to ensure that workers immediately see the most relevant content. Weighting or flagging features can also be used to promote key HR messages to the top of every search result. This technique is equivalent to the ads users see at the top of search results on consumer sites.

Incorporate federated or integrated search results: Many enterprises will have additional sources of content beyond the HR knowledge base. For example, they may wish to include course content or content from a third-party vendor. Incorporating federated or integrated search results that display results side by side or in an integrated fashion can improve the support available to the workforce.

Suggest additional reading and actions: Consumer sites have been cross-selling for many years. If an online customer buys a camping tent, sleeping bag suggestions are sure to follow. HR can use the same technologies and techniques to provide modern service. For example, if workers search for a vacation policy, they might also want to check their paid time off balance. The most advanced delivery models apply machine-learning and personalization techniques to achieve this level of service.

Enable configurable home pages: One size or structure does not fit all. Employees are used to configuring their home page on commercial portals and expect to do the same with their HR information. One employee might prioritize the gym schedule while another may want to closely monitor the stock purchase plan performance.

Provide comprehensive process flows: Most current knowledge-base solutions offer simple checklists with SSO into various systems as a way to assist employees through multistep processes such as life events. This approach has been effective in enabling employees to conduct a list of transactions that reside in various systems. However, end-to-end personalized process flows supported by robust business process frameworks should now be considered.

Deliver mobile content access: Workers' relationship with HR extends beyond the workplace. They may need to look up payroll information while at a lender's office. They may want to reference an expense policy while at a restaurant. In this mobile age, it is essential to provide access to information from any device, at any time.

Add social and collaborative feedback channels — judiciously: A consumer-grade experience includes comments, forums, recommendations and content rating within Tier 0. When considering the deployment of social features, HR leaders should take a selective approach. Allowing workers to publicly comment on a federally mandated law over which HR has no influence provides no value and may create frustration and risk. By contrast, a ride share forum could be very useful and low risk. One approach that some solutions offer for sensitive topics is to provide a feedback form that is privately sent directly to HR. Look for solutions that enable a spectrum of social options at a content level.


Establish rigid content taxonomy: Knowledge-base content should be categorized by data such as location, management level or worker type to ensure that workers only see the content that applies to them. This taxonomy is typically achieved through tagging and metadata. For example, an executive in London would see different plans and policies than a contingent worker in Sao Paulo.

Align with corporate portal standards: Workers want ease of use across all of their corporate service functions. When HR professionals plan creatively in terms of "the HR site," they are missing the larger workforce experience. To the extent that security and varying technologies allow, a corporate standard for visual communication mediums should be upheld.

Update access frequently: Knowledge-base access must keep current with workers' life and work events. If a worker relocates to another country or changes her status from contingent to regular employee, the HR system of record should immediately feed the new information to the knowledge base so that the worker's content view reflects her current attributes.

Analyze site traffic: Another way to improve employee experience with knowledge base is to analyze traffic data such as page hits, common search terms, and zero result searches. In the most advanced scenarios, machine-learning techniques can be applied to improve personalized recommendations and identify content in need of improvement.

Test regularly: Search results should be regularly tested to ensure that content has been properly categorized and is easily retrieved by the intended audience.

Adopt or Enhance an Integrated Case Management Tool (Tiers 1 and 2)

HR case management communications were historically limited to the ticket form. Any real-time communication occurred through asynchronous channels such as phone, email or corporate chat. Workers now expect a robust multichannel service experience that includes integrated and collaborative communications. HR service organizations are under pressure to measure up to the experience provided by consumer service organizations. Additionally, globalization and increasingly flexible work arrangements require operational updates.

The following technologies and practices should be considered for modernizing case management.


Include survey feedback: Employees and managers should be able to provide integrated feedback on their service experience. This feedback should be used for individual as well as aggregated insights about the quality and effectiveness of service.

Provide integrated communications: Early HR-specific case management applications did not include integrated communications. Cases were worked via phone, email or corporate chat. The primary shortcoming of this approach was that case correspondence wasn't saved with the case. Integrated chat can be saved with the ticket providing case documentation.

Provide case collaboration/swarming: Communication between CSRs has also grown more social and collaborative. Look for solutions that allow for collaborative case resolution.

Implement case branching: Worker cases can be complex, especially during life and work events. For example, a relocation case may be submitted that requires several resolution steps across multiple disciplines and systems. Cases should support branching and maintain parent/child relationships.

Incorporate "view as" functionality: The CSR picking up a case should be able to assume the view of the worker who is the subject of the case. This feature serves the same purpose as an IT representative remotely accessing a worker's laptop. CSRs can troubleshoot issues much more efficiently when they can immediately see the problem from the worker's point of view.

Incorporate manager "view as" functionality: The same functionality used for CSRs can also assist managers. A manager with an employee based in France could assume that worker's view to learn what policies or holidays apply. This view needs to be limited to omit any protected data.

Enable mobile ticketing and notifications: The same argument made for mobile access to employee content exists for mobile case management. The worker relationship with HR extends outside the workplace and workers expect to access help from wherever they might be.


Evaluate a distributed or virtual service center approach: The rise of flexible work arrangements is increasingly being applied to service organizations. HR service can be delivered from anywhere. While there are many advantages to large organizations in colocating shared-service departments, many enterprises benefit from using an HR case management tool without a physical shared-service center. A virtual (or distributed) model can also simplify providing live support across multiple time zones, which is essential to a global and mobile workforce.

Leverage objective case data: Feedback gathered through surveys, although certainly valuable, is subjective. Objective data should also be leveraged. Case management metrics such as case volume, case topics, or peak activity times should be analyzed to drive continual service improvements. Machine-learning techniques can be applied to proactively suggest improvements. For example, payroll CSRs may be staffed during traditional business hours, but workers typically open payroll cases at night when they have privacy. The addition of an evening shift could significantly reduce response times and improve worker experience.

Establish a Clear Governance Model for Content, Process and Technology

Providing a modern and efficient service experience for the workforce is not simple for HR — it requires organization and discipline. Decentralized HR departments in particular may find that developing structures and standards requires evangelism of the potential benefits to be gained. An effective governance model addresses content management, process and technology.

Content Governance

Governance of service delivery should include process owners supported by SMEs: Process owners are typically assigned by domain and/or region. They are responsible for ensuring that their content coverage is complete, accurate, current and properly tagged for optimal search and personalization results. Often, content owners are program leaders for their discipline. For example, payroll managers are likely content owners, as they are domain experts with a vested interest in the content's success. They are typically supported by additional SMEs within their department.

Include service representation in HR decisions: CSRs are often the last to know that a policy has changed or that a deadline has moved. This oversight can result in workers and managers receiving misinformation. The service center needs review time and education if CSRs are to effectively support new or changing programs and content.

Process and Technology Governance

Start with a subset: When initially implementing an integrated service delivery model, organizations tend to start with a subset of employee population and/or domains. They choose a well-documented process with a strong potential for ROI. Payroll and benefits are frequent early candidates.

Add domains incrementally: After attaining a level of success with their initial roll-out, organizations seek to maximize their investment and standardize employee experience by expanding coverage into talent management and manager support processes. Some leading organizations will also include non-HR domains, such as expense reporting or procurement, to give workers a more seamless experience across the enterprise.

Add processes: Each new domain may include SSO into related transactional systems, along with its supporting content. To implement advanced processes such as life events, the prerequisite building blocks of content and SSO must be in place.

Extend access to nonemployees: Some advanced enterprises have extended limited access to family members, retirees or contingent workers for the content and services that they need, including benefits information or policies that apply to the contingent workforce.

Include cross-functional stakeholders: HR departments should include stakeholders from outside of HR in their planning, implementation and ongoing operations. Representation from departments such as corporate communications, the business itself and IT should be included to ensure that solutions are consistent and compliant with corporate communications and technology standards, and that the experience will satisfy the workforce. Representation from any system integrators being used on the project should also be included. Global representation should be included from the start.

Keep resources and governance in place to sustain and adapt the solution: As the service delivery platform evolves, so will the skills of the project team. Working within a modern service delivery platform requires an understanding of modern portal and content architecture. These skills will be required to continually measure process effectiveness, work with stakeholders to gather feedback and prioritize requirements, and stay on top of technology enhancements. The project team resources will be needed on an ongoing basis.

Establish a steering committee: A steering committee should meet regularly to review enhancement plans, prioritize issues and reallocate resources, as necessary. The steering committee is likely led by very senior members of HR and IT leadership, the leader of the HR service center and, potentially, leaders of other enterprise service centers.

By modernizing the HR service delivery platform and processes, HR organizations are investing in where employees go for the vast majority of their HR interactions. Therefore, considering these advancements will contribute toward the perception of HR as a forward-thinking organization that can meet the expectations of the modern workforce.