Companies are often so focused on front-line touchpoints with customers that they ignore the impact an incorrect bill, a late order or claim can have on customer satisfaction. Here are some tips for making sure “backstage” employees are part of your CX program, too.
CustomerThink Editor Bob Thompson’s Feb. 7 thought leadership piece on why customer experience (CX) initiatives are failing raised some jaw-dropping points, including the analyst and CX expert Paul Hagen’s insight about the high number—75%—of CX initiatives that fail on execution. The solution, Hagen says, is a three-step process: 1) access the pulse of your customers (using VoC and other data), 2) implement a closed-loop program to find and fix problems quickly, and 3) focus on innovation.
It’s tempting when reading columns like this one to say, “I’m not one of those. I’m different!” Nonetheless, the company for which I work has learned a lot in executing on CX initiatives. A prime example is the work we are doing to ensure the back office contributes positively to the experience of our customers and our customers’ customers.
Why should CX care about the back office?
Surveys by analysts and by our company last year bring home the importance of the back office to the CX effort. Some of the findings from a 2017 global research study include:
- There are 2.5-3.0 times more employees in the back office than in the contact center
- Back-office errors and delays are the second biggest influencer of customer satisfaction
- Only 14 percent of back offices have fully automated tracking of work against service goals, and only 20 percent receive automated alerts when service goals are at risk
It’s easier to justify investing in contact center innovation—after all, those employees are the face of the company to the customer. In their efforts to make front-line improvements, however, companies can forget the importance of the back office to customer satisfaction.
The good news is that, as enterprise CX programs mature, more companies are beginning to realize the importance of the back office to CX. I hear it frequently as I talk with our customers and network with colleagues at CXPA (Customer Experience Professionals Association) events. Once you explore why customer satisfaction scores are stagnating even after all those front-office CX investments you’ve made, once you trace that stagnation to customer dissatisfaction because of order processing, billing and claims processing issues, you understand clearly the role the back office plays in the success of any CX program—and you begin to explore how to change it.
How we extended our CX program into three key back-office areas
Billing, finance. When I started our CX program four years ago, I tackled the obvious first. I focused all my attention on sales, service and support—and came to learn that they are only one part of the CX equation. For example, we didn’t ask any questions about billing on our initial customer surveys, but through our open-ended questions (it’s always a good idea to include those!), we found occasional customer comments about billing. So, we conducted a special survey that was focused on customer satisfaction with that very topic. The survey really turned the lights on for me, helped me understand how dramatically the back office can impact CX. While we didn’t identify systemic issues, it prompted us to integrate new approaches to closing the loop on specific billing complaints.
Product development. We discovered through customer journey mapping that when the support team escalates complex problems to the product team, the resolution time substantially increased. Bingo! Suddenly, another back-office (or as I like to say, customer-impacting) team was involved in solving a front-office (or customer-facing) problem. How were they doing? I learned that response time increased because of conflicting priorities. Also, since the same team had deadlines on coding the next product release, those deliverables took precedence over customer support issues. So again, we made changes. We created internal service level standards for dedicated escalation teams within product development. This provided the priority for the customer-impacting team to solve the issues delivered by the customer-facing team.
Legal. It is just as important for the legal department to understand the customer as it is any other team in the enterprise. If new customers are excited when they come on board with us, we want to maintain that energy, not drain them with an exhausting contract negotiation process, one that seems unnecessarily complex or non-transparent. Our legal team strives to communicate frequently with customers while the contract is finalized, providing them with frequent updates so the customer doesn’t feel ignored. And with our finance and product teams, I have invited the legal department to be part of our “CX Catalyst” program. Select managers within these departments serve as champions for the customer, devote up to 25 percent of their time to CX activities, and are CX role models for everyone on their team. Of course, all our front-line departments have CX Catalysts, too.
Consider new technology like robotics
The examples above are good illustrations of how a company can follow Paul Hagen’s three-step process for CX success. 1) We listened to the voice of the customer. 2) We implemented programs to find and fix problems quickly. 3) We focused on innovation to move things along. Innovation can include some cool Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven robotics and other workforce optimization technology tools available today to improve customer satisfaction with back-office processes.
Where’s the value of these innovations? Back-office operational silos typically use old technology for manual capture, allocation and tracking of work—leading to sluggish processes and disengaged employees. Analysts report that organizations who modernize and automate their back-office management processes benefit from big increases in meeting service-level agreements (SLAs), employee productivity and year-over-year growth in annual company revenue. They also see decreases in year-over-year customer complaints.
For example, by enabling managers to spot potential bottlenecks or barriers to accurate, timely completion, tools that automate work allocation help reduce costly overtime, missed SLAs, errors and rework—ultimately leading to fewer customer complaints. Robotic process automation (RPA) tools help both front- and back-office employees eliminate manual tasks and focus on more high-value activities. For example, RPA automates the copy and pasting of information from various systems onto a claim form before it’s submitted to an underwriter for review. As the software robots take care of the repetitive portions of the work, employees can focus on steps that require human collaboration and decision-making, problem-solving and creativity.
Consider new terminology, too
It’s typical in business today to differentiate between customer-facing and back-office employees. I don’t prefer the term “back office” because it implies that the employees have a lesser impact on the customer experience. I do prefer the terms “customer-facing” and “customer-impacting,” emphasizing the role each one plays in CX. Other CX professionals use “onstage” and “backstage.” I like that, too, because offstage workers are integral to the quality of a performance and the audience’s appreciation of it.
Whatever terms you choose, the most important thing is to let your back office people know they are critically important to your CX program—and then give them the tools and empowerment to help them make a difference. With the acknowledgement and inclusion of these teams into CX efforts, many more CX initiatives will be poised for success.