For many years now, the front office has received significant investment to drive down costs and improve performance in competitive markets where customer expectations are high. Thanks to large cost bases and direct customer contact, it has been the obvious place to optimise. However in recent years, the back office has come more into focus and there is now software technology available that enables companies to make huge advancements in how the back office operates.
Although not perceived to be customer, facing in reality the back office actually touches the customer many more times than the front office, through multiple transactions and correspondence that makes up the delivery of service – and it is this ‘behind the scenes’ contact and the impact it has on customer service and satisfaction levels that is severely underestimated.
Organisations are slowly beginning to realise that it’s their back office that delivers on the promise made by sales and marketing, and as such it is the back office that is truly responsible for delivering the customer service and satisfaction levels which are the key to competitive advantage.
This change in perspective of the value of the back office has become more widely recognised and as such, organisations are increasingly looking for solutions to optimise cost while improving service delivery and performance in the back office environment.
For many back office operations, one of the biggest operational challenges are disparate systems which create a barrier to accurate insight for improvement. With data siloed in different programmes or spreadsheets it can be extremely difficult to create congruent reporting to deliver effective insight. On a more basic level multiple systems themselves create operational inefficiency, let alone trying to join them up to provide accurate and reliable data to base decisions on.
Siloed data created from disparate systems has been one of the key drivers in the development of back office optimisation software. The power of optimisation software is the centralisation of data, enabling effective measurement to understand and control the back office to improve performance and productivity. It’s this single view that brings clarity to operations and the alignment of data that makes back office optimisation software so powerful, enabling it to solve so many operational problems. Optimisation software by itself it is not the key that will unlock operational excellence, but it will help you get on the right path.
If you are considering investing in back office optimisation software it is incredibly important that you choose a software system that is right for your operation’s wants and needs. You must ensure that your chosen software provider is able to offer both the functionality you need as well as the level of customisation to ensure it fits into your organisation perfectly and is not just overlayed – otherwise you will not maximise your optimisation opportunity or generate the return on investment you hoped for. The overlay method in reality is the lazy approach, it achieves benefits but they are unsustainable in the long run.
Below are some of the key features you should be looking for from a back office optimisation software solution:
Functionality - Your software should enable you to gain a single view of your workforce – total hours, available skills, resources, prioritise etc. – enabling you to maximise productivity and deliver the best level of service for your customer. It’s important to check to see if tasks can be grouped as end to end processes and by group functions as this enables you to trace your customer’s journey through your back office and identify touch points where improvement is required.
Planning - Your software should enable you to gain control of lost time and maximise use of your available resources in line with work demand.
Work Allocation and Monitoring - intelligent allocation of work creates more time for your managers to focus on improving team performance, while effective monitoring will enable you to understand in real time where your back office is in relation to performance targets. This means you can load balance your back office in line with capacity to deliver consistent service levels for your customer even at your busiest times. You should have a clear understanding of how your chosen software schedules, allocates and measures work and ensure that you can monitor work in the way you need to and modify metrics to suit your operation.
However all this is hygiene
Quality - Your software should enable you to quickly identify skills deficits in your back office teams to reduce risk. Look out for integrated quality that allows a risk based approach for all processes and enables specific attributes to be check for different tasks score reporting, a powerful feature that enables team managers to identify quality issues associated with both tasks and individuals.
Monitoring and Reporting - Don't be fooled by glossy presentation of data Your software should enable you to gain complete visibility of your operation at any time with historic, real time and future reporting and analytics demonstrating how individuals, teams and processes are performing across multiple levels, sites and locations. You should be able to access this data easily and quickly allowing you to make effective decisions to ensure optimal performance of your entire back office operation.
Forecasting and Hierarchy – A key feature of effective optimisation software is to enable your managers to take greater control of their teams. your software needs to allow for scenario planning based on historical information to create models for optimal use of resources inline with future demand. This really helps your managers to determine implementation efficiency versus planned scenarios to optimise and improve. Another key feature is the ability to predict future workload and the impact it will have on teams to ensure that your operation can handle new business and has the capability to deliver inline with wider company growth goals.
Risk Losses - It's essential that your software enables you to trace the root causes of losses in your operation, tracking back to a specific task, process or individual so that you can either improve or remove. One of the major benefits of modern centralised systems is the ability to view all your losses in one place across your entire operation. This enables you to gain a clear picture of your good will or ex-gratia losses used to mitigate customer complaints and maintain satisfaction scores – which then allows you to understand how to reduce losses and deliver a better experience for your customer.
Compliant Root Cause Analysis - Another important feature to look out for is the ability to centralise all your complaints information, enabling you to quickly analyse and take decisive action to reduce complaint volumes.
Training and Competence - Keeping up with training and competence is a major challenge for most organisations. Your software should enable you to hold all your training and regulator compliance information in once place. From this central repository you can quickly and easily create and issue tests to individuals, teams, or your entire operation, which enables you to retrain or test competence levels to ensure consistent quality and service delivery.
There are many other features to look out for but these are some of the key ones which are essential to enable your operation to improve performance, increase efficiency and drive down cost.
Software alone does not deliver operational excellence
Back office optimisation software is extremely effective, however there is the inherent danger that too much attention is spent on driving improvement through technology alone. Until the point in time at which there is no human involved in your customer’s interaction with your organisation, then your primary focus should always remain on your people. Up skilling the Team Management population – they make the biggest sustainable impact on service and cost drivers
It is the people in your operation that truly unlock operational excellence; they are at the heart of your business and your customer interactions so don’t overlook them. While automation of particular tasks and processes is becoming more commonplace, complete automation is still many years away – so until that time your employees are your most valuable asset.
The benefits delivered by software are undeniable but there are also real dangers in the hands of those that don’t truly understand the environment it will be implemented in. Over-reliance on software has the potential to take away the power and influence your mangers have on your staff, which is potentially disastrous as it’s your managers that drive efficiency and motivate your teams for high performance, not software.
Don’t undermine your managers with technology alone – make sure that you empower them with it. In order to do this, you should look carefully at your implementation partner: are they just software providers or do they have a deep understanding of operations and how and where software fits into the operational puzzle?
You need to ensure that you have the right balance in your operation between behaviour, skills and technology. To achieve operational excellence you need both people and technology, it’s a symbiotic relationship which together drives tangible, sustainable change in operations.