How to Boost Productivity in Back Offices
In a recent survey by Ovum, executives were asked to describe the primary objectives of the back-office areas within their businesses. (Click here to download the Ovum report.) They had two primary concerns: execute work at the lowest cost and improve customer service.
These objectives mirror the experiences of another area of the business that has wrestled for decades with that same seeming contradiction of “do more with less”—the contact center. Within contact centers, the solution to that dilemma has been to use workforce optimization solutions to maximize productivity (cost control), to allow managers to focus on producing better quality interactions and to share best practices from top performers more widely.
The contact center is a pretty remarkable entity in modern business. It has built systems that squeeze every possible drop of productivity out of a well-skilled labor force—putting them to work solving problems for a customer base that gets more demanding all the time. We place tremendous stress on the customer interaction system, and yet somehow we manage to satisfy most customers nearly all of the time. There’s something almost miraculous about that, and businesses should take note—what works here will also work in other areas of the business as well.
The part of the organization that looks the most like the contact center is the back office. Clearly, this isn’t a perfect parallel. Workers perform different kinds of tasks, with more complex, multi-touch processes and extended turnaround times, and they do it with less direct customer contact. But just as in the contact center, when there are hiccups or disruptions, the overall business (as perceived by customers) tends to suffer.
If an insurance claim goes unprocessed, if a mortgage application takes too long to approve, if a service order does not get routed correctly—in all these instances, it impacts the end-customer in the same way. Critical work requires human attention. And those humans need feedback on what they should be working on at any given moment. Which piece of work is most important to tackle right this minute? How long should it take? How do I know what I should work on next? How well am I doing relative to my peers and to my targets?
These are questions that contact center reps usually know the answers to right away—thanks to the widespread use of workforce optimization tools. The performance and activities of agents are measured and standardized, and that’s exactly what should be happening in back offices as well. In fact, when you look at workplace productivity from the back-office manager’s point of view, you see that they look at the world in much the same way as contact center managers.
Ovum recently surveyed back-office managers and found that 56 percent identified the need for metrics or analytics of back-office performance as either “essential” or “very important.” Fifty-five percent identified the need to track employee performance on scorecards and dashboards as essential or very important. And yet, fewer than half are actually using workforce management to organize their staff’s productivity.
What that tells us is that tools like workforce management, quality management, evaluation and performance management can be applied to a whole new set of employees. By bringing back-office workers better measurement, awareness and insight into how they do their jobs, you help them support the customer and build a healthier business.
Download the full Ovum report, “The Need for Back-Office Workforce Optimization is Growing.”
Keith Dawson is the Practice Leader, Customer Engagement at Ovum.