Back Office vs Front Office – Does it have to be like this?

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A culture still prevails in many organisations of ‘them’ and ‘us’ between those working away largely unseen in the dark world of administration – in fields such as human resources, data entry, IT, claims processing or accounting – and those  who are customer-faced, typically your receptionists, cashiers, salespeople and other customer service representatives.  These two sides of the business are referred to as the back office and the front office respectively.

Common sense says that all positions within an organisation are critical to the success or failure of a business.  So where did this rift originate and can it be healed?

Promises, Promises

According to Aspect1, 60% of customer dissatisfaction can be traced to back office inefficiencies.  But is this the whole story? The front office staff are the ones faced with immediate issues to address and naturally they want to resolve a customer query, or complaint as quickly and efficiently as possible.  “No problem, we’ll get that sorted within the hour” is a line guaranteed to make steam rise from the already overloaded IT technician or the maintenance guy within a hotel. Lack of communication and collaboration between the front and back offices  leads to a mismatch of priorities.

My Goal is not Your Goal

Front and back office staff have different objectives, skills, processes, and timelines.  The customer is king to the front office staff, with their objective being to make (and keep) them happy.  To the back office staff, the customer is a little further down the line and faceless, translated, for them, into a task rather than a person. Often the back office employees have to consider legal compliance and process adherence as well as the customer’s happiness which, in case is being communicated to them second hand and impacts them less.

Typically the front office staff  are dealing with a continuous flow of work while the back office staff have more managed deadlines and longer term projects.

Needless to say, given this different outlook to the workload depending on where you sit in the organisation, it’s not surprising that some friction has evolved between front office ‘do it now’ staff and back office ‘it has to fit into my plan’ staff.

It’s all in the Mind- or is it?

There’s a perception within certain organisations that there is a disparity of pay between the front and back office staff.  Generally speaking, and this is certainly true in the world of finance,  customer-facing staff are likely to earn more than administration and sales support staff, especially when bonuses are factored in. A further source of grievance is that it’s the sales (front office) staff who benefit from the perks in terms of hospitality and gifts, yet one cannot function properly without the other.

Breaching the Divide

Customer loyalty is based on operational efficiency across the board and that can only happen if the front and back office are working in harmony.  So what can be done to integrate the two?

  • Analyse productivity and allocate or reallocate work according to current staff skills and availability
  • Agree appropriate ‘service level’ type agreements between front and back offices so that promises made are realistic and achievable.
  • Redirect front office staff to the back office occasionally
  • Instigate a process whereby work is tracked from customer request to successful completion, agreed to and visible by all
  • Consider ways to even out the pay structure so that certain staff don’t feel aggrieved that their counterparts are earning more
  • Share out any gifts received to acknowledge the contribution back office staff make.

Reap the Benefits

By integrating front and back office staff, and making all staff feel that their role is of equal importance, you will see significant benefits:

–          Happier customers!  Realistic promises fulfilled within agreed timeframes

–          Better performance!  If staff can see a process from start to finish they are more likely to buy into it.

–          Happier staff! Working in a them vs us culture is not conducive to happy staff. Integrating them into one seamless process, and validating the work of each employee equally, will give staff greater motivation and satisfaction.

1.        http://www.aspect.com/globalassets/bridging-the-gap-between-front-and-back-office-wp.pdf

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