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The Back Office: The Next Competitive Battlefield

By Chris Zaske

Customer service centers have long been the front line for building customer loyalty and defending a bank’s competitive position in the market. Yet customer service centers are increasingly reliant on back-office operations to fulfill their goals of delivering the expected quality of service at the lowest possible cost, while maintaining employee and customer satisfaction. 

The back office offers a bank plenty of opportunity for productivity improvement and efficiency gains.  The departments that make up the back office, such as order fulfillment, payment processing, loan operations and dispute resolution, all run the greatest risk of productivity bottlenecks. Inefficiencies in one department can affect other departments, greatly impacting the speed and cost of transactions and ultimately the customer experience.
But targeting problem areas and knowing how to improve them has traditionally been a challenge for back-office managers.

Back-office management is frequently accomplished through a combination of managerial intuition, static spreadsheets and historical, legacy systems reports. To effectively manage the back office across the enterprise and fully understand where the opportunities for improvements lie, management needs a broader base of real-time data of not only the what (work volumes and activities), when (arrival rates and target completion times), and who (which staff), but also the how (people and process efficiencies). All this data then needs a standardized framework and meaningful, actionable reporting to enable management to understand, compare and improve performance between functions and across the enterprise.

The What: Capture activities at the desktop
Verint® Witness Actionable Solutions® has long provided workforce optimization (WFO) solutions to customer service centers. An integral part of these solutions is the ability to capture and record workstation screens. Verint has expanded these capabilities into a suite of tools called Desktop Activity Management that can capture data on the desktop. System administrators create “triggers” which can capture application or screen types, or select data being entered. When a trigger is encountered, the technology tracks and time stamps the screen address, and populates data fields while building a log. Periodically, the log is sent to a server, where similar data from other employees is also arriving. This data is then converted into application information, notices of specific actions or work volumes for intra-day management and monitoring of workload, as well as volume data for future workload forecasting. In some cases a series of triggers can also send alerts to managers when process steps are skipped or when values or accounts of interest are entered.

The When: Back-office workforce optimization realized
WFO in the back-office is not a simply plug and play solution. Verint’s Impact 360® for Back-Office Operations has taken the traditional WFO components and adapted them for the unique challenges of back-office operations. For example, the back office has multiple departments and functions, each with their own systems, processes and requirements. The solution needs to capture data from the various systems and translate this data into a standardized framework that gives management actionable intelligence upon which to base its decision making.
One adaptation has been to modify the forecasting and scheduling functionality to include intra-day management of pending work or backlog and incoming volumes to meet processing deadlines and service-level agreements. These tools help managers of back-office operations:
Track work volumes in workflow and plan resources based upon time interval
Produce accurate demand forecasts for selected time intervals
Schedule employees according to aptitude and availability, using the fewest paid hours
Provide the manager with a “dashboard” to view actual volumes, backlog, resource availability and service level targets
Track differences between schedule and actual hours worked, and assess the impact on the organization’s work plans and goals

WFO in back-office operations is just beginning to take off. Early adopters are seeing improvements on a number of fronts, including faster turnaround time, improved productivity and reduced processing costs.

The Who and How:     People-centric, not     process-centric solutions
Common software solutions designed to improve operations management include business process management, workflow management and imaging systems. While these solutions help companies streamline processing, they all have a similar drawback in that they are process-centric, rather than people-centric. WFO is data-driven, people-centric approach that can complement existing technology investments.
In addition to capturing activity volumes for forecasting and scheduling, the solution also captures data on employee skill proficiencies and processing effectiveness for employee performance management. This data is rolled up into performance scorecards at the employee, team, department and enterprise level. The standardized framework allows management to establish the different success metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for each of the departments and functions, and allows the metrics to be tied to the bank’s strategic goals.
For employees, the motivating power of a scorecard is surprising. People are remarkably capable of self-deception about performance in the absence of clear feedback, and a scorecard cannot be ignored. For the bank, reviewing team and business unit scorecards will identify best-in-class performers and employees might benefit from some remedial training. Verint’s unified WFO solution includes e-learning, which can assign electronic lessons to employees for skills improvement, track test scores and feed the performance scorecards to easily monitor the employee’s progress. The scorecards can also be rolled up into management dashboards that enable managers to track unit and company performance against strategic objectives such as faster turnaround time, improved productivity and reduced processing costs.
While an organization’s customer service center still continues to be the primary point of contact, its success is tightly coupled with back-office operations. Customer service executives now need visibility into back-office operations, a means of understanding the broader, more connected and complex processes, and the ability to partner with operations to improve performance and ensure customer loyalty and competitive positioning. The better the performance data at their command, the better their management solutions and responsiveness to customers will be – and the back office workforce will benefit, too, for a win-win scenario across the entire enterprise.

Chris Zaske is vice president of the Workforce Optimization Practice in the Enterprise Solutions Group within Verint® Witness Actionable Solutions®. An expert in strategic planning and business management processes, he has worked with financial services firms around the world – helping organizations consolidate operational structures in both the front office and back office. Contact him at Verint Witness Actionable Solutions is a leader in analytics-driven workforce optimization. Verint Systems Inc. is a leading provider of actionable intelligence solutions for an optimized enterprise and a safer world.

Posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2009 (Archive on Tuesday, March 30, 2010)
Posted by Scott  Contributed by Scott


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