This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions
When customers contact organizations on matters such as approvals, billing, claims, refunds and shipping, contact centers turn to the back offices that carry out these tasks. How well back offices perform impacts contact centers in meeting customers’ needs.
To gain insights into this issue, Customer Interaction Solutions contacted several leading experts and asked how the effect and degree back office performance has on contact center effectiveness and how can contact centers – and their organizations – respond. Here are the highlights of their answers:
The back office has a direct effect on the contact center/front office. A customer inquiry from the contact center often initiates a process or task in the back office. Unfortunately, the back office is extremely inefficient and is often the culprit for missing key service level agreements. The contact center is punished for the back office’s transgressions from irate customers. The contact center and back office organizations are usually separate and silo’d, which further compounds the problem.
Customer service needs to become a collaborative endeavor. Customer data should be freely shared between organizations while task/work handoffs should occur seamlessly. The back office should improve its performance by adopting best-practices and technologies employed by the contact center including task segmentation/routing, automation, presence and workforce optimization (WFO).
The front office can act as the back office. Often highly skilled agents have excess capacity during low call volumes to conduct basic processing of common tasks or work-items usually reserved for the back office.
Back office performance is often measured separately from contact center performance, so they don’t overlap to quite the degree that people might assume. If we’re talking about the impact of having back office workers jump into contact center interactions (on the phone, or through escalation), then I think we’ll see positive results on the closure rate or perhaps even the satisfaction rate.
But I don’t think we really know what the impact is from a telephony standpoint, in terms of how long calls last or whether back office workers are adhering to scripts or standards. That’s because back office workers are not recorded/evaluated in the same way that call center workers are; few companies have managed to bridge that gap with common measurement and training standards.
Customer satisfaction is based on how well the enterprise works together to deliver on the promise; the customer doesn’t necessarily care where or who created a delay. If the back office fails to deliver, performance metrics such as first call resolution and average handle times may suffer, but the impact to customer satisfaction and loyalty is really where the rubber meets the road.
Back office [productivity] issues stem from an often complex environment. The tasks are more complex, span multiple resources and take longer than a front-office interaction. There is reliance on multiple technologies to fulfill a task, difficulties in identifying what information to collect and actual collection of that information and a lack of established service levels.
We have seen from our customers a desire to measure back office performance and to apply WFO capabilities to it to align the total customer experience. For the contact center manager, visibility is vital to provide insight into the back office process. [They need] a degree of control over the resources and the processes so they know that the service levels they establish and communicate won’t be affected. From the enterprise perspective this mastery over the back office ensures the delivery of a holistically positive customer experience that drives increased loyalty and better bottom line results.
Dave Hoekstra, partner development manager at GMT (www.gmt.com)
Back office plays a huge part in the overall performance of the call center, and in multiple ways. There is a very good chance that 50 percent of the incoming calls into a contact center have to do with work being done in the back office. By utilizing tools that help optimize the back office’s workflow, the call center can only benefit.
One particularly unique challenge with back office is that, in a lot of cases, the talent pool for back office work comes from the call center. The center loses a talented agent to back office work, and their position must be replaced, usually from outside the call center. Call centers can respond to this challenge by utilizing blended work types that allow agents to do both types of work throughout their day, which keeps talent on the phones (facing the customer) and allows the back office work to be completed at the same time.
Rodney Kuhn, CEO, Envision (www.envisioninc.com)
Decisions, performance, and activity in the back office have significant impacts on the contact center. For example, if a back office policy changes around billing, such as a price increase, without proper notification to customers, then the contact center will likely see a significant increase in unexpected call volume. This will result in longer hold times for customers with billing issues, as well as other non-related issues, thus decreasing customer satisfaction. Contact centers should identify these dynamics and then coach agents quickly on how to respond to those calls and reduce call handle times.
Paul Leamon, director of back office solutions at NICE (www.nice.com)
In many industries, such as healthcare, financial services, telecommunications and others, the front and back office are strongly interlinked. These organizations generally struggle with two main challenges: managing productivity and quality in the back office and providing visibility to the front office (contact center) on status of back office activities. When these two aspects are well managed, the customer ultimately benefits. The first benefit is that back office processes, such as loan or claim processing, are faster and more accurate. The second benefit is that communication about status and expectations by the contact center are accurate and limit repeat calls.
Addressing both challenges reduces unnecessary customer calls, improve customer experience and reduce back office operations costs. However, when these two aspects are not working well, there is a huge influx of calls to the contact center. If the back office is too slow or inaccurate, then the customers will call to find the status of their request, to ask when a mail order prescription will arrive or when a mortgage loan will be ready to close. The contact center managers may have to schedule overtime and hire additional staff for however long it takes to fix these back office issues.
Contact center managers can help the back office managers to understand some of the new technology that is now available to help with these issues and how to build the business case to get new technology approved.
Matt McConnell, CEO, Knowlagent (www.knowlagent.com)
The back office has not benefited from the years of efficiency nips and tucks applied to the call center…yet. And back office backlog can not only negatively impact the customer experience – it can also affect the call center. If systems are not set up to quickly and efficiently process the customer inquiries requiring back office support, customers will look to the call center for answers, adding to call volume and customer frustration.
With the right tools, call center management can enlist the support of the call center staff to help improve performance. To smooth the workload without risking service levels, management can deploy back office work to agents to be completed when they are otherwise idle. Back office tasks can be dynamically delivered directly to the agents’ desktops – during unexpected dips in call volume – and when service levels rise, agents are prompted to return to answering calls.
The contact center and the back office form the two ends of the customer service chain. They should link together seamlessly to ensure customers are served efficiently and effectively. The back office’s critical role is to execute on customer orders and inquiries received by the contact center.
Complex processes, delays in hand-offs between touch points and a heavy reliance on manual reporting make errors, incomplete orders and missed deadlines all too common. The contact center often becomes the recipient of resulting customer calls, and the target for complaints and frustration. Likewise, it frequently becomes the central hub to address and fix these issues.
Fortunately, many of today’s operations executives have honed their skills in contact centers at some point in their careers. They know firsthand the impact that a WFO strategy and solution set can have on the customer experience and on internal processes, staff morale and the bottom line.
A new breed of WFO solutions have been developed from that in contact centers to meet the unique challenges of back office operations environments. These combine staff forecasting, scheduling and resource planning software with volume and data capture, quality assurance and reporting, adherence, variance measurement, performance management and training.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi