Richard Mill of Business Systems takes us through how best to blend the front office with the back office for the benefit of the customer experience.
In 2010, HMRC recommended the use of technology and “work blending” in order to optimise all resources. But nearly a decade later, little has changed.
The closer alignment of front and back office, blending of operational roles and skill sets, and the use of technology to achieve these ends are nothing new. Yet the majority of businesses have still to get on board.
As recently as 2017, the International Customer Management Institute concluded that, despite HMRC’s counsel, while applying workforce optimisation techniques to the back office was a business imperative, businesses were failing to make best use of the capabilities of workforce optimisation (WFO) technology.
‘Blending’ Using WFO Is a Priority
After all, the majority of customer queries and requests are not dealt with at first point of contact, but are instead routinely referred to the back office to be processed, according to Aspect Software.
At the same time, the multiplication of contact and service channels – email, chatbot, web, social media and SMS, and so on – has blown old concepts of who is responsible for service out of the water. The days of the majority of service requests being made through a single channel managed by a single department are fast disappearing.
To meet the growing demand for ultra-responsive, agile, premium quality customer experience (CX) across all touchpoints, it’s all hands on deck.
According to Gartner, one of the key characteristics of a WFO solution is that it “integrates disparate contact centre technologies – including contact centre performance management, e-learning, interaction analytics, quality management and workforce management.”
As customer touchpoints diversify and businesses increasingly compete on the quality of the CX they provide, there is no need to restrict optimisation to the contact centre. If modern WFO solutions are built on the ability to integrate disparate technologies as Gartner claims, then why not apply them across all systems?
Information is key to WFO. After all, if people:
- Know precisely what they need to do to meet call time targets or reduce queue times, they will raise their game.
- Have the right tools to analyse historic call volumes, they can predict staffing levels and schedule tasks with greater accuracy.
- Can analyse calls in play and match queries to staff with the right skill sets, they can improve First Contact Resolution (FCR) rates.
- Can automate large parts of the operational processes, they can cut down on human error and boost speed and efficiency.
Optimise Resources, No Matter Where They Sit in the Workflow
WFO is based on the understanding that, if you can access key performance data in real time and make it available to everyone, you can start to drive a wide range of improvements, such as raising service levels, boosting customer satisfaction, cutting operational costs and reducing duplication and waste.
Another reason why the benefits of a blended approach have yet to be fully realised by many businesses is that the integration of front- and back-office operations presents certain challenges. These tend to be cultural as much as they are structural, but the business cannot ignore the fact that, up until this point, the company’s administrators, analysts, strategisers and production workers have had quite different priorities from its sales and service staff.
Different Office-Facing Priorities
For the contact centre agent, service levels are determined by speed and agility, by never leaving the customer waiting and wanting. But for the departments that have to sign off on mortgages or process insurance claims, being thorough and accurate takes precedence over speed. Both sets of priorities are important for delivering an outstanding CX, but this can be a difficult circle to square operationally.
Aligning distinct sets of performance objectives, process approaches and skills is a delicate balancing act and is a real test of your change-management capabilities.
Different Scheduling Priorities
Aiming for a fully blended approach where front- and back-office teams share responsibilities traditionally assigned to one or the other runs into the problem of different scheduling priorities.
Customer-facing operations are much more vulnerable to peaks and troughs in demand, while time has traditionally been less of a factor for getting staffing levels right in the back office. The mismatch creates challenges for your WFO and blending strategy.
People – Right Skills
The challenge from an HR point of view is how to ensure people have an appropriate range of skills to blend job roles.
Back-office staff and front-office staff have different aptitudes. This can cause issues, for instance compromising your ability to recruit people with excellent customer service credentials, because they may lack other (back-office administraion and analytics) skills you need.
The front office faces increasing technological complexity driven by the emergence of omnichannel service options.
Meanwhile, back-office operations, which are usually much more complicated and diverse than the front office, with many more departments, such as finance, IT, marketing, production, development, logistics, HR and so on, will have multiple IT systems, plus they may be using legacy equipment to support largely manual processes.
Tech Agnosticism Is Key
How do we meet those challenges? From managing cultural change to aligning strategic priorities to integrating data streams from multiple sources, front- and back-office workforce blending presents its challenges.
Modern workforce optimisation tech exists that combines all of these capabilities, providing the right tools and the right level of advanced functionality to make it ideal for integrating front and back office. Look for technology that offers a modular, flexible, easy-to-implement solution, and crucially is platform agnostic and highly scalable.
Look for a solution that will offer over and above the functionality your normal WFO suite would provide – advanced analytics and reporting, smart work allocation and case management, robotic process automation and so on – modern workforce optimisation tech works with multiple systems at once, not just in the contact centre but is compatible with any existing IT platforms.
Looking at the challenges identified, there will always be differences in timings between front and back office due to the differences in priorities and the fact that some administrative tasks simply take time. However, with its robust analytics and smart allocation systems, modern WFO technology can easily be used to feed information through the inbound interaction systems to give customers accurate estimates or updates on completion times.
With real-time cross-departmental intelligence about scheduling, task allocation and demand all in one place, businesses can row back on their tendency to over-staff in the contact centre. Back-office staff (with training: so the technology creates scripts to provide back-office teams with guides on what to do and how) can pick up the slack in the front office. Similarly, if there is ever spare capacity in the front office, front-office teams (with guidance) can handle admin tasks.
As digital channels grow increasingly important in customer service provision, blending will also involve robotic operators as well as people. And there will always be occasions when manual intervention is needed on automated services: modern WFO technology will trigger these interventions. It can also assess current scheduling and demand levels in real time to refer the matter to the best-placed person in terms of skills and availability.
And with the rapid multiplication of touchpoints, how to keep track of interactions across all of these channels? The modern optimisation solution provides important information about the customer journey across different channels, so that an agent – back office or front – would be able to see exactly where they got up to and put in a call to complete the transaction, picking up exactly where the customer left off.
75% of business leaders rank improving customer experience as a top strategic priority. But in the context of rapidly evolving technologies and multiplying digital channels, the old rules for how you deliver an outstanding customer experience are being torn up. This is why workforce blending should be coming to the fore. Back office, front office working in harmony – keeping the customer happy.