Don’t burden the back office! Lessons from apple picking

Don’t burden the back office! Lessons from apple picking

In my spare time, I pick apples. Even though I enjoy it, the systems in place are far from perfect. And they can teach us a lot about Visual Management. Let’s discuss them briefly to see what not to do when implementing an information sharing strategy in your organization.

Red, reddening, or green(ish): the pickle of generic instructions

Apple picking is by no means a random activity. We, the apple pickers, are instructed to only pick nice red apples. “Piece of cake,” I said when I first heard that. But as it turns out, the definition of “nice red apples” is pretty subjective. What’s red to me is only reddening to my fellow apple picker (some even confuse red with green but they might very well be color-blind). And what about an apple that’s fiery red on one side but green on the other?

You get the point. The information we’re provided with is ambiguous. This is a known issue. After we’ve picked the apples, the company checks each by snapping 15 pictures of it to determine what to do with it. That’s a comprehensive task for the back office. But since the front office has insufficient data to work with, this is the only option.

In this particular instance, the back office is automated. But not every industry enjoys that benefit. So, what if your back office is made up of a team that manually checks issues the front office can’t solve?

The importance of investing in front office employees’ knowledge

Some insurance companies handle (seasonal) peaks by temporarily hiring more front office employees. They usually receive minimal training but are instructed to tell customers the problem they’re calling about will always be solved.

The result: the back office almost succumbs under the weight of its increased workload.

As with apple picking, the problem is that front office employees lack knowledge, and the instructions they receive are way too generic. They accept call after call and simply hear the customer out, only to pass the issue on (just like I pick apple after apple and inspect it briefly, only to toss it into a box that goes to the back office). It would be much more constructive if these individuals were trained properly and could always access real-time data. With actionable, topical information under their belt, they’d be able to make independent decisions. And that would take the burden off the back office staff’s shoulders!

Want to explore your information sharing strategy? Please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be happy to perform a Quick Scan and discuss your Visual Management opportunities.

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