Consider Culture Change When Deploying Back Office Productivity Technologies

By Erin Stubing, Solutions Marketing Manager, NICE Systems

[dropcap2 variation=”purple”]A[/dropcap2]stroll through the typical back office environment can suggest to many managers that associates are underutilized and idle time is rampant. The back office is where complaints are often handled, claims processed, and credit applications are reviewed and approved, to name just a few “behind-the-scenes” functions. Failure to meet service level agreements (SLAs) as a result of poorly executed processes in the back office can have a measurable negative impact on customer satisfaction.

And even when you are meeting your established SLAs, if the assumptions behind them are too conservative, you may be managing broken processes without knowing it. Accepting broken processes means your associates will too, and your company runs the risk that unhappy customers will go elsewhere to find the service and paperwork turnaround times they have come to expect — and your competitors may already be providing. However, if you uncover and address the causes of poor productivity, you can set new standards of service and performance. You’ll be rewarded with improved employee morale and  greater customer satisfaction. The right blend of people, processes, and technologies can help spur superior performance and transform the culture of your organization.

The Low-Performing Culture

NICE Systems has conducted technology-based productivity studies in a number of industries and found a typical back office productivity rate is a mere 50% — shockingly low when  compared to other parts of the business. Many customers have used “tick sheets” and time and motion studies to measure productivity, but manual observations have their limitations. Even the reporting embedded in back office processing systems do not offer the granularity needed to understand what is causing low performance. Consider the following example:

SWPP Summer 2013 web

In this case, what appears to be two hours of solid work on a claim is revealed to be only 30 minutes of work on the claim, with the majority of the time spent on lunch, shopping online, engaged in social media, and enjoying leisure activities while at work. If your SLA for such claims is four per day, you are missing an opportunity to move more work items through your operation with your current resources, and possibly gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. You won’t have an accurate labor forecast and you may find yourself scheduling
overtime to meet your SLAs. In addition, you miss the opportunity to uncover and understand the best practices your star performers are already using. These best practices should be
institutionalized throughout your environment.

Many companies have software that blocks access to internet sites — so the employee in the example above isn’t able to visit Facebook, eBay, and Netflix using company resources. However, with the proliferation of smartphone technology, there is effectively no way to prevent employees from accessing the internet at work. Besides, your goal should be to uncover best practices — not to be Big Brother.

Benefits of Back Office Productivity Solutions

Deploying the right back office technologies provide several benefits, including handling more work with the same resources, improved quality and compliance, in addition to a productivity boost. A shift of 12 minutes a day from non-productive activity to productive activity can save your organization $1,000 per employee per year, assuming your back office worker burden rate is $30K a year. Subtle changes can  have a big impact on your organization, and can be the first steps to improving a culture of low performance.

Get Your Stakeholders On Board

Before deploying new back office technology  solutions, ensure you have all of the stakeholders on board with the plan and the planned benefits, so that the technical deployment goes smoothly and you bring about the process and cultural changes you desire.

It’s important to remember that the profile of the back office employee may be drastically different from what may be observed in other parts of  the organization. They are likely to be more educated than your customer-facing, frontline employees. They will want to feel as if they have a stake in the technology deployment, and it’s  crucial that you involve them in all stages of the change process.

In addition, you will have to gain the buy-in of other key internal stakeholder groups. The more different stakeholders can see a direct impact on their jobs, the more support you’ll get. These groups include:

  • Executives — You should have an executive sponsor right after you have determined that the implementation will benefit the business. Once your executive sponsor is  on board, he or she will help you get your other stakeholders to buy into the project.

  • Information Technology — IT will want to know how much of their time the implementation will take. They will also want to know if the solution fits within the IT standards, what the server requirements are, how much it will cost, and whether a database administrator will be required. Try to have the answers for these questions before engaging this group.
  • Human Resources — This group will be most interested in how the project will be implemented, and how it will impact employees. If yours is a union environment, HR will want to know if employee privacy will be preserved. HR will also want to ensure the system is implemented in a fair manner and that it doesn’t violate any company policies.
  • Finance — This group is vital to the success of your implementation. Finance can help you build a business case for your project, help you determine the return on investment for your firm, and if you are considering a pay for performance scheme, help you determine the financial impact on your organization.
  • Quality — Your quality group should be on board with your technology initiative, because the implementation will provide them with visibility into an area that is probably similar to a black hole for them. If the quality team is not part of your business unit, get them involved when you’re working to get support from IT and HR.
  • Customer Experience — This group should also be a natural ally to your change management effort, since customers respond to slow back office processing with higher call volumes into the contact center.

Communication is Key

You must make communicating with your stakeholders a key component of your rollout plan — not an afterthought. Put yourself in your stakeholders’ shoes and consider how the implementation will be perceived. Workers in the call center, banking, and retail spaces are used to their performance being monitored through call recording and video monitoring.  Monitoring also allows for excellent performance to be highlighted and rewarded.

For the back office, similar types of monitoring — screen recording and desktop monitoring — are rare. One striking result is the low productivity rate found in the back office. Without the ability to monitor employee productivity in your back office, you will never be able to gain the valuable  insights into your processes as needed to make lasting change and improve your performance. Automated data gathering with a robust technology solution are more accurate than  traditional tick sheets and time and motion studies. As you roll out your program, consider these steps:

  1. Tell associates how the program will work and who will be impacted by the monitoring. Solicit feedback over a 30-day period.
  2. Capture employee desktop data and share it openly so that stakeholders understand the metrics. At this point, you shouldn’t use the metrics to manage your employees, and you should again solicit feedback to gain buy in.
  3. With your feedback integrated into the program, roll it out and start managing the associates to the new standards, including coaching marginal performers, managing out low performers, and rewarding high performers. Make adjustments to the program as needed.

Employ a variety of media in your communication, including employee dashboards, email, video, bulletin boards, small group discussions, and all-hands meetings. Make sure thecommunications are being sent by various stakeholders to underscore the broad nature of the initiative.

Managing for the Future of Your Organization

Parkinson’s Law is the well-known adage: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. As you gain insight into the true nature of your productivity opportunities, you may find that even if most of your employees are meeting their current productivity goals, the goals may in fact be too conservative. Because your goals are not aggressive enough, you may be dealing with a culture of underperformance.

Here’s where your newfound insights can help you move to the next level. How do you think your employees would react to pay-for- performance schemes, individual and group contests, spot bonuses for higher productivity, awards programs and other incentives?

As you implement your new productivity standards and begin holding employees accountable for them, also look for ways to reward the higher levels of performance that will come about when all your stakeholders embrace the new culture.

Invigorate your culture with the hallmarks of achievement — leader boards, digital badges, contests, rewards catalogs, etc., to keep your employees engaged and excited about your organization’s improved performance and their contributions to it. Continue to communicate successes and publicly recognize employees and teams that deliver outstanding results. Enjoy the fruits of your transformed culture and always look for new opportunities for improvement!

To learn more about how NICE helps customers create a culture of high performance, please be sure to check out our webinar series by visiting