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When you hear the term “customer service,” what comes to mind?

Your first thought is probably an office filled with customer service agents. They are clustered at desks or in cubes (though probably not in the foreseeable future). Most of those agents are likely wearing a headset, since the telephone remains a popular contact channel. Other agents might work with customers over digital channels: chat, online communities, and social media. All sit in front of a computer running some sort of case management system, diligently addressing customer issues.

Given more time, you might also think of the behind-the-scenes staff supporting the agents. There’s management focused on coaching employees and maintaining service levels. A customer service applications team ensures not only the case management system but other tools like self-service (chatbots, online community, and the knowledge base) help deliver superior service. Speaking of the knowledge base, a subset of agents or a dedicated group creates, edits, publishes, and retires the articles.

It sounds like a complete picture of customer service, but this is only the engagement aspect. To stop there, you’d be missing out on others that also play a crucial role.

What probably didn’t come to mind are those departments behind the scenes that support customer service. Collectively, they might be referred to as the “middle office” and “back office.” In the middle office, more senior agents or specialists reside that may be more closely aligned to customer service. The back office is where departments that support the company’s non-customer-facing activities reside. Both middle and back office staff perform their work in systems outside of the case management system. And how well customer service interfaces with both can greatly impact customer satisfaction.

Managing complex resolutions

A common grievance from customers is the time it takes to resolve an issue. When a problem is more than a simple question, that is often when it becomes necessary to involve the middle or back office.

Consider a situation where a customer wants to make changes to an existing insurance policy. While the agent can take the details, multiple teams and processes behind the scenes perform tasks like assess the risk, generate new policy documents, and adjust auto-pay deductions. While this is all standard process, it can take time–especially if it’s done sequentially.

Workflow speeds this process along. Tasks are generated from the initial customer request that can run successively or in parallel. Because workflow is used and not a manual process (like email), the progress from initiation to completion can be tracked. If tasks aren’t completed in a timely manner, they can be reassigned or escalated automatically to ensure the fastest possible execution.

Resolving issues permanently

It’s often the case a customer issue is not unique; that is, more than one customer is affected by the same problem, be it some misconfigured process, a technical issue, or some other failure. These types of problems may stem from errors in the middle and back offices, and depending on the nature of the problem, can impact a large number of customers. Imagine a large segment of insurance customers is erroneously informed via email their payment is past due and their policy will be canceled if payment is not received within three days. Customer service would experience a spike in volume around this particular issue, quickly dragging customer service levels down.

These types of problems can occur. The most effective solution to this scenario starts in customer service. Using analytics, abnormal customer activity around this issue is identified early. Customer service tracks the cases and uses workflow to notify the billing department of the apparent error. Billing investigates and addresses the issue on their side, identifies the root cause, and corrects it–a manual entry error. Now, the issue won’t perpetuate and affect even more customers. Workflow closes the loop by informing customer service the problem is resolved.

Preventing downtime

Even what might be considered “offline” companies today have raced to complete digital transformation projects to better serve customers. And companies are far from finished. It’s been said up to $7.4 trillion will be invested by 2023 in digital transformation.

This increased reliance on digital systems to serve customers in a variety of ways creates newfound conveniences for customers. For example, insurance companies now offer policy services online, such as quoting, account management, document retrieval, and premium payments. Access to these types of tasks reduces the volume of work coming directly to customer service. That is, until these systems have problems.

By proactively monitoring the health of products and services offered to customers, back office teams can identify potential issues in advance before an outage. Should that be unavoidable, they can alert customer service, who can proactively notify affected customers of the issue and set expectations for when services will return to normal.

Maintaining resilient operations

In the midst of a pandemic and recession, to say delivering stable and consistent service is a challenge for most companies would be an understatement. Operating in silos only compounds the issue.

Bridging the gap between customer service and middle and back office teams is the solution. It makes faster, more proactive service with permanent issue resolution possible. Any one of these alone moves the needle on customer satisfaction; taken altogether, it’s game-changing.