We still have work to do. The good people at The Financial Brand once again have told us that digital transformation is moving too slowly to meet rapidly evolving member needs. In research recently conducted by the Digital Banking Report, it was found that success with digital transformation initiatives has been hard to achieve. They found, when surveying financial institutions, organizations have moved forward with many strategies to improve digital engagement, but most believe they have fallen further behind what the evolving marketplace expects.
One area in which the survey respondents felt they were failing was the back office – where respondents hoped to improve efficiency and to reduce costs in support of front office customer experience initiatives. Fully three-quarters of those responding believed they were failing in their efforts with the back office.
Reasons for failure are likely numerous and varied, but I would venture a guess that too little effort, too little investment and too little focus are primary reasons for the disappointment.
Insufficient lack of effort and investment would be unsurprising, given that other areas are undoubtedly considered more important – areas such as direct member interaction and member facing transactional processes and solutions garner more attention, and should, at least until significant improvements are in place. Still, we all might find an easier path to improving back office performance if we were to redefine the space and then allocate efforts and resources more appropriately.
First, some definitions, and their limitations. Let’s start this discussion by proposing working descriptions of the front and back office. We typically think of the credit union’s front office as member-facing activities, delivered by both people and software. So, we look at our retail branch tellers, account servicing, call center staff and lending staff when we sit down to map the journey our members travel when transacting with us. And we analyze the journey similarly when we review the features, benefits and workflows of the software we build or buy to deliver either in person or via online methods.
However, when it comes to the back office within our credit unions, we tend to identify functions and activities as back office simply because they aren’t front office. So, we place finance, IT, marketing, development, HR, loan servicing, account maintenance, and more into the back office. And this creates a problem or, at least, a roadblock to improving our members’ experience with us.
Optimize resources, no matter where they sit. Why does a poorly defined back office limit our ability to improve member experience? Simply put, with more and more members engaging with us via digital devices and channels, the distinction between front office and back office has blurred. Many so-called back office resources can now, or soon will be, accessed by our members (and they will receive service from some of our traditional back office roles). So, it is time to fully engage in the effort to define better which back office roles are or will play a part in delivering direct member service, whether in the “frontstage” of a transaction or interaction, or the “backstage” of the same. And it is time to separate those “backstage” activities from the back office functions that are more appropriately considered to be “support processes”, processes providing critical business functions for everyone, but not directly impacting member experience.
Let’s try examples to illustrate how we might proceed. The list of processes to tackle is long, but let’s pick two areas to illustrate the challenge. A lot of attention has gone into online account opening and online lending solutions and processes. And correctly so. Capturing new members, opening additional accounts for current members, capturing loans in a competitive market, are all critical success factors. After all, we are in the savings and loan business. But when we build or buy account opening and lending software and improve the frontstage member experience, have we also improved all the back office elements that impact members? Have we accounted for and improved upon those back office (“backstage”) processes that directly impact member experience satisfaction LONG TERM, not just at account opening and at loan approval and disbursement?
How can backstage efforts help to improve frontstage efforts? Online account opening and lending solutions provide document and file exchange services that make it easier for members to open accounts and to apply for and receive loans from your credit union. But what happens after those initial efforts? What does your credit union provide to make it easy for your members to exchange needed documents and information in “ongoing account activities?” All of those ongoing tasks need to be addressed and fulfilled enterprise-wide (not just for highlighted tasks) for you to deliver service that members extoll.
To step forward and improve your DX efforts, define the place in your credit union for each task (frontstage, backstage, back office) and then identify the kinds of services you could provide, such as using secure storage and file/document exchange as more than features in separate and defined software solutions. Then identify a platform that can help you to manage these features across your enterprise, including all of the direct member interactions not covered by other software solutions.
Turn secure document exchange and digital asset storage into a member experience promoter and a competitive advantage. Then start tackling all of the other “backstage” processes you’ve ignored as “back office” tasks.