National Back Office Forum Report 2012


Each year after our main event as a community I take time to look back and reflect on how the event went. We all know it was the best National Back Office Forum, part of the Best Customer Contact Planning 2012; all who were there would happily testify to this. The feeling of community was tangible.  

Tuesday 24th April

The day started with my good friend Dave Vernon, Head of Membership opening the conference. 

He introduced the Founder and Chairperson of the Professional Planning Forum Paul Smedley and invited the 469 people on day 2 to partake in a twitter competition during the opening keynotes, as the 2nd speaker was Martin Hill-Wilson, on that very topic. 

Back Office Forum morning session: Back Office / Enterprise Planning

The morning session of the Back Office Forum was a case study session given by 2 of the finalists in the 2012 Innovation Awards, starting with Claire Atkin, Head of Customer Experience at Farrow & Ball. Claire started off by telling the audience of the fantastic history of the Farrow & Ball brand and how things were done. The fascinating facts about how the paper and paints are produced using authentic methods and the fact only 4 people know the recipes for the official Farrow & Ball colour charts.

Claire went on to share with everybody how through the rapid global growth of their premium brand, the Farrow & Ball team focused on listening to their people, and identifying how things were being done, and which processes could be changed for the benefit of both the customer and the company. This saw a number of amazing results:

  • 43% uplift in capacity, 420 hours or 15 FTE
  • 10% conversion of none value time c40 hours
  • 93% reduction in key man dependencies
  • 21% increase in average transaction value
  • Increase language speakers from 15 to 54% and removed temporary contracts
  • 581% return on investment and 2.5 month payback period
  • 61% improvement on process time for returns
  • A reduction from 30 to 11 touch points
  • Automation of manual processes
  • Clear understanding of none value activity
  • Significant improvement in employee engagement scores

But this wasn’t just a process journey; it was a customer journey, and this is borne out in other results:

  • Upward trend in GOS from 93% to 98%
  • Upward trend in order accuracy from 99.4% to 99.8%
  • Upward trend in the number of orders we cross sell against, from 8% to 18%
  • Downward trend of 30% in complaint volume
  • Improved returns achieving a 95% target within 3 days
  • Early indicators from external surveys (a new initiative) are extremely positive

The eircom team gave the next case study presentation on the fantastic achievements they had made in planning engineers across the whole of Ireland. Joe Phelan stood up for the team and again shared some amazing insights. Ireland is a large country to cover with an field force of engineers, and to put the diversity into context, there are more land lines in Greater Manchester then the entire country of Ireland!

Set against difficult financial markets in Ireland, Joe painted a scene of declining market share, flat revenues and an inflexible operation with an annual overtime bill of 7 million Euros. Public perception of the brand was very poor, which was borne out by an average service level of only 60% of jobs done in 2 days (target 80%).

The workforce had VERY defined regions, and any movement or job allocation beyond these boundaries resulted in additional payments to the engineers. These regions also had their own local management structure, who ‘ran’ the region like a personal business. Which meant that their resource was their own and that there was very little amounts of flexibility across functionality. This lack of flexibility and the inability to understand what resource was available national had to be addressed.

At this point in the presentation model, Feargal Timon of began a demonstration of the simulation software eircom engaged to understand their business in more detail, and prepare them for the seasonal demand and the resource opportunities that were there to be realised. This demonstrated a map of Ireland showing the work that would appear, and this was then transposed onto a separate map with the available resources. It broke down the inflexibility of the regional boundaries and has changed dramatically the way eircom now operates. Each region was categorised for demand and the entire operation planned centrally with some staggering results:

  • improvement in 2 day speed of repair of 16 percentage points
  • Almost 60% reduction in overtime.
  • NPS score up 14 points between March 11 and January 12

Time was up on the fantastic morning session and the audience showed their appreciation to both the speaking organisations for such an insightful session:

Shane Roper from Fexco commented “A ground breaking approach by eircom to break a rigid inflexible model & deliver real improvement & innovation & deliver much improved customer service”

James Kieron from American Express noted: “The improvements at Farrow and Ball are inspiration on what we can achieve at AMEX”

Back Office Forum afternoon session: Round Table discussions

Phil Anderson chaired a discussion session with tables allocated via topic. These included:

  • Back office planning
  • Process re-engineering 
  • Operations management
  • Field-based planning 
  • Planning for retail.

One theme raised some very  interesting discussion - that people who don’t  have all the information  are afraid to give things ago, and this is often at the detriment of developing new or effective planning practices in the Back office, Field or Enterprise. The general consensus as a community was that planning in Field & Enterprise feel very immature as industries, and that we need more case studies to help us move forward together.

Lots of great conversations were had and led us up to the endnote presentations.

Libby Coe of AOM said “Performance Management is key in an organisation, however taking a soft approach in the back office is also key”

Back Office Forum endnote presentation

For the first time ever, the National Back Office Forum had it’s own end-note presentation, separate from the main Customer Contact Planning end note / conference close. Richard Mansell, Director of Delivery at Active Operations Management along with myself (Colin Whelan) gave our views  on what has happened over the last 10-15 years, but through slightly different lens.

I concentrated on the development of the contact centre industry, and the disciplines we have seen come out of manufacturing and develop in this environment, and how we are being invited into back office environments to instil our disciplines there. Meanwhile Richard focused on the fact that operations have been around for a very long time, and the development of technology and customer expectation has changed forever the way we operate and the operating models we work towards. 

This then led to a short debate with the  audience for the session, and then lastly Richard used a Prezi presentation (which was very pretty) to emphasise that the future is coming, and with technology, engagement, expectations and economic challenges, we are going to see more and more changes in all our operations.

The session was a fitting close to the best National Back Office Forum ever, with the endnote audience unanimous that it was great to have our own personal close to our community’s main event of the year.

Peter Phelps of Eurostar enthused: “Good end presentations, NO Powerpoint”

And then we all went and got ready for the gala dinner……

Take a look at these articles, videos and links
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