Richard Correia of NICE discusses the importance of aligning the front and back offices to help improve customer experience.
The pandemic is shaking up industries, markets and companies. It’s incentivizing organizations to rethink how they do business. While some of these changes have been difficult for companies and their employees, others have been beneficial.
In every situation we’ve seen, these changes would have happened eventually; COVID-19 just sped up the timetable.
For years, companies have struggled to optimize the handling of customer enquiries and sales transactions, including determining which departments should handle the various activities involved in resolving issues and selling products.
The most common approach is to separate the front office, who are the employees that interact directly with customers, from the back office – the folks who process sales or make adjustments.
This organizational structure – separation of duties between front- and back-office departments – came about due to technology limitations that go back to the beginning of call centres more than 40 years ago.
Back then, customer systems were mostly static mainframe-based operating systems that allowed agents to look up a limited amount of information but not to process sales, changes and adjustments.
(Most of these systems updated overnight.) Account changes and sales requests were written on forms by call centre agents and passed to the back office for processing. Call centre staff stayed in their seats to handle enquiries or sales requests and back-office employees processed the changes and orders. This approach was based on the concept of “economies of scale.”
It’s Time to Rethink Process Flows
It’s time for companies to rethink these process flows, as the technical and operational limitations that drove organizations to take this approach no longer exist. What made sense 40 years ago – having one employee start a transaction and another complete it – is now a costly impediment to delivering an outstanding customer experience.
Today, there are a variety of applications available to help companies automate the completion of tasks received in the contact centre, whether they were started by a bot or by a live agent.
The benefits of this approach are that it takes care of a sales or service request on a timely basis, reduces the number of employees who need to touch a customer request, reducing the chance of an error and operating costs, and improves the customer journey.
The solutions that enable this approach are customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, workflow, robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs). These solutions fall into three primary categories, automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and self-service.
Making This Happen in Your Contact Centre
DMG estimates that as much as 40%–60% of the activities performed by agents in high-volume contact centres can be automated using the new generation of intelligent automation solutions, without sending the items to the back office.
Companies that want to move in this direction need to be willing to re-imagine the concept of customer service and sales and the essentially artificial division of labour between the front and back office.
Self-service has become consumers’ channel of choice, followed by digital channels and, lastly, the phone. This is not to say that there are no customers who prefer to speak to a human agent; for many this is still their channel of choice, though for most it’s the channel of last resort when nothing else works to get their issue resolved.
A major barrier to change is that a majority of contact centre practices and policies in use today are still phone-centric. Managers who want to improve the customer journey, productivity and employee engagement need to adapt their mindset to the digital world.
In this new environment, automation (including workflow) and AI should be used to intelligently route interactions to the right place to get an order placed or an issue resolved (even if only partially), and transfer an item to a human agent only when necessary.
Changing Culture Is Key
Re-engineering and reorganizing front- and back-office operations is not as hard as it sounds, and it’s a necessity for companies that want to improve the customer journey and make it easier to conduct business. The challenging part is altering the roles and responsibilities of managers, supervisors and employees in these departments.
In the past, managers were rewarded based on the number of people in their department; the more employees, the higher the manager’s title and salary grade.
The new generation of intelligent solutions totally alters this by eliminating the need for employees to perform many tasks and replacing them with fully automated bots and RPAs that require substantially less oversight. This also changes the types of employees needed to handle customer service and sales.
Business are on the cusp of a technical and cultural transformation that will alter the servicing and sales landscape. An essential component of these business changes is the need to break down the artificial walls that have been constructed between front- and back-office operating departments.
To make this happen, companies should look at the service/sales experience through their customers’ eyes and identify all processing steps where humans are involved and there are hand-offs and bottlenecks.
Managers should start by automating everything they can, activities where workflow, RPA and IVA will do a better and more cost-effective job than front- and back-office employees.
Then, managers should figure out how to apply AI and self-service solutions to automate more of these tasks. When this phase is completed, companies should reorganize their service and sales organizations in a manner that better serves their customers and update their procedures and policies.
The companies that will be most successful are those that continuously look for ways to improve their operations, as ongoing technical innovation is going to continue to give them new tools to apply to their goal of delivering great service.