Gallagher’s HR and Benefits Technology Consulting Practice continues to provide a service that is the business equivalent of marital counseling.

I never thought I’d be in the marriage counseling business but after 20 years of consulting, Gallagher’s HR and Benefits Technology Consulting Practice continues to provide a service that is the business equivalent of marital counseling. Most often between HR technology and benefits administration service providers and their employer clients.

These relationships face the same challenges as married couples. They come to the relationship with different expectations; varying levels of knowledge, understanding and expertise; and, frankly, different end-goals. Also, as one or both parties grow, expectations change. Just like in a marriage, communication is the key to address these challenges but (also as in a marriage) a subjective third-party can be helpful to facilitate that communication.

Both sides share responsibility

Our experience is that there are two sides to every story. While it’s typically the employer (or their benefits advisor) who initiates bringing in our team to help resolve relationship issues, it’s not always the service provider’s fault. In fact, seldom is one party solely responsible for a relationship problem. The “he-did/she-did” scenario often stems from a lack of a common vocabulary — which is a source of many client-provider relationship challenges.

What the employer refers to as “real-time updates,” may actually be the provider’s “daily file feed.” This verbal disconnect can create confusion and misunderstanding. And because HR technology is a small part of most HR managers’ job, it can create client dissatisfaction if they feel the provider doesn’t understand their needs or, worse, fails to do their job. Our team serves as a translator to define, clarify and put into writing the expectations of both parties.

Accountability is another source of relationship stress. Who thinks who’s accountable for what? Even within the same organization, accountability issues arise. HR technology may be shared by two functional areas within an organization, e.g., finance and HR departments. They both interact (differently) with the provider but not with each other. The result can be conflicting direction for the provider — who may lack conflict management skills. Even when roles are well defined, a lack of sophistication on the client’s part can create issues. Alternatively, in today’s tight talent market, providers may struggle to attract and retain skilled workers. We consistently hear from frustrated employers about the revolving door of account managers.

When turnover occurs

Turnover is inevitable on both sides. When the turnover is on the employer side, providers should start fresh with the kick-off meeting that happens during the initial sales and implementation process. Don’t assume there will be a good transfer of knowledge on the client side. Failure to treat the situation like a new sale risks losing the client. The new client contact should also reach out to establish a relationship. When the turnover occurs on the provider side, it’s incumbent upon the provider for the new personnel to have a record of past interactions. The client should feel like nothing has changed and that provider understands and is taking care of them (versus feeling as if they need to break in a new person).

Divorce need not be the outcome

Good, timely intervention can save a troubled provider-client relationship. Our team is successful about 90 percent of the time. When we fail, usually it’s because we were brought in too late. Our approach, much like marital counseling, is to meet separately with both parties before coming together to facilitate a discussion about concerns voiced on both sides. This process gets repeated until the issues are resolved or there’s mutual agreement to go their separate ways.

Sometimes we prescribe a specific action, such as a change in personnel on the provider side, knowing this is the only option to retain the client. We’ve also escalated problems on the client side after recognizing the point person is a poor match for the provider. We’ve told employers to fire providers and told providers to fire clients. In these cases, it is our expert opinion that the relationship is a bad fit and will not work out in the end. For the health of the business, divorce is the right step in these rare instances.

Changing providers may not be worth it

We don’t take lightly a recommendation to change providers. Employers are often quick to suggest this solution, but the time and energy are often not worth it. When concerns are product-focused, we remind those on a good commercial platform that they are unlikely to find something significantly better. Instead, we encourage them to invest that effort in optimizing the technology they already have.

When concerns are service-oriented, we advise to first engage in a good communications strategy and apply best practices for governing the provider relationship (read 10 Tips for Governing the Service Provider Relationship). Providers want to deliver good service but may need more or better communication strategies. Most problems can be resolved if they know about them. For concerns presented in a clear and timely manner (minus the drama), providers are happy to address them to ensure a satisfied and loyal customer.

If you feel frustrated by your current service provider relationship, submit a contact form on the right and my team will help you find better organizational wellbeing through better partnerships with your HR technology service providers.

About the Author

Rhonda Marcucci, together with Ed Barry, co-leads Gallagher’s HR and benefits technology consulting practice. Their team provides unbiased, well-researched HR technology and benefits administration consulting including sourcing advice and service provider capability audits. Rhonda’s extensive and broad-based experience in finance, accounting, administration, strategic planning, information systems, sales and marketing, and operations is instrumental in helping clients identify a comprehensive strategy and execute against it.

Consulting and insurance brokerage services to be provided by Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. and/or its affiliate Gallagher Benefit Services (Canada) Group Inc. Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. is a licensed insurance agency that does business in California as “Gallagher Benefit Services of California Insurance Services” and in Massachusetts as “Gallagher Benefit Insurance Services.” Neither Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., nor its affiliates provide accounting, legal or tax advice.