A Customer-Centric Approach to Back-Office Operations

Nicole Nevulis January 8, 2024

Most executives, when they think of the back office—where knowledge workers process customer service and product requests—think of efficiency and costs.

How can I get the work done fast and accurately, but at the lowest cost possible? They don’t think of the back office as a customer experience center. Yet they should. Here are a couple of reasons why.

  1. The work being processed in the back office is FOR the customer. The timely and accurate delivery of goods and services is a key contributor to customer satisfaction and is the responsibility of the back office.
  2. By focusing on the customer, you can humanize the work for back-office employees. Instead of just another claim, it is now Mrs. Johnson’s property claim after her house was damaged by a hurricane. Employees now see themselves as helping Mrs. Johnson, providing more meaning to the work they do—a key driver of employee engagement.
  3. Organizations are realizing the benefits of blending their customer-facing and back-office operational functions. In a hybrid environment, customer-facing agents can be performing back-office processing work, and back-office knowledge workers are supporting the frontlines. By cross-training resources, you can more effectively meet peaks and valleys in work volumes to meet customer expectations while limiting the need for overtime or seasonal workers.

Let me share a great example of an organization that transformed its back-office operations with a customer-centric approach.

Transforming the Back Office into a Customer Care Center

Nationale Nederlanden (NN), the largest insurance provider in the Netherlands, achieved a remarkable transformation with their Casualty and Liability group. Like many back-office organizations, NN faced challenges in predicting future workloads and aligning the necessary skills and resources, leading to backlogs and missed service goals.

Realizing the need for a new approach, they partnered with Verint to implement CX Automation with the Verint Operations Manager solution, aiming to enhance efficiency and effectiveness.

However, NN understood that genuine transformation required a change in mindset within the Casualty and Liability department. Instead of viewing themselves as a cost-conscious, transaction-processing unit, they embraced the identity of a customer care center.

Five Key Levers of Transformation

This shift was achieved by focusing on five key operational levers, transforming their approach as follows:

1. The Work

Old ApproachNew Approach
Stack of workCustomer requests

The work transformed from an endless pile of tasks and aging backlog into questions from customers awaiting responses. NN moved these tasks into electronic queues within Operations Manager, providing employees with vital request information. This sense of urgency encouraged timely completion, demonstrating genuine care for the customers.

2. Team Member Roles

Old ApproachNew Approach
Pre-defined, contained rolesSkillsets

NN eliminated silos created by specific roles and titles, and instead amplified its utilization of capacity by focusing on skillsets and proficiency necessary to complete tasks. Work was allocated based on skills and availability, allowing for scalability during demand fluctuations.

3. Planning Scope

Old ApproachNew Approach
Team planningHolistic forecasting and capacity planning

Operations Manager enabled NN to forecast demand, allocate resources effectively, and provide real-time reporting. By enabling managers to predict needs via the forecast, it empowered managers to make immediate, informed decisions—ensuring control over service targets and preventing decisions that are counterproductive to meeting service targets.

4. Manager Role

Old ApproachNew Approach
Reporting analyst/counterCheerleader

Managers took on the role of cheerleaders, inspiring teams to achieve common goals. This shift was made possible by automation, which freed up managers’ time by consolidating data from various sources, simplifying task assignments, and streamlining communication about work progress and employee productivity.

The primary focus of discussions shifted toward ensuring employees’ success.

The use of Operations Manager allowed work queues to be visualized, aiding employees in prioritizing tasks to meet both personal and customer service objectives.

Automated communication of real-time productivity data provided transparency, enabling employees to adjust their performance as needed.

This change enhanced their experience because one-on-one meetings became more centered on individual success rather than merely delivering metrics. These adjustments cultivated a sense of accomplishment among team members.

5. Work Distribution

Old ApproachNew Approach
Task CompletionService Goal Achievement

NN’s ability to allocate work based on skills and availability enhanced responsiveness to customer inquiries, making them more agile and adaptable to market changes. It enabled them to achieve services goals, which prevents fire drills wasting operations capacity and flowback work to address customer complaints on delays.

Back-Office Transformation Success

NN’s transformation efforts proved highly successful. They achieved:

  • Effectiveness: Increased from 75% to 105%, meaning they overachieved their production goals.
  • Efficiency: Increased from 50% to 70%, signifying optimized handling of customer inquiries within paid hours.

Beyond these metrics, the most significant change was the adoption of a new, customer-centric mindset. As the Change Manager at NN emphasized, “Customer care is not a department. It’s a mindset.”

For a detailed account of NN’s transformation, you can read the NN case study here.