Head of HR advice services, Catherine Tausney, explained that the system, Ask HR, was originally brought in to lessen the burden on HR helpline staff.
But the tool came into its own when the company restructured last year, providing anxious staff with immediate access to reliable information.
The helpline service of 18 advisers had been a “victim of its own success” as it was being swamped with requests, said Tausney.
“We got to the stage [in 2007] where we were taking about 12,000 calls a month – it was murder,” said Tausney. So the intranet-based Ask HR system, supplied by Transversal, was introduced as a first stop for staff questions. Now 10 staff run the helpline and maintain the question database used by 23,500 staff, with the others being redeployed within HR.
Employees type in a question or browse the most frequently asked questions in each of 23 categories and if there is no relevant information staff can email HR.
“It is not only helping day-to-day operations but is underpinning the communication of major change across Aviva,” Tausney said.
She added that last year, when the company restructured, “we were telling a lot of people across the UK business about massive change and potential job losses. Normally the helpline phones would be ringing off the hook with people worried about whether they had a job and what they were entitled to.
“Normally that would have been an impossible situation leaving people with unanswered questions for weeks, which would have worked against us.”
But the self-service search engine answered 7,000 questions in one day.
“That was the turning point that showed that in the right context with the right data, and if we maintain it in the proper way, it works,” she said.
The system worked well for answering initial concerns, although it didn’t replace the face-to-face follow up with people on a personal basis, she added.
“Within 12 months of launching, we’d diverted 23 per cent of the calls to the Ask HR system, which was better than our expected target of 15 per cent. Now that figure is 69 per cent, and 93 per cent of people using the system are satisfied with the answers.”
Aviva is continuing to improve the system to make the questions and word search more user-friendly and address the concerns of people who now claim that “HR is invisible”. But Tausney said: “We still have to overcome this reluctance to change. The way we are approaching that is to say if we can get the most accurate information that is to our advantage.”
Aviva is also investigating the use of Ask HR across other countries within the global group. The company in North America is at the early stages of considering the system.