Back Office and its Role in Customer Support

“Service, in short, is not what you do, but who you are. It is a way of living that you need to bring to everything you do, if you are to bring it to your customer interactions”. – Betsy Sanders

When the words customer service / support are mentioned, the image that crosses one’s mind is a set of employees that converse and connect directly and regularly with the company’s customers and other stakeholders. This however, is only one part of customer support. As customer demands change and increase, it is impossible for a company to provide top class service without the efforts of each person in the company. Today the back office too has an important and has an inextricable role in customer support. While the people working in these departments may remain in the ‘background’, their support to the frontend staff is indispensable. In order to serve customers, the customer support staff require information, paperwork, payments to be processed, making changes in contracts and or payment terms, organizing dispatch of products and other such tasks to help them. These tasks are handled by the back office staff, and ensure that the wait time and effort for customers remains at the minimum. Proficient handling of these back office tasks also ensures that the frontend staff can focus only on their core job – providing top class service to customers consistently.

The deep connection between the back office and its role in customer support is that their efforts lead to the enhancement of the overall customer experience. The work done by a back office depends on the company, industry, and the size of the back office teams. They handle a variety of tasks that when handled efficiently, make the company look good through the frontend staff, who are able to provide immediate responses to customers on the status of their queries, claims, product delivery, refunds, and a plethora of such services. While customers may not know about the existence of such a back office or be unaware of the number of tasks they deal with, the back office continues to play an important role in customer support. If the back office fails to deliver, the quality of customer service would fall, leading to frustrated customers and an increase in costs and effort for the company. The longer customers remain frustrated, the more likely that they would leave, spread negative comments, and damage the reputation of the company.

Research has shown that the cost and size of a company’s back office is at least two and half times more than the front office. In most countries, a back office has far more employees than any front ending customer support teams. In America alone, statistics show that two years back the cost of back office tasks was around $758.8 billion – a whopping amount that has grown since. Hence, whether companies want to or not, the fact is that they must get their back office in shape and ensure that it works efficiently enough to play an active role in customer support and have the resources to do their jobs speedily and effectively such that eventually customers receive the best service and products.

We know that the top reason for a company staying or leaving a company is the quality of its service. We also know that as company’s expand, gain more customers, and cater to a demanding market customer service must become the responsibility of each person in the company. So effectively, every employee who is not at the frontend dealing directly with customers, forms part of the back office and hence has an important role in customer support. Back office activities tend to be more tedious, boring, and routine. Unless a company takes enough measures to keep their back office employees happy and motivated, they could face some serious losses owing to employee attrition and lowered productivity. The back office must have upgraded systems, have the latest technology in place, and understand the impact of their jobs on the service customers receive. Another research revealed that at least 20-25% of the queries received by the service representatives were connected to inefficiencies on the part of the back office. Customers do not care who in the company is managing which task – all they need is that their needs and expectations are managed. Hence, the impact of poor quality work from the back office does have a dramatic effect on customer satisfaction – and each person must be aware of the damage it can cause.

As companies increase their customer base, reliance on manual and traditional back office processes is a sure way to fail. For customers, their query or problem is important and unique to them, and they expect the company to treat it as such. However, if the back end processes are slow and inefficient, it is unlikely that the company would be able to show customers how valued and important they are, leading to a rise in customer complaints, negative comments, and ultimately customer churn. The costs of all the factors would be far heavier and scarier for any company, than the costs they would incur to have a back office in top shape and one that understood its key position and role in customer support.

It is critical for a company to save itself from these costs, and focus its energy and resources to enhance the customer experiences. It has become vital to integrate the back office systems to play a key role in customer support, thereby ensuring a seamless and consistent workflow, resulting in top class customer service. Cohesive and collaborative work processes between both the teams, would not only keep customers happy, but would enable a company to bring down its administrative costs and reduce the amount of time and effort they would need to expend on each customer.

The good news for companies is that many of the back office processes can now be automated, thanks to the many technological advances. A number of queries from customers are usually administrative in nature, and by automating certain processes it would save the customer’s time, and they could get the information whenever they deem it to be convenient. Processes such as changes to their account, knowing the status of their account, location of the company’s offices, tracking a shipment of products, and other such minor changes, would increase efficiency, reduce the wait times, and give customers the feeling of being in control. Customers can make adjustments to their account with the dependence of a customer service person, and can do so even after office hours of the company. Many companies now provide online calculation charts, the provision to get an online quote, and get answers to normal standard queries – all making it a lot easier and efficient for customers, while reducing dependence on back office processes, that are usually time-bound according to the work timings of the company.

When a company can integrate both the front and back offices, it essentially breaks down the silos that would exist if the two teams worked in isolation. Unless back office has an important and extended role in customer support and provides all the information upfront to the frontend customer service teams, customers calling in with various queries would suffer long wait times and the annoyance of being transferred from one department to the next to get answers. Why would customers want to remain associated with a disorderly company and one that completely ignores the importance of their business and time? Such slovenly service always ends badly with customers not only leaving the company but also venting their feelings on the most visible platforms possible – mainly social media.

The days of treating the back office as secondary and having no role in customer support, have ebbed. Only those companies that understand the correlation between the two teams and lend extended support to ensure cohesiveness and collaboration would survive the harsh and rapid changes of the business world and customer demands.

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