Relocation Management Providers Go Digital

New tech makes life easier for HR and employees on the move

By Dave Zielinski October 4, 2018
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​Relocation management companies (RMCs)—the firms that companies hire to manage the logistics of employee relocation and keep costs under control—largely stayed out of the technology revolution that swept through the human resources industry. But that's changed as more RMCs introduce new digital platforms and tools designed to make life easier for both mobility managers and their employees on the move, known as assignees.

"The expectation from our clients is they'll have the same kind of app-driven, user-friendly technology experience they have in their personal lives or when using other corporate technologies," said John Kirk, chief information and technology officer for SIRVA Worldwide Relocation and Moving in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. "That's a big change from where we were a few years ago."

Mobility providers have been creating technology solutions with an eye toward a new audience, said Peggy Smith, president and CEO of trade association Worldwide ERC in Arlington, Va.  

"Our industry historically has been compliance-, reporting- and security-oriented, and the technology reflected that emphasis," Smith said. "But we've moved from designing systems primarily for the HR or mobility manager to building systems that also ensure assignees have a robust, mobile, user-friendly experience."

Digital Tools for Assignees

Managing relocating employees' needs is one area in which technology has helped RMCs meet clients' needs, said Tim O'Shea, vice president of consulting services for Graebel Relocation Services Worldwide in Aurora, Colo.

"One concern we heard in the past is assignees wouldn't know where they stood in their relocation process or what to expect next," O'Shea said. Graebel built an employee portal to keep them better apprised and give assignees more information about their move. "It shows them the full relocation plan and defines their responsibilities at the beginning, middle and end stages of the process," O'Shea said.

Relocation providers also have introduced digital applications to help assignees manage increasingly popular "core-flex" benefit plans. In these programs, companies define the core relocation benefits, such as shipment of household goods, plus offer the choice of some additional benefits, such as home-finding trips and mortgage assistance.  

Cartus created an online tool, BenefitsBuilder, to help relocating employees make those decisions, modeling potential benefits combinations tied to a points system, according to Tony Ceriello, vice president of product solutions for relocation provider Cartus in Danbury, Conn.

The application is an outcome of focus groups Cartus conducted with clients that found assignees rarely read long, text-based policies detailing their benefit options. BenefitsBuilder features a gamified, drag-and-drop concept based on a deck of playing cards. Assignees receive an "opening hand" representing their core benefits package and can "draw" any of the cards and get more detail on flexible benefit options.

"Assignees understand what they are eligible for, make their selections online and then initiate the services," Ceriello said.

"SIRVA Connect gives assignees the ability to find the information they need for every step in the process, any time, on any device, anywhere in the world," Kirk said. Features include capturing real-time feedback from assignees and transferees, which allows relocation counselors to proactively troubleshoot and anticipate employee needs before they occur, he added.

Managing Lump-Sum Payouts

New applications help employees manage the money their employer has given them to pay for their move. According to Atlas' 2017 Corporate Relocation survey, almost half of surveyed companies use lump-sum payouts for real estate transactions, rental assistance, household goods shipping and storage, and more.

"We launched Lump Sum Xpress in response to rising demand for a lump-sum solution and we continue to invest in research and technology to keep up with evolving customer expectations," said SIRVA's Kirk. "Too often in the past in our industry, assignees were left to their own devices to find moving companies or realtors and in making other important relocation decisions. Self-service, mobile-optimized tools with strong decision-support features can help by providing things like lists of vetted suppliers, pre-negotiated discount pricing and more."

O'Shea said Graebel created a tool called CitySwitcher that allows assignees to model relocation services based on cost and other key factors. "It puts all of the resources in one place at the fingertips of a lump-sum recipient," he said.

Balancing High Tech with High Touch

Most RMCs understand that moving can be a stressful experience when even the best technology-delivered customer service won't suffice to calm client nerves or troubleshoot difficult problems.

"Our research is very clear that people want more self-service that elevates their relocation experience and timely access to human support when assignees have questions or concerns," Kirk said. "This guides our customer support philosophy of providing best-in-class technology when you want it and a live person when you need it."

Smith believes RMCs should cater to assignee communication preferences and apply high touch where it matters most in the relocation process. "Some people might get aggravated when they have to talk to a person versus using text or chat, and others want to connect with a human being on the phone when they have a question or problem," she said. "The bottom line is, regardless of the communication channel, [employees] should feel like a provider cares as much about their success in a relocation process as they do."

Predictive Analytics and Talent Metrics

Predictive analytics and machine learning also have begun to make inroads in the relocation industry. Cartus leverages data from the more than 2 million employee moves it's managed over the past 30 years to help clients plan or reforecast relocations, said Neil Bussell, director of business intelligence and data management for Cartus. 

An interactive, digital timeline creates an initial set of predictions for an employee move, Bussell said, and when one of the milestones is achieved, future dates are automatically recalculated based on the event that just occurred. "The algorithm itself is also updated based on the outcome of each move, so it learns from each new experience," he said.

SIRVA's analytics platform, SIRVAlytics, empowers users with business intelligence capabilities and visualizations in a "highly interactive, intuitive, three-dimensional fashion," Kirk said. The goal is to allow mobility leaders to change their mindset from saying "I think" to "the data suggests," he added.

Integrating HR data can yield invaluable insight about the impact of employee relocations. "Correlating that data can help show whether or not a relocation was successful and the reasons why," O'Shea said. Are those who go on assignment more likely to get promoted in the next five years versus those at the same level who weren't relocated? How long did a relocated employee stay with the company, and how did he or she perform?

"These are reasonable questions to ask but usually can't be answered because of the lack of good data integration," O'Shea said. "Imagine the power of a mobility program that could show the return on investment of relocation through the prism of how successful relocated employees are from a performance, promotion or retention perspective."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance writer specializing in talent acquisition and HR technology topics.

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