shutterstock_115814947Ultimate Connections, held late last month, is much larger than most other user conferences in the HCM space. With over 3,900 attendees and an expo hall of more than 40 vendors, it resembles a miniature HR Technology, or perhaps SHRM from around 1998. That is all to say that there is a lot of information to take in, a lot of customers to speak to, and a lot of statistics and numbers that are given out.

But what has always stood out for me in the gaudy numbers that Ultimate Software produces (#1 Fortune Best Places to Work, #2 ranked CEO on Glassdoor) is its customer retention rate of 97%. This is indirectly an offshoot of how well Ultimate engages its own employees, but also the result of its service model and delivery.

For instance, I was reminded this year that Ultimate Software provides all of its customer training free of charge. When Brandon Hall Group has researched the most critical vendor competencies for workforce management (in this case, last year’s Workforce Management Technology Study), we found user training to be a close third behind reporting and dashboards and intuitive user-centric interface.

Of course, training is a blanket term, and not all training is created equal. I recall a story I heard a while back from an HR Director who had recently left a prominent workforce management provider. Her stated reason for doing so was that employees were poorly trained on their system. They had received training, but it was prior to implementation. And as our learning research clearly shows, experiential training is far more valuable than classroom-type exercises – especially for system use.

But really this is a statement on the importance of service, which is another term that tends to get thrown around a lot without concrete examples of what it actually means for purchasers and end users. Despite being an ambiguous term, it is often service that is the differentiator between these HCM software providers, especially as more of them expand their portfolios and can provide the same capabilities.

When comparing two or more different HCM software companies, of course it is important to see the difference in their analytics reporting and in their user interface. But all things being equal, do not overlook the metrics that tie directly to customer satisfaction and service, because while many companies will tell you they have unsurpassed service, there aren’t too many out there that can prove that they have a near 100% retention rate.

–Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst, Workforce Management, Brandon Hall Group