There's No Such Thing as a Back Office Job

There’s no such thing as a back office job anymore.

Gone are those days when a company could hire staff using the front-office or back-office nature of their roles as one of the key decision-making criteria.

In the past, front-office hires were expected to possess customer-facing soft skills such as a good personality, professional communications and expectation management, while the stereotype of the back-office IT employee was Milton from Office Space— hired purely based on hard skills and experience.

If a customer had an issue or a bad interaction experience with a company employee, in most cases there would be no easy way for them to make their negative feedback go "viral" until a tipping point was reached with multiple customer complaints.

With the reduction in effort required to provide such real-time customer feedback through the use of social networking applications such as Twitter or Foursquare, the barriers to impact brand loyalty have dropped significantly.

Quality gets assessed not just on the value a product or service brings relative to its cost, but also on the overall customer experience with your company. It might not matter how pleasant your salespeople or front line support staff are if a customer has a bad interaction with someone in your Finance or IT departments.

A single public tweet or tip about the overall cleanliness of your office will remind you that just because your janitor does not work directly with your customers, this doesn’t mean that the quality of their work won’t reflect poorly on how customers feel about your brand.

This extends to product development staff as well. With manufacturing supply chains that can extend cross-company and internationally, the need for development resources to possess good soft skills becomes clearer. These skills are equally valuable within your company to help reduce the "Berlin Wall" barriers that sometimes exist between front-office and back-office departments. While you can’t eliminate the need for true human-machine interaction specialists by just hiring development staff with balanced hard and soft skills, usability and aesthetics of customer products are likely to be better if the engineers are inclined to give equal time to such intangible requirements while they are working on the tangible ones.

If this idea strikes a chord, here are a few ways of reducing the divide between front and back-office staff:

1. Evaluate hiring practices & criteria and ensure that part-time and full-time candidates for all roles are expected to pass basic soft skills verification.

2. Regularly communicate the importance of good customer interaction to staff and "walk the talk." It’s no good to say, "Customers are our most important asset" if front-line staff regularly overhear managers badmouthing specific clients.

3. Provide basic customer interaction training to all staff so that they understand what is and is not acceptable. You might even wish to take a page from regulatory or safety training campaigns and create some wall posters, lunch-n-learn sessions and spot awards to reinforce the need for positive customer interactions.