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Blending front and back office: Central to improving the customer experience

(Image credit: Image Credit: M247)

CIOs need to look carefully at blending front and back office to align business needs and provide customers with the engagement and interaction they demand in today’s digital landscape, explains Richard Mill from Business Systems

At the beginning of this year analyst firm Gartner said that CIOs must start blending their front and back office activities as a matter of urgency if they are to provide a successful customer experience.

The analyst firm explains that today consumers expect their experience to be digital. That doesn’t mean eschewing the customer journey for superfluous technology. But it does mean putting the consumer at the heart of digital transformation.

In the Gartner 2019 CIO Agenda survey, top-performing organisations had a mean of 4.3 consumer engagement activities – working in more areas to enhance their consumer engagement than their peers.

Gartner characterises front office as the systems that improve consumer interactions such as feedback channels and loyalty programs, for example. Back-of-house it sees as having the potential to reduce costs necessary to serve by outlining consumer journey maps to guide internal developments or using digitalisation to cut the cost of consumer engagement. Merging front and back office can allow them to work in tandem to retain the digital customer.

Organisations can also improve business performance and offer up a better experience by gaining a better understanding of the consumer across the journey life cycle, maintains Gartner.

The front office is critical in providing customer service as first point of contact for the consumer. As consumers increasingly engage with organisations digitally, the lines between front and back office have blurred. Consumers are demanding the same level of interaction and service from the back office when it comes to issuing bills and order processing for example as they get from the experience they have come to expect from the front office.

This change of viewpoint necessitates CIOs taking a holistic approach to blending the front and back office as part of the customer’s digital journey and looking way beyond the customer contact centre. This isn’t a new way of looking at the marriage of front and back offices. Almost a decade ago, HMRC recommended the use of technology and ‘work blending’ as a route to optimising resources. Yes, today organisations are still dragging their feet when it comes to the concept of blending front and back office.

The debate continues. The International Customer Management Institute report said that despite HMRC’s advice, while workforce optimisation techniques in the back office was on corporate agendas, there is a growing gap between the potential it has and the way it is being used. 

The report concluded that although there are many ways that workforce optimisation tools can be utilised in contact centres to deal with inefficiencies, organisations still aren’t using them properly.

In fact, many CIOs have put the blended approach on the back burner because of its challenges. These are, however, more cultural than operational and easily surmountable with some expert digital transformation planning.

‘Blending’ using WFO is paramount

In reality, the majority of customer queries and requests are not dealt with at first point of contact, but are routinely routed to the back office to be processed. The issue is that the omnichannel approach to contact and service channels, via SMS, social media, email and chatbots, has done away with the traditional chain of responsibility.

To meet this accelerating demand for highly responsive, on-demand premium quality customer experience across all touchpoints, there has to be a change to the traditional front and back office structure.

According to Gartner, one of the key attributes of a workforce optimisation solution is that it “integrates disparate contact centre technologies – including contact centre performance management, e-learning, interaction analytics, quality management and workforce management”. With customer touch points proliferating, customer experience is becoming a very important competitive differentiator.

As customer touch points multiply, CX is becoming a competitive differentiator. There is now no need to keep optimisation confined within the boundaries of the contact centre. 

Workforce optimisation (WFO) solutions and strategies are created on the foundation that, by accessing performance data in real time you can drive improvements forward. These include enhancing service levels, improving customer satisfaction, cutting back operational costs and reducing duplication and waste.

Technology complexities

Omnichannel has undoubtedly brought with it increased technological complexity to the front office. Back office operations are more diverse and complicated in the way they are architected, supporting various departments including finance, HR and production. Many organisations still have legacy systems that support mainly manual processes.

On a positive, workforce optimisation technology is available today that combines these capabilities, offering the right tools and the right level of advanced functionality to integrate front and back office successfully. Look for a platform that is modular, flexible and simple to deploy. Importantly it needs to be vendor neutral to avoid vendor lock-in and highly scalable to ensure it can manage an organisation’s ongoing requirements.

It is important to settle on a back office solution that offers functionality over and above the features provided by a regular WFO suite. These could number advanced analytics and reporting, smart work allocation and case management and robotic process automation, for example.

Looking ahead

Front and back office will never be the same, thanks to their different scheduling priorities and time allocations per task. With its advanced analytics and smart allocation systems, however, workforce optimisation technology can be used to feed data through the inbound interaction systems to provide customers with accurate estimates on order completions, for example.

Blending is the latest stage in the evolution of WFO strategies to improve service levels, boost productivity and improve the customer journey. Blending can also help to futureproof your business. It will prepare you for the rapid growth in digital touch points that are coming down the pipeline. Customers will expect the same customer experience from these as those they tap into today – and you will be more than ready.

Richard Mill, Managing Director, Business Systems