In preparation for our Verint Virtual Customer Engagement Conference, I recently interviewed a business analyst at a large global insurer. Unfortunately, she became camera shy and declined to be recorded, but she did share with me their journey to improved operational visibility and employee productivity in their back-office operations, which spans locations across the globe.
To protect her anonymity, I’m going to call her Jane. Following is a transcript of our conversation. You can hear similar customer interviews at Verint Virtual.
So Jane, why did your organization first seek out a solution like Verint Operations Visualizer?
We wanted the same insight in our back-office operations that we’d had for years in our contact centre. And we wanted an equitable way of measuring employee performance across our various sites and teams.
With Operations Visualizer, we have insight into how the work is being done. It allows you to see where employees are spending time and what slows down a processor’s workflow, so we can do something to make it better. The solution shows:
- Time spent in production and work-related applications
- Time spent in admin, collaboration and non-work-related applications
- Idle time
- Computer locked time.
When we see frequent occurrences of idle time, we dive into the data to see what is causing it. Is there a particular application leading to the idle time? Is the person a subject matter expert getting questions from other team members? Now, what can you do about it? The solution can be as simple as slightly modifying your workflow order or re-evaluating your documentation. Sometimes a simple quick-reference sheet can eliminate the places where the workflow slows down.
For example, we saw that an employee had excessive idle time. Upon investigation, we learned his job is print heavy, and he spends a lot of time walking back and forth between the printer and his desk. We were able to use the Verint data to justify getting him a printer on his desk, which immediately improved his productivity.
How do you calculate productivity and make it an equitable measure across roles and functions?
In Life and Retirement back-office operations, the focus before Verint had been almost solely on processing volumes. But what we learned is that productivity doesn’t simply equal the number of items processed. Throughput is a great and useful number, but it doesn’t tell you how well you are working. A throughput number doesn’t factor in the complexity of work, the other valid, non-production related activities that may occur, and it doesn’t factor in time compliance.
Time Compliance is where you will find the space for improvement.
Tell me what you mean by time compliance?
Time compliance shows us how employees are spending their time during the day, and if that time matches the expected outputs. To calculate time compliance, we compare the DPA application usage data with the employee My Time data.
Verint My Time is an electronic employee self-tracking tool. Employees can record time spent in production as well as time spent in meetings, training, or on break. When you compare My Time data with system application usage, you can quickly see if the applications match what the employee is stating.
Application usage as well as My Time data are transformed into performance metrics that appear in role-specific scorecards. Both employees and managers can see how they are performing against their time-in-production goals, enabling the employee to self-correct behaviours to improve performance.
Whether an employee processes three items in a day or three hundred, time compliance is proof of work. It proves the amount of time your staff are working in production applications. And if their productivity is falling short of what is expected for their role, we can dive into the data, so we understand what the hurdle is and how to help them over it.
Having your activity constantly monitored seems a little big brother-ish. Have you met with any resistance to the solution, and if so, how did you overcome it?
As the Verint support group, we train the line managers on how to use the data as a performance leveller vs. an enforcer. We use a lot of questions to help guide the management teams on how to use the data to help solve problems for their employees. We may be the experts on Verint, but they are the experts on their teams and the work they do. The primary question is always, “Does this make sense?
Other questions we suggest they ask themselves include: “Does what you see align with what you expect from an individual or team? What’s keeping your team from reaching their productivity goals? What can we learn from our top producers? Are they faster because they have been doing the work longer and have a knowledge base everyone naturally gains with time?”
The focus is on understanding what is going on in the processor’s day, and how you can help them alter behaviours to meet their performance goals. By comparing workflows of your top performers, you may find there is some difference or alternate behaviour that can be leveraged to help others increase their speed and/or accuracy.
What insights have you uncovered with Operations Visualizer?
One thing the Verint data has definitely proven is that the vast majority of your staff are doing their job. The bad examples are like gossip. It’s more interesting, so you remember it; but those people really are few and far between. Most of your staff is not doing anything nefarious. They are just trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
Having Operations Visualizer gives you the insight you need to keep on track. If an employee starts to slip, they will see the impact quickly. Operations Visualizer lets you spot when your trends are slipping, for example if idle time is increasing, enabling you to quickly adjust. The data is all right there in black and white, or a colour graph as in the Application Timeline Report (a favourite!).
You see a trend as it’s happening. You can quickly address the issue with the team and they adjust. Sometimes bad habits move in without us being fully aware of it.
Operations Visualizer helps focus employees and keeps how we spend our time front and centre. Before the solution, you would have to rely on the manager policing their teams through observation, which no one really enjoys. And a lot of times you won’t know it’s a problem until suddenly less work is getting done and you have to look into why. Operations Visualizer keeps us on track.
Can you give us some examples of the anomalies you discovered?
Sure, an issue that we were not expecting had to do with our subject matter experts. They were stopping and starting all day. We would see lots of idle time with small durations. We discovered this was due to the SMEs being asked quick questions throughout the day AND it was pretty consistent across all teams.
For me this highlighted subject matter expert abuse. Just because someone is the expert on the work doesn’t necessarily mean they are an expert on training. We started having the SME track the questions, then based on what was being asked, adjusted our training to emphasize those steps more. Like we mentioned earlier, sometimes it’s amazing what a simple reference sheet can do. We also got our SMEs some training on how to conduct training.
Another bad habit we discovered was that people weren’t locking their computers when they stepped away for lunch, breaks or meetings. And, they weren’t turning them off completely at night. Not locking their computers skewed reporting, increasing idle time unnecessarily. And not shutting computers down meant that required software updates weren’t happening.
This is a habit we’ve had to reiterate with our new work-from-home employees. They think they don’t have to lock their computers when they step away because there is no one there to see or access their computer. We had to reiterate the importance of locking and shutting down their computers, and get them back into the habit of doing so.
That’s interesting about the change in habits with work-from-home employees. With the recent move of so many employees to work-from-home because of COVID-19, has having Operations Visualizer helped you with this?
Absolutely. People across the organization are clamouring for the solution now that they can’t physically observe their employees.
In reality, we already had a percentage of our workforce who worked from home, at least part of the time. In fact, we created separate activities in My Time: one for computer processing, and one for computer processing WFH. That way at a glance we’d know where they were when the work was being done. We could see that some folks worked better at home, and some didn’t.
With the current transition, we expected an increase in idle time, and it did spike. But now a month into it, idle time has come down to regular levels and in some instances even lower. We are still digging into it, but we’ve noticed there was a lot more idle time when people worked in the office. Now our work-from-home employees are showing lower idle time, but higher time in skype and instant messaging. So instead of stopping by an office or chatting in the hall, people are reaching out to each other over these alternate communication channels.
Your organization is a global business. I know you have a facility in Manila that does a lot of your standard back-office processing. How has the transition to work-from-home impacted productivity there?
Well the internet is much slower there, and many of the employees had to be provided with equipment to work from home, so there was a greater lag time in getting employees up and running in Manila. And it wasn’t a surprise that the majority of employees are working at half the speed they were before. But the good thing about Operations Visualizer is, we can see that the employee is time compliant—they are spending the amount of time they should be in the systems. But because of connectivity and bandwidth, they just aren’t able to process as much.
This is where solely judging productivity on volume would be a disservice to the employee. Now they are getting credit for being there, putting in the time, even though they are not able to produce as much.
Our March numbers were off, as we expected, and that just has to be taken with a grain of salt. And the percent time idle was skewed as employees worked through technical issues. But things are settling in and starting to level off now.
What advice would you give other organizations who might be considering leveraging Operations Visualizer to help ensure productivity levels for a newly remote workforce?
Be understanding. It’s a transition for everyone. We definitely saw a big upswing of idle time as the workforce got their feet under them working from home. We also expected productivity to drop as many of the processors have slower home internet than what they had in the office. So we’ve adjusted handle times and our expectations for the isolation period of the pandemic.
We are trying to focus on finding trends rather than anomalies. Everyone is going to occasionally have a bad day. Most of the time a bad day gets balanced out with an employee’s good days at the monthly level.
The two hardest things for the front-end users of Operations Visualizer are habit related. It takes a few weeks to build the habit of changing your My Time throughout that day as your activity changes and to LOCK YOUR COMPUTER. Work from home employees need to maintain these habits, even if the only other eyes on your computer are your pets.
In general, as a Verint admin and lead for our solution support team, I want to emphasize that while we know the solution very well, the processors and managers are the experts on the work they do. It takes both working together to make the tool a fair and equitable representation of performance across teams, functions and locations.
If you enjoyed this interview, register for Verint Virtual Customer Engagement Conference to hear similar customer stories.
If you are interested in an Operations Visualizer starter package to jump-start your back-office, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.