Running a front-office operation without contact centre telephony or workforce management software would be unthinkable for many businesses, indeed, such solutions have become integral with contact centres the world over. Increasingly, however, businesses realise that optimising their back-office operations are just as crucial for success.
There are a plethora of solutions offering everything from workflow to back-office call routing but with so many options on the market, what should buyers be looking out for?
Our user group has come together with the features they’d want to talk about when looking at optimisation beyond the call centre. It can be a challenge to know which solution is right for your operation but from workflow management to real-time reporting, there are a few essential features that any solution needs to have to ensure true performance improvements that last.
Real-Time Allocation vs Scheduling Work
The well-known tagline of front-office workforce management, “the right person in the right place at the right time”, holds for back office optimisation; managers need to understand if their resources can meet the work demand. However, unlike the front-office, the challenge lies in managing the work itself in the back-office, rather than the resources needed to do it.
Thus, it’s important to be sure that back-office optimisation software, often referred to as back-office workforce management, can meet both challenges. Solutions must support managers with the efficient planning and scheduling of staff, ensuring their resourcing can meet demand both in the short-term and long-term, whilst also catering to work planning demands. An increasingly common feature to support this is the real-time automated allocation of work, or real-time allocation (RTA).
RTA functionality matches a task to the most appropriate resource. This would be a member of staff or robot with the correct skillset, the availability to complete the work and who meets any task specific criteria, such as location. The ability to schedule work for resources in advance is powerful but having the agility to react to changing circumstances in real-time is a game changer. This kind of RTA functionality saves managers time and will enable them to focus on leading teams and performance coaching staff.
For ensuring capacity requirements are met, forecasting is a powerful enabler towards achieving operational objectives. While, when compared to the front-office, short-term resourcing may be a lesser challenge in the back-office, structured forecasting of long-term demand and capacity requirements will allow practical planning for likely futures. It allows the building of scenarios and an intelligent, risk-based approach to recruitment and resourcing.
Workflow Management and Tracking
Team leaders and operational managers form the cornerstones of effective operations. Good mid-level managers act as subject matter experts in complex cases, they act as an escalation point, a mentor to agents and, often, have the working knowledge and confidence to make tactical decisions on the ground that provide operational agility. To do this, to give mid-level management the information and context they need to steer their team, software solutions need to give managers a clear picture of current workloads and provide a structured framework to manage workflow.
Too many operations still assign and track work and working time in spreadsheets. For anyone who does this, or has done it in the past, the issues that it creates are obvious. Well-constructed spreadsheets are fantastically flexible tools for capturing and interpreting volumes of data, but they’re simply not designed to meet the fluid and dynamic requirements of operational workflow management and tracking. Indeed, one spreadsheet-based operation that we worked with was being forced to wait 24 hours or more for workflow information and, when it did arrive, it was fraught with inconsistencies caused by genuine human errors and deliberate misinformation.
When choosing a back-office solution, consideration must be given to how it empowers mid-level leadership on the ground. The following questions are a safe starting point, but the needs of low-level leadership will differ between verticals and between businesses of different sizes.
- Can it quantify work outstanding in terms of volume and estimated effort?
- Can it demonstrate whether workstreams are sufficiently resourced to meet customer expectations?
- Can it draw information from existing systems to provide a clear and unified view of the real expectation on resources time?
- Can it draw data into useful reports that provide timely and actionable insight?
The effective implementation of back-office software can break down intra-operational silos and generate holistic datasets, as opposed to the fragmented and incomplete datasets that are often generated by multiple spreadsheets. By tracking and managing work end-to-end, in the context of the process in which it sits, managers can easily identify resourcing deficiencies and address bottlenecks before they materialise.
An additional differentiator of the best solution is the ability to define the definitions and calculations of KPIs, starting with the data collected. It’s easy to present excellent but essentially meaningless KPI attainment when based on poorly defined data; it may look good in the short-term, but the impacts on customer experience will tell over time.
Establishing a systematic approach to quality assurance that scales is often overlooked as a business grows, this can be due to several reasons, from frustrations around duplicated effort to a perception of futility in quality teams themselves. However, as businesses grow in size, complexity and reputation, the propensity and impacts of errors become greater, making it a necessary feature of back-office optimisation software.
Advanced back-office solutions have quality frameworks in place to define quality KPIs, monitor processing, measure quality and systematically feedback to reduce errors and complaints. Some are even able to provide automated reporting and testing features that can save enormous amounts of time in operations and processes where such features are suitable.
Leading back-office quality assurance tools provide an opportunity for managers and change teams to collaboratively define the quality standards for different types of work. This ensures a consistent approach to quality assurance across the operation that is also tailored to each different back-office process. Having defined standards in place is the first step, but this must be backed-up be systematic quality assurance forming an integral part of workflow through the operation and reported on just as any other value-add task would be.
By measuring quality of service, linked to the tracking of repeat contacts and reworking, businesses are able to identify issues before they fall victim to the scrutiny of both regulators and the customer base. This measurement is equally importantly applied to the support of agents. Constructive feedback and actionable coaching will reduce the number of individual errors and identify where processing risks exist.
An effective quality assurance system can give agents greater autonomy whist still identifying areas for individual performance improvement. Businesses that focus on quality will see reduced customer complaints and fewer rework requests, as well as a holistic improvement in customer experience. Time spent investigating how solutions handle quality is seldom wasted and will provide that extra competitive advantage that sets leading firms apart.
Analysis and Reporting
Understanding the data that a software solution can capture is important but understanding how it translates that data into actionable insight is critical. Having timely and accurate information is essential for effective decision making so it’s vital to understand what analysis the software is capable of and the insights it can provide.
On the face of it, understanding productivity boils down to a very simple question: how much “value” are staff able to deliver over a period of time, for instance, a working day? However, answering this question can be challenging, especially when the definition of “value” is fluid.
Most modern tools have some concept of management information, commonly they can provide worked counts, case progress updates and even handling times. This is often enough for the front-office but is woefully insufficient in the back, where the complexity and variability of work is much higher. To truly understand the back office, measures like case throughput, backlog trends, propensity to meeting service levels and service quality all need to be collected and presented in a digestible and actionable format to understand how productive and how well utilised different groups are, from the individual right up to enterprise-wide trends.
For more detail into back-office productivity, see our article How to measure productivity in the back office.
Capacity and Skills
For most back-office operations, performance improvement is the first element towards improving resource efficiency, whether that’s to facilitate growth or reduce costs. As such, the strategic application of understanding performance is to provide an understanding of service capacity.
Understanding where the holistic and granular skill deficiencies lie, allows businesses to focus recruitment and training to maximum effect. Conversely, understanding which areas of the portfolio are over-resourced allows businesses to make key decisions about redistribution of resources as internal and external drivers shift. Understanding the skill levels of resources is essential to the analysis of performance and unit cost. Where imbalances exist, it’s important that they can be identified proactively and addressed before bottlenecks develop, impacting backlogs and service quality.
For more detail into managing capacity, see our article “Load Balancing the Human Resource”
While identification of service deficiencies is transformative enough, some software brings an additional level of functionality in the form of skills support. Whether this is training support or real-time activity support for staff on-task, as operations scale and diversify, having the ability to reduce the dependency on formal retraining pays dividends in the long-run.
Choosing the right solution for your operation
There is no one-size fits-all approach for choosing a back-office optimisation solution. Ultimately the solution that is right for your business will depend on your goals, requirements, resources and many other factors.
We work with prospective clients across all verticals to understand overarching business goals and the direction you want to take your business to select the most appropriate solution to facilitate that journey.