Published: October 15, 2009 | Comments
Work performed in the back office, such as claims and bill processing, account set up and maintenance, and order fulfillment, can clearly pose major challenges for agents and managers on the customer service frontline, creating more calls into the contact center, growing frustration and often customer attrition. However, the back office also presents an enormous opportunity to gain competitive advantage. Over the last 20 years, companies have sought ways to gain greater control over their back-office operations functions and personnel. Solutions such as business process management (BPM), workflow management and imaging systems have been utilized to streamline processes and manage work volumes.
But these solutions focused largely on process and have failed to address the people carrying out the work — from inside sales and client services, to data entry clerks, auditors, account and case managers, and IT professionals. These resources can be your greatest assets, or your greatest liabilities.
Recognizing the importance of properly measuring their performance in doing the work and aligning their skills and availability to the workload is key and has fueled the need for a workforce optimization (WFO) solution specifically designed to meet the unique challenges of the back office. WFO software enables organizations to capture, monitor and actively manage workload volumes, and understand the capabilities and availability of staff to do the work. Leveraging such technology and processes allows managers to accurately predict the resources they’ll need to complete pending work. And as demonstrated in the insurance company example provided in part one of this series, agent/customer interactions can provide the intelligence needed to improve broken back-office processes, resulting in greater customer satisfaction.
While much of the WFO functionality used in contact centers is the same when applied in a back-office environment — there are distinct differences that must be addressed before WFO can be implemented. The greatest centers around data capture. In the contact center, the automatic call distributor (ACD) captures all call volume and creates the core database upon which WFO analytics and functionality is driven. The back office, however, is made up of many departments that use many, disparate systems, and the tasks performed often involve myriad complex, multi-touch, multi-step systems and processes. Capturing this data in order to understand volume, the many processes and the skill sets and performance of your workforce requires calls for both new tools and some new approaches.
Once the data capture challenge has been met, core WFO functionality can be put into action, including the ability to:
- Forecast work volumes and appropriate schedules for back-office staff to process the work at the lowest cost. However, the management of volumes to meet service level targets, and the handling of backlog or inventory of work must be accounted for as part of the process.
- Create robust capacity plans for current and future needs, including what-if scenario building — for example, a change in policy or a new regulatory compliance requirement.
- Monitor quality and adherence to meet compliance and best practice protocols. Unlike the contact center, where quality monitoring focuses on voice recordings, in the back office the focus is on capturing and monitoring desktop activities.
- Manage individual performance through electronic scorecards that provide feedback to every employee in the business unit about how they are doing against expectations and key success metrics. Key metrics in the back-office can vary greatly based on department and functional goals.
- Deliver training and updates on new processes through eLearning and news alerts to help staff members stay current.
Particularly in a blended environment, where contact center agents also perform back-office functions, an effective WFO solution must address the differences between these functions. Being able to profile and understand the people doing the work, their skills and proficiencies, if they have been cross trained and their availability helps give managers the intelligence they need to cost-effectively meet workload demand and processing deadlines and quantitatively assess employee performance.
The proof, however, is in the results. Implementing a data-driven, people-centric approach in back-office operations using WFO has been proven to increase processing capacity, shorten turnaround time, reduce errors and meet service level targets with greater frequency. Following are examples of what some organizations have been able to accomplish from a customer-facing perspective as a result of embracing WFO in their back-office environments:
- The life services group of a Fortune 500 insurer was able to reduce turnaround time by 37 percent; from 9 days to 6, with bill processing approaching four-day turnaround — increasing satisfaction and bringing the company up to par with its competitors.
- The implementation management division of a large financial services firm was able to shorten the time to onboard new commercial customers from 85 days to 41 days — a 52 percent improvement. In addition to a new competitive advantage, the time savings enabled it to book an additional $1.8 million per month (annualized) earlier than anticipated.
- An online pharmacy for a medical insurance provider was able to achieve a 10 percent FTE save equating to $4 million annualized savings, without impacting customer service.
- The wholesale lockbox organization of a regional bank was able to increase throughput by 11 percent, improve operating margins by 38 percent, all while decreasing headcount by six percent. The latter alone saved the company over $600,000 a year.
Today, embracing a workforce optimization strategy supported by the right processes, technology and people-oriented approach can deliver the real-time insight management needs into day-to-day activities and volumes, work throughput, and employee productivity. Armed with this intelligence, they are well positioned to make more rapid, dynamic, fact-based decisions; help improve efficiencies; and manage time more effectively—both with front-line agents and back-office personnel. The better organizations can align the contact center and the back office, the higher the rewards in terms of personnel development and satisfaction, the customer experience, and the bottom line.