From Contact Center to Back Office

From Contact Center to Back Office:

A New Manager’s Guide to the First Twelve Months

By Erin Stubing, NICE Systems

If you’re like a lot of new back office managers, you may have started your career in the contact center, where you successfully implemented projects that increased productivity and  improved customer satisfaction for your organization. With these achievements under  your belt, you’ve been asked to bring similar results to the back office, where you are faced with new processes, new work teams, and new challenges—without all the tools that have previously been available to you. Here’s a guide to help you hit the ground running, get some quick wins under your belt, and bring immediate value in your new role.

Week 0: Set Aside Your Expectations. Life in the contact center isn’t easier, but it is more transparent. ACD reader boards and real-time workforce management dashboards make it easier to spot low productivity in the contact center. The back office will be different. Spotting employees taking downtime you would rather not pay for can be difficult, and studies show that in some environments as much as 50 percent of back office employee time is spent on nonproductive tasks. In addition, deciding what the optimal level of productivity should be is not easy. In time you will be able to quantify performance and manage the back office to appropriate standards, but employee performance likely won’t be available on your first week on the job. Also, the tools available in the contact center probably won’t be available either.

Week 1: Arrive Ready to Listen. The biggest win you can earn in your first week is to ask more than you state, and listen more than you speak. Seek enlightenment from supervisors and key employees. Ask them what they think you need to know, and what would make their lives easier in the weeks and months to come.

Week 2: Now Communicate Your Goals. People don’t like surprises, and they don’t like being asked to hit a target they can’t see. Ensure that your entire organization, from   supervisors to entry-level clerks, understand how and why your background will be valuable in the back office, and how and why targets for productivity, service levels, error reduction, or  other tangible metrics will be changing. This does not actually need to happen in a day-one, big bang fashion, but it should be at the core of every decision you make for the next hundred  days.

Your first two weeks will probably be a shock to everybody’s system, and you may find yourself questioning whether your skills and abilities are the best fit. Although some processes are different, remember that your skills and experience as a manager will pay off. The types of fires you will be asked to fight in the back office are very similar to those of the contact center.  Customer escalations may come at a slower or lower pace because the back office has few real-time customer interactions, but complaints are complaints at any level. And the work you do to listen to employees and be heard by the rest of the organization is the same in any setting.

Week 3: Review Desktop Analytic Solutions and Begin to Build a Business Case for Productivity Tools. It is critically important to communicate the value of new technologies to the  internal stakeholders who have are interested in your improvement efforts and can help you get new IT projects approved. Certainly, it’s important that the technology group and the business unit are aligned on the value of the project, but also consider other stakeholder groups, for example, executive, human resources, finance, quality, and customer experience. When making your case, explain how productivity improvement tools are readily available in the contact center, which has a host of productivity tools available and routinely achieves  productivity rates of 80% or more, compared to 50% in the back office. You can achieve similar results over time with comparable tools in the back office.

Weeks 4-5: Start to Define and Recognize Excellence. Working with your veteran supervisors, by now you should have a solid understanding of the characteristics of a top-tier contributor. You should also now have ideas about how best to improve service levels and productivity. Your training gives you the tools to understand what a 20 percent increase in productivity  means to the organization. But what will it mean to employees who can achieve that mark? This is the time to start introducing appropriate incentives to your team, whether it be pay-for-performance plans, contests, spot bonuses, or other forms of recognition. Positive reinforcement needs to be part of your culture change strategy. Communicate these new goals and  recognition programs to the interdepartmental stakeholders who are helping you build the case for implementing technology tools.

Every time you introduce a new concept or accountability enhancing task, you need a clear, concise, and safe feedback channel for your supervisors and employees. If they feel they are not being heard, they will tune you out in turn.  Keep the lines of communication open, communicate what you have heard from your people, and make sure you are actually addressing their concerns.

Weeks 6-12: Begin an Assessment of Repetitive Tasks and Opportunities for Improvement. As a responsible manager, you will want to adopt solutions which allow you to track desktop PC lock time—which is the time your associates have the PC locked and are not using it. In addition, you need to track PC idle time—the amount of time the PC is on, but not being used.

You aren’t looking for opportunities to punish those who are wasting time at work. With task times often measured in minutes, hours, or days, rather than seconds, back office workers are often saddled with tools and technology which have not been as keenly optimized as those in the contact center. Your people may be spending a lot of their time on frustrating, repetitive tasks. Repetition breeds errors and boredom—two pervasive productivity killers. With fresh eyes, you can identify the tedious annoyances that your new team may have been suffering in silence for years. Go to bat for them to streamline those processes, which will boost productivity and morale.

Your stakeholders need to know your employees’ frustrations and lost productivity, and understand what this is costing the organization. The technology tools you are advocating for can help reduce repetitive tasks, boost productivity and increase employee satisfaction.

Months 4-6: Focus on Reducing Non-Productive Time and Having Your IT Project Approved. By now, you have built some credibility and trust among your new colleagues by helping them attack their job frustrations and demonstrating that you understand the unique culture of the back office. Now it’s time to ask employees to give back some of the time they’ve been wasting, in an incremental fashion. If you can reclaim just a fraction of unplanned unproductive time, you will be well ahead of the curve. In the average workplace, employees spend one hour per day visiting websites unrelated to their job tasks. A study of British workers showed that they spend twice as much time per day visiting social networks while at work than they do at home. That is an excellent opportunity to cut downtime by half. Consider bold candor: ask your employees, in plain English, to be conscientious enough not to spend more time on  personal business at work than they do at home.

At the same time, you will also need to move forward with the IT project implementation that will allow you to introduce more objective means of measuring productivity and uncover opportunities for improvement.

Months 6-9: Implement, Communicate, and Ensure Buy-In. After your project has been approved, it’s time to get focused on implementation. In addition to the functional stake-holders mentioned earlier, don’t forget your associates. Make communication with your stakeholders a priority. Before you implement your desktop analytics program, put yourself in the shoes of those who will be affected. How might the implementation be perceived? Often there is a fear that associates will think of the desktop monitoring implementation as “Big Brother,” and yet employee monitoring has been for years a common practice in the contact center, and by video in retail and bank branch settings. Monitoring allows for excellent performance to be highlighted—make sure your employees know that. As you roll out the program, consider following these three steps:

  1. Tell your associates how the program will work, who will be impacted, and solicit feedback over a 30-day period.
  2. Capture the desktop data and share it with associates so that they understand how the metrics are going to be developed. Don’t use the data to manage your associates, but again  solicit feedback to gain buy in as you finalize the new metrics.
  3. Roll out the program and start managing associates to the new metrics. Make adjustments to the program as needed.

In your communication, emphasize how the program ties to the overall goals of the organization and explain how similar programs have worked in other organizations. If possible, employ a variety of media in your communication, including employee dashboards, email, video, bulletin boards, small group meetings, and all-hands meetings. Your communication should have  the goal of engagement—not just information. Get executives and managers at all levels involved in the communication so that employees know the company is taking the project  seriously, and report on milestones and successes regularly. Make communication about this and other projects affecting your associates as part of the new culture you are implementing.

Months 9-12: Build a Foundation for Better Back Office Performance. You will probably never manage your back office on a 15-minute interval basis as you would a contact center. But with your desktop analytics insights, you are now able to zoom in one level of detail. If the organization is working to service levels measured in days, start refining that down to numbers of hours, and look for opportunities to improve. If working in hours, focus in on minutes and look to save a few. This is also a good time to start looking at real-time schedule adherence  and schedule conformance to ensure your employees are putting in the required work hours.

You now have measurable back office processes and the right tools and incentives to change behavior, and your top performers and ambitious employees are responding. The remainder may need additional guidance and training to meet those marks. This is the time to adjust coaching strategies and consider new techniques, such as peer coaching, to bring more of the group in line with elevated expectations.

Ongoing: Celebrate! Do something nice for your new colleagues and yourself! Once you meet a new team productivity milestone, have a pizza party, give out gift certificates or consider another small token of appreciation for your team’s efforts. After all, you have all earned it!

Erin Stubing is Solutions Marketing Manager for NICE Systems. She may be reached at erin.stubing@nice.com