Shared services is becoming more digitally mature and globalised as businesses switch their focus from service provision to value-add.
The pace of change hasn’t slowed for shared services and global business services (GBS) leaders in the last year. The cementing of the hybrid working environment, burgeoning demand, an increasingly high-cost and risk-averse business climate - all will test shared services leaders. But there are incredible opportunities as well.
It was a pleasure to attend IQPC’s premier European shared services event - the 22nd Annual European Shared Services and Outsourcing Week. It was great to catch up with old friends, as well as make some new ones. In particular, I was pleased to see so many expert practitioners offering practical workshops and sessions at the event.
Shared services leaders are clearly hungry for practical, technical solutions to the problems they face, and there’s no sign this will subside anytime soon. To help, I’ve collected together my thoughts and the most important trends I noticed at SSOW 2022. We can hopefully learn from these, and from each other, in the year ahead:
The drive for value-add is fuelling shared services digitisation
Shared services leaders are feeling ambitious. There’s a growing expectation from the business that shared services should deliver added value to the organisation. Meeting targets and service provision is no longer enough. Increasingly, shared services is expected to drive greater efficiency in the business, while also enhancing client experiences and relationships.
Shared services leaders aren’t shrinking away from this responsibility. Instead, they’re evolving the digital maturity of their functions to complete the mission. In the last year, they’ve embraced intelligent automation, adopting a growing suite of AI tools including RPA, process mining, OCR/IDP and natural language processing (NLP). Capabilities like Communications Mining are transforming their operational intelligence. Email to case and auto-triage are supercharging efficiency and freeing agents to focus on the work that matters.
As a result, leading organisations have been able to transform themselves despite the disruption of the pandemic and its aftermath. Through intelligent automation, they have been empowered to enhance customer experiences, scale their services, and achieve operational excellence. Their services have emerged from the disruption stronger, they are delivering better experiences, faster and more efficiently.
Hiscox’s Head of Service, Marco Rodrigues, joined Re:infer CEO Ed Challis on the main stage to talk about how the leading speciality insurer uses NLP to eliminate transactional manual work. Cutting resolution times, boosting productivity and improving the service experience for both clients and agents. Hiscox proved why they are a service leader and innovator.
Shared services is going global, and language really matters for success
Shared services is experiencing a rapid expansion in scale. While some teams have seen downsizing, many have seen their headcounts explode to cope with ever-rising demand. Certain organisations are converging disparate shared services centres over multiple geographies into one, while others are extending their operations into new regions and markets for the first time.
Many of the conversations we had were with shared services leaders who had a real growth mindset. But they were struggling with the teething issues of global expansion. Language barriers were a persistent issue. Supporting clients in foreign geographies was a clear priority, but finding skilled agents who could speak the required languages wasn’t easy.
We gave our usual advice: You can’t scale your shared services operation with people alone. This is unsustainable given the cost of talent and expertise these days. Instead you should supplement your human agents with the latest AI and NLP capabilities. Fortunately, you can automate transactional requests and queries in multiple languages with today’s conversational intelligence solutions.
Re:infer can understand and process messages in any major European language - and messages comprising multiple different languages - with support for Japanese, Chinese and Korean incoming. See the current list of languages we support.
More attention is being given to shared and employee experiences
Shared and global business services know only too well how important the client experience is to satisfaction, loyalty and success. However, there’s a growing recognition that the individual experience of service agents is equally (if not more) important.
The past few years have been difficult for everyone, but especially for shared services agents who have dealt with the isolation of repeated lockdowns alongside record levels of demand. Almost half (49%) of frontline workers say they don’t find purpose in their work, and it’s estimated that 63% leave their position within three years of starting.
The first step in reengineering shared services towards value-add is by switching its agents to value-adding tasks. Transactional, communications-based jobs (like triaging an email to the right team, or responding to a simple client request) drain staff. The work is repetitive, monotonous, but worst of all it pulls your agents away from the important work and client relationships. It stops them from delivering new services and digital offerings.