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Taming the Back Office Effect on the Call Center--Part 1

Although the back office is a part of the business that remains largely “unseen” by customers, it can become the leading source of headaches for your customer service organization.  According to some experts, issues with back-office processing—such as data entry errors, workflow delays and billing mistakes—can make up 10-20 percent of all the call volume flowing into a contact center.  In fact, TARP Worldwide, a firm known for its customer experience consulting work, has repeatedly found that up to 60 percent of customer dissatisfaction sources are found in the back office. And on a broader level, Forrester Research has reported that 17 percent of a customer’s loyalty is a result of operational efficiency, which ties directly to back-office quality and processes.

At a fundamental level, the function of the back office is to process large volumes of transactions, whether they be applications and order fulfillment, payments, disputes or claims.  Accomplishing this, however, involves myriad complex, multi-touch, multi-step systems and processes.  Oftentimes, the multiple departments involved in back-office processing work use disparate systems, making it difficult to view a company’s operations holistically or effectively manage resource across the various functions. 

As a result, breakdowns and general inefficiencies that surface in the back office can delay response times, result in processing errors and create a ripple effect on customer service and the customer experience.  The correlation is clear and direct, but from the customer’s perspective, all roads lead back to the contact center and the agents who handle their issues — many of which originated in the back office.  

Forward-thinking companies understand that there needs to be greater integration of management and data sharing between the back office and the contact center.  Agents must be properly trained in back-office issue resolution and escalation, arming the front-line with access to the proper departmental and process information so questions can be answered or efficiently routed for first call resolution.  

Not All Problems Can be Fixed in the Call Center

Take for instance a leading life insurance company that began to experience rising call volumes and customer churn.  An investigation into the reasons behind this trend revealed that the root cause of over 30,000 calls was that claims were not being processed within the published commitment for turnaround. This added call volume cost the organization’s contact center roughly $300,000.  For this company, the solution was to attempt to manage customer expectations by publishing a longer turnaround time and training its contact center agents on how to communicate the policy change.  However, the new turnaround time was longer than industry standards, making the company less competitive on an important value metric with customers — the speed of claims processing.  The insurance company missed the opportunity to address the lengthy processing issues that were putting them at a disadvantage.

Especially in today’s climate, companies cannot afford to ignore the impact of back office performance on customer satisfaction and enterprise operations. The back office is emerging as the next competitive battleground, particularly as companies struggle with fewer differentiators and the need to control costs and retain and grow customer relationships.  The back office may be the instigator of undue customer calls, but this provides the contact centers that field them a great opportunity—capturing and routing customer feedback and call drivers back into the back office and broader organization.  This closed-loop, information sharing process can serve as a vital link into quickly identifying and remediating problems, saving time and money, and avoiding customer frustration and repeat calls.

In part two of this series, we will further explore how technology and business processes can be applied in contact center and back-office operations to help ensure quality performance across both functional areas, improve customer satisfaction and deliver real ROI.

Craig Seebach is Practice Director for Back Office Operations in the Enterprise Solutions Group within Verint Systems’ Witness Actionable Solutions business line.