Missing links in back office business process management

In many enterprises, contact centres and back-office departments rank as two of the most people-intensive functions.

November 29, 2012

In many enterprises, contact centres and back-office departments rank as two of the most people-intensive functions. Employee wage bills and related expenses incurred draw the attention of executives and financial management seeking lower operating costs at less risk.

While much has been achieved to optimise contact centre agent performance, not much has been done to meet the back-office staff challenge.

“Research conducted in the US established that there are three times more back-office employees than contact centre agents, a fact that causes justifiable concern among executives,” says Pommie Lutchman, CEO of specialist contact centre solutions- and services provider, Ocular Technologies.

Lutchman adds that there are three major challenges to consider regarding back office staff. First is the need to capture, monitor and track all back-office work and employee activities, not just work arriving and completed.

“Secondly, accurate forecasting and scheduling of resources with the right skills sets to be able to handle each work activity is essential and thirdly, the quality and consistency of all outputs must be measured and then enhanced to develop a competitive edge as a result of improved customer experience.”

Back office work optimisation suites help enterprises to improve the performance of back office operation groups. These solutions not only improve contact centre staff optimisation techniques, best practices and automation, but also address the dynamics of the back office.

“Three high value-added applications for back-office workforce optimisation suites are desk-top analytics, back-office workforce management and back-office quality control. Companies cannot manage what they cannot measure, so the starting point involves capturing, measuring and accounting for all work and employee activities.”

While many back-office groups achieve adequate counting of inputs and outputs, they often lose track of what happens to a work item once it is logged into the system because completing a job requires many tasks and resources. Some tasks are performed within the processing system yet others are completed independently and are not even recorded by the servicing application. It is essential that each step is fully documented.

Lutchman suggests that to properly manage a back-office operation, every work item must be broken down into manageable and measurable tasks and allocated a key performance indicator (KPI). Each KPI is assigned a response time goal so that progress can be measured and tracked until it is completed.

“Reports, dashboards and scorecards should be designed to measure work progress and provide management alerts to out-of-compliance risks. The information can be used to reward both group and individual performance as well as pinpoint process improvement opportunities that will enhance productivity and quality. The whole process is known as back-office performance management.”

To accomplish back-office performance management companies need to be able to track each task associated with every work item, which is not easy because some of the activities of employees are executed independently of the processing system.

However, emerging desktop technology analytics software can be deployed to track everything employees do at the desktop. The applications can be integrated behind the scenes, sitting on top of existing servicing and processing applications to monitor employee tasks and activities.

“In this way they provide an automatic and systematic approach to monitor, capture, structure, analyse and report on desktop activity and process work flows. Measuring application, utilisation, usage patterns and performance metrics enables application and user efficiency, effectiveness, compliance and external customer impact to be measured. The guidance provided to employees, along with workflow-enabled process flows, enhances staff performance in real time.”

He adds that if information is retrieved or a call is placed external to the application, representatives need to be trained to log this action into their processing application. The benefit of this is that it provides visibility to managers and speeds up the resolution process by providing a mechanism for ensuring all tasks are completed within their specified time frames. Bottlenecks are quickly identified, preventing tasks from being neglected and work items from becoming lost on someone else’s desk, leading to improved quality and customer satisfaction.

“By reducing the risk of missing any important step, it ensures efficient outcomes and avoids additional costs to the company.”

With desktop analytics solutions tracking work and task volumes, back offices may adopt more scientific and cost-effective approaches to forecasting and scheduling back office resources. Managers can also identify the skills and time required to complete each task and are therefore better positioned to hire and train the right resources to get the job done.

Workforce management (WFM) solutions not only improve department productivity but also improve quality and customer experience by ensuring the right resources are available at the right time for all necessary activities and tasks.

Lutchman adds that there are four essential WFM modules that should be implemented. The first, forecasting, uses mathematical modelling techniques and algorithms to address the specific characteristics of back office work. These include deferred arrival patterns, serial or multi-step processes, deadlines and extended service goals and the management of work inventory or backlog to project future transaction volumes and demand for resources at different points in time, usually in increments of 15 minutes or more.

Scheduling creates a time-table for back-office activities to balance forecasted staffing needs against staff availability. Scheduling modules can be used to determine an optimal schedule for each back office function based on staff availability, skills, shift rotations, service level requirements, leave, lunches, scheduled breaks, training, operating hours and staff satisfaction. The impact of backlog also has to be considered.

Intra-day management enables managers to identify the real-time service level impacts of changes in transaction volumes and of staff availability, enabling action to be taken to ensure targets are met. The module also allows managers to compare forecasted performance to actual performance as well as make near to real time changes to optimise schedules to meet actual workload and events.
Intraday management modules should also enable managers to conduct “what if” analyses to project the impact of any changes on backlogs and service levels.

The four modules empower back offices to realise the greatest measureable return on investment. Staff self-service and vacation planning/time off management modules add value by freeing supervisors from time-consuming manual tasks. By empowering employees to manage their own schedules, supervisory effectiveness and representative satisfaction are increased.

Quality control is another critical facet of back offices. Initiatives have been introduced to improve back office quality but to a limited degree only. Quality improvement should be a goal for all organisations because often the impact and cost of mistakes is significant. Poor handling of back office work typically results in complaint calls to the contact centre and more work for the back office. If a mistake is not identified quickly it can even put the organisation at risk.

“However, the introduction of desktop analytics enables back office operational areas to cost effectively perform quality checks on many aspects of their work without delaying output,” says Lutchman. “This is likely to become industry best practice as it is an effective method of preventing avoidable mistakes and in the future, desktop analytics are likely to automatically feed into quality assurance solutions enhanced to meet back office needs.”

Not surprisingly, back office managers are under significant pressure to improve productivity, cut costs, optimise employee utilisation and reduce risk while at the same time improving the experience of customers. In this scenario, back office managers are looking for new ways to deliver productivity and cost savings without damaging service quality.

“Business process management solutions are good tools for automating back office activities. However, they contribute little to optimising staff performance. To address this, back office management is looking into applying the tools and techniques pioneered by contact centre workforce optimisation solutions to their operating areas,” he says.

“The concept is excellent, providing the WFM solution is custom-built to address the unique characteristics and needs of the back office. Suffice it to say that early adopters of back office WFM solutions have realised very significant savings of 20 to 40 percent and the maturity of best practice development will better facilitate the adoption of back office WFM solutions in many organisations.”