Vol. 46, No. 1
Companies are turning to formal process to week out poor relocation firms.
As any HR professional knows, even the smoothest cross-country move by an employee and the employee’s family can rank pretty high on the stress scale. And a bad move is right up there with root canals and IRS audits.
Recognizing the potential toll in productivity and other costs from moves that leave their people frazzled and frustrated, if not furious, some companies are establishing processes, including employee surveys, to review the performance of their long-distance movers and other relocation service providers. Many movers and moving consultants, recognizing that a satisfied customer is their best reference for repeat work with that company, also ask to be rated.
“The employer benefits by doing a survey because it has made a selection of a service provider, which has promised certain results,” says Laura Herring, president of The IMPACT Group, a suburban St. Louis provider of relocation services to more than 200 mid- and large-sized clients. “Employers also need to expect a service provider will do all it can to correct any problem as quickly as possible. It also lets them know if these are continued violations. If they are [continued problems], it is time to get another provider.”
HR professionals and relocation specialists who conduct post-move performance reviews say they want to know if movers kept the employees well informed during the move. They question whether the movers fulfilled all the specifics discussed before the move—from sticking to cost quotes to padding furniture as promised. And they advise following up on surveys by picking up the phone to deal swiftly and directly with movers, after or even during a move, if problems emerge.
HR a Key Player
While the HR department may not have line responsibilities for employee moves in every organization, it plays a central role in relocations for two companies that average more than 1,200 moves a year between them, Abbott Laboratories and CNA Insurance Cos.
It should be no surprise then, that the two Chicago-area companies closely monitor their employee moving services. Both have created their own questionnaires to gauge the quality of each move. For an HR person managing relocations, key questions include what criteria to use in determining whether a move has gone smoothly and how best to find out what, if anything, went wrong.
Abbott Laboratories sends out an 11-page survey asking employees how satisfied they were with their moves and how well the company explained the program to them. The employee also is invited to assess the performance of each of the service providers involved in the move.
The company encourages employees to complete the surveys because “quality of life for employees and their families is really important, and relocation is always a work in progress,” says Marita Stricklin, Abbott Laboratories’ director of corporate relocation.
Stricklin finds that employees take advantage of the opportunity to give feedback about their moving experiences. Abbott Laboratories’ relocation surveys get a response rate of between 50 percent and 77 percent—particularly good rates when only a 33 percent response rate would be adequate to give the company a picture of how well relocation is working, Stricklin says.
Because HR is responsible for corporate moves, Stricklin says her department needs to know how well employees and their families are acclimating themselves to their new area and how they felt going through the move.
“If we’re proactive, then we get to solve the issues before somebody has an episode and needs to get back to us,” Stricklin says. “We want to make sure everything is coordinated and the groups that work for us work together.”
She adds, “We want to know how our service providers are responding to employees’ needs,” such as ensuring that all the services to which employees are entitled are fully explained to them and that timelines for the various stages of the move are accommodated.
Stricklin also asks employees whether movers call them with details of their move or the employees have to contact the movers to get information.
She ensures that Abbott Laboratories’ HR professionals are aware they have leeway to intervene in certain relocation issues to help employees. For example, an HR representative may learn that a newly hired employee does not qualify for a particular relocation benefit, such as transportation of a car. Or the employee might need help with a move that isn’t covered by the company’s relocation policy because the distance is too short. HR can step in and offer help in such cases.
“It might make good business sense to provide an accommodation for the person rather than lose a good candidate over a technicality,” Stricklin says.
Stricklin says she figures Abbott Laboratories must be doing something right in relocations because overall, the employee satisfaction rate with moves is 94 percent.
Querying the Customer
Karen Jankowski, corporate relocation manager for CNA, says each transferring family and each service provider receives a survey after each move. The questions cover details such as the moving crew’s appearance and attitude as well as performance. “Did they throw the stuff on the truck?” Jankowski says. “Did they pad that white sofa? Did they disconnect what they were supposed to? Everything that we had talked about prior to the move—did that happen?”
Any response indicating less than satisfactory service in a particular area earns an immediate telephone call to the employee to determine exactly what went wrong and why. CNA also informs the service provider about the complaint, to “make sure the problem doesn’t happen again,” she says. “We want to ensure we have top-notch people working with our transferees, and we want to make sure we are getting what we pay for. First and foremost, we want the best for the CNA transferee,” Jankowski says.
Jankowski sees HR as the logical place for managing the relocation function and evaluating relocation services. “At CNA, human resources is very involved,” she says. “No matter if your company manages relocation directly or through a third party, HR should get involved in relocation at all stages because these are your employees. We want our employees to be productive. If somebody had a horrible experience and you don’t keep track of your vendors, you won’t have a good, productive employee.”
She evaluates service providers on performance, customer satisfaction, results and cost. “I am willing to pay a little more for a top performer because I believe you get what you pay for,” Jankowski says. “I want satisfied customers, so I think performance is my top criteria.”
CNA doesn’t wait until the move is completed to ask how it went, according to Jankowski. The evaluations start while the move is still under way. “Relocation measurement is ongoing,” she says. “I don’t want to hear after the fact there were problems, so we will ask during the entire move process, ‘How’s it going?’ As soon as we hear there is an issue, we pick up the phone right there and address it.”
Jankowski says her inquiries usually start with the van line’s coordinator, the person in charge of the specific move. If the same problem keeps cropping up, HR will bump its questions up to the moving company’s account executive, the point person for all the moves that the moving company does for CNA.
Presumably, faced with the possible loss of an entire contract if the problem has been serious and persistent, the account executive will have the incentive—and clout—to make the changes necessary to resolve the issue and avoid jeopardizing the relationship.
Before taking action, Jankowski says the company first will examine the circumstances to determine the source of the problem. “If it’s a service provider you have an excellent relationship with and who has always been there and [the problem is] just the personnel, you replace the coordinator and put someone else on” that move.
But, she adds, “If it’s a van line not doing well, that’s a different story. If the drivers aren’t good, the packers aren’t good and I’m having nothing but issues with the van line coordinator, then that tells me I have a major problem and I have to drop the van line.”
Observing that her criteria apply to other relocation service providers as well, Jankowski notes, “I try to give them more than one chance. But if it is something that keeps coming back … then you have an issue and you have to say ‘Enough is enough.’”
Abbott Laboratories takes a similar stance with regard to relationships with its service providers. If it learns of an issue regarding a service provider, it makes sure the service provider knows about it.
“If we don’t get continued satisfaction from our providers, such as … things that didn’t arrive in time, we address the problems immediately. If we didn’t have premier service companies, they would not continue to be on our booking roster,” says Abbott’s Stricklin.
As CNA’s and Abbot Laboratories’ HR departments know, the employer may initiate the move, but the service providers are usually the most visible representatives of the corporation during a relocation, whether it’s bringing on a new hire or transferring a veteran employee.
If the service provider fails to provide good service, all the efforts of the employer to provide a positive experience are greatly diminished. A survey, such as those used by CNA and Abbott Labs, preferably delivered immediately at the conclusion of the move, benefits all the parties who are trying to make sure the employee feels at home and productive in the new location as quickly as possible.
Thomas Philbin is vice president and general manager of Nelson Westerberg of Illinois, an Atlas Van Lines agent in Elk Grove Village, Ill.