Strategies for Operations departments

Delivery, Services, Contact, Processing, Run, BAU


The Operation is the heartbeat of any business, delivering services to customers, where the front-line contact lives.

By its nature it is frequently the biggest group but can also be the poor relation – because other departments are not as close to the work they can afford to respond to pressures and priorities of their own choosing.

A well-balanced business ensures that Operation is put first and end-to-end delivery of services to customers is the prime consideration.

This doesn’t means that the Operation calls all the shots, but it does mean that everyone should justify their positions and decisions in quantified terms of the impact on service delivery.

5

Operational Demand Cycle

Frequently true customer demand is obscured by failure demand (demand caused by failure to deliver the service well) and all that the Operation sees is the two mixed together.

It is critically important to separate the two and understand how the existing service generates and drives failure demand.

Large reductions in workload are possible with a better understanding of demand.


Staffing & Flexibility

Seasonal and shifting patterns of demand drive the use of casual or semi-skilled labour and high levels of outsourcing, both which risk loss of control of quality.

The key to high quality while maintaining flexibility is to structure the Operation into small groups of expert permanent staff who directly support insourced and outsourced flexible labour.

Flexible labour focuses on the 80% simple cases of demand and help is pulled from the expensive permanent staff as needed for the complex 20%, with a small percentage handed over completely. This is directly reflected in any Call Centre structure.


Customer Service & Complaints

A key focus here is getting things right first time, eliminating the number of complaints in the first place. Usually that means challenging aspects of the existing service that are outside the control of the Operation, so must be a coherent join approach across the business.

Every complaint is a valuable learning opportunity for service improvement and after resolution should be studied and directly folded into future changes.

Repeatedly getting the same complaint isn’t acceptable – even if it is a deliberate policy, customers should not get to the stage of complaining before they know; awareness is key.


Automation, Technology & Tools

All Operations can benefit from technology and better tools – but only if they truly support the needs of operational staff.

Automation is not a holy grail because it isn’t suitable for complex variable demand (special cases) and it raises the barrier to further service improvements (automated systems tend to lack flexibility).

Instead, work first to simplify the service, automate key pieces that are unlikely to change and leverage human ingenuity and flexibility for the rest.


Data Gathering & Metrics

An Operation without instrumentation is flying blind in dangerous terrain.

But it is crucially important to measure the right things. All too often the work of the service is fragmented into small transactions, which are easily lost or mishandled and not meaningful from a customer perspective. The focus is then solely on cost-per-transaction.

A better measure than transaction is interaction and a better focus than cost is speed and the number of cases that are got right first time.

For a customer, the fewer interactions handled as quickly and correctly as possible is the best service that can be provided. Higher individual transaction costs can be worth it to provide a better service that is cheaper overall.


Too many Operations can think only about now and the short-term future. They often don’t have control of bigger changes in the pipeline.

Staffing pressures and firefighting can mean little time to stand back and consider radical end-to-end service improvements – yet doing exactly that is of critical importance. The Operation is where the best understanding of customer demand lies and that needs to be backed-up with quantified data from simple but comprehensive service metrics.

Separating Build and Run makes little sense. Build is incentivised to maximise change and minimise contact with customers. Run is the opposite. That’s a recipe for conflict. Instead, service features and BAU improvements need to be prioritised together with an end-to-end understanding of their impacts and tradeoffs. There should be a single pipeline for all change.

Developing a detailed strategy will also depend on local circumstances. I’d welcome the opportunity to work with you to define a specific approach to your department.

Posted in Strategy.

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