26/07/11

By Keith Pearce, Senior Marketing Director EMEA, Genesys-EMG, Alcatel-Lucent

Around 73 per cent of the human resource and 60 per cent of the knowledge needed for the customer experience resides in the back office. A bank’s mortgage approvals, an insurance company’s under-writing or a telecoms company’s tariff design are all done by ‘back office’ employees, but delivered by agents in the contact centre, or ‘front office’. However, the back office doesn’t have the same organisational traits or performance metrics in place as the customer service centre, creating a serious disconnect that depletes efficiency, organisation and, crucially, service levels. The back office is often the root cause of customer service problems, but also where improvements can be measured in unprecedented factors of 5 and 10 per cent.

Changing conditions further test this disconnect; as businesses start to see an up-swing in their activity, they need to adapt to deal with a new customer profile: the Millennials.

It’s a crucial time in customer service delivery. We need a new business communication paradigm and businesses must be able to effectively engage with Millennials. To achieve this requires enterprise-wide integration with a final and indefinite breaking down of the walls of the contact centre.

“Every system is controlled by its bottleneck”
The modernisation of manufacturing and production, which started with Henry Ford’s production line and was more recently updated with Deming’s principles of lean manufacture, has revolutionised industry and created more significant benefits and improvements than it was thought possible.

The principles of lean manufacturing can be used today, to make the same revolutionary advances to customer service delivery. Organising and managing the creation of the customer experience in the same way as the production of a car, for example, can have a significant impact on efficiency and effectiveness. As organisations put the responsibility for delivering the customer experience into the hands of the employee, it enables them to make Just In Time decisions that affect the business.

The delivery of the customer experience needs to become more like a lean-running production line that operates across the enterprise. It can have the effect of preserving and increasing customer value, quickly achieving productivity improvements of up to 25 per cent and empowering employees to affect significant bottom-line benefits. Of course, customer interactions must not become mechanical, but the principles that have driven the transformation of manufacturing can be applied to a new industrialised customer service approach. How?

Make Back Office Processes a controlled variable
Organise and distribute tasks to be completed Just In Time. The greatest efficiency challenge around tasks falling under the remit of the back office is that their distribution is neither organised nor proactive in a customer-oriented way – so tasks have no 'concept' of priority. A pool of tasks required to fulfil a key service issue can lie stagnant and employees simply browse tasks and cherry-pick their favourite ones – often on the basis of which is the easiest or the quickest to complete, not which is the most urgent. However, the company’s most valuable customer may have a complex enquiry, or an urgent task may not be easy or quick to complete. Leaving important tasks unattended affects customer loyalty, which impacts revenue. The 'production line' must be running for the benefit of the customer, not the employee.

The 'lean' production line pushes a priority job to an employee who is properly trained with the skills to complete it – and he or she does. That employee is then pushed the next job, and the next. Creating this ‘conveyor belt’ in the enterprise significantly enhances both the efficiency of task handling and the quality of job completion – because one employee is given one task that suits their skills.

Complete tasks in a customer-centric way
Many businesses have layers of service based on a tiered billing structure, but they don’t have the ability to differentiate tasks or enquiries based on these service levels. More effective organisation and ‘Just In Time’ fulfilment means that multiple service levels can actually be met and people paying for premium service get it – while those accepting basic service aren’t given ‘premium’ treatment.

This approach requires visibility of the entire process to ensure that the back office is connected to the rest of the enterprise. Contact centre agents, as the primary customer interface, need to report on the progress of jobs in the back-office; management need the visibility to ensure that the ‘production line’ is delivering on time.

How the new paradigm works for the Insurance Industry
While banking and telecoms organisations have lowered their costs in the last ten years, insurance costs have remained flat.

Insurance companies need to benchmark their unit costs and lower their “combined ratio” – ie what percentage of revenue from an insurance policy is spent administering it, where one per cent is approximately equal to €10 million. Around 50 per cent of the combined ratio is operational cost, which makes the potential for improvement huge.

HUK Coberg Insurance Group virtualised customer care across all departments, dramatically increasing visibility of tasks. It was able to increase service levels by 38 per cent and reduce the average time per task from 4.3 days to 2.7 days. The distribution of tasks is more organised and pushing a job to the agent with the best skills to complete it improves quality within a Just In Time model.

...and in Retail Banking
The average retail bank has a vast number of processes, all spread across a range of different sites and employees. The common approach is to have every employee completing a range of jobs. However, a high percentage of sales occur in the Bank's branches – where only 20 per cent of these employees’ time is in fact allocated to selling.

By re-distributing the tasks that take up the rest of their time to the contact centre, such as provisioning and care calls, banks can increase sales in the branch simply by giving the local employees more time to sell.

Bank Hapoalim – Israel’s largest bank – was able to reduce branch employee task allocation by 28 per cent. The time saved from these tasks was focused on sales and increasing revenue.

...and in Telecoms
The telecoms industry is more advanced, generally, than banking and insurance in its workload distribution. However, there is still room for improvement. The constant introduction of tiered and converged services means that the allocation of priority to increasingly complex tasks and their Just In Time delivery is even more important.

Complex tasks need to be processed by highly skilled employees, while simple billing, sign-ups or processing tasks can be assigned to low-skill workers to make operations more cost-effective.

BT Openreach keeps strict two and four-hour service levels across 20,000+ tasks per day. It now uses more intelligent workload distribution to prioritise unresolved tasks and implement a Just In Time approach. This new organisation of task distribution has enabled it to reduce task time by 20 per cent, but more importantly save £8 million per year.

Take employees on the journey
The implementation of task distribution makes the workload much fairer for each employee – as no one person can monopolise the easy tasks and leave complex ones to others.

These employees also have a great influence on customer satisfaction. When they focus too much on managing SLAs, they make lots of promises but have no time to deliver them.

T-Mobile Slovakia implemented automated intelligent Workload Distribution to stop its agents having to juggle their own schedule. This enabled them to focus on fulfilling customer requests – making both the customer and the agent happier, despite the fact that they were doing more work.

Optimise the Employee pool
A single input management tool that splits tasks into skill levels enables the optimisation of high skills and enables cost reduction for lower skilled tasks. The high skilled agents are ‘in-house’, and deal with challenging – yet rewarding – tasks and make a real difference in both value to the business and customer satisfaction.

Lower-skilled tasks are the typical cause of agent churn. It is, therefore, more effective to outsource the fulfilment of these tasks – reducing the cost of training and recruitment, while also optimising the use of in-house employees and boosting their job satisfaction.

Lean in the Enterprise
Deming’s principles of lean manufacturing can be applied to customer service just as they have been to the manufacture of anything from cars to cardboard boxes. The production line mentality must be applied to the processing of jobs and tasks running across the enterprise.

You tool the production line by putting the right people, with the right skills, into the best position within the process. This ensures they are only given the jobs best suited to them.

Manage this process in real-time to make the enterprise as a whole intolerant of errors and focused on delivering optimum service Just In Time.

The result is that unit costs will come down, efficiency will increase and the customer experience will improve – an outcome which has far-reaching effects on the bottom line.

The intelligent Workload Distribution approach truly optimises the enterprise by bridging the disconnect between the current front and back office silos. This shift can be to enterprises today, what the conveyor belt was to industry 100 years ago.