Who is managing your new front office?

  • Posted on January 16, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Who is managing your new front office?

In any business application discussion over the last 25+ years, when someone asks, “What are you using for your back office?”, they are really wondering “What ERP/accounting application are you using?”  Conversely, as part of that same discussion, the question “And how about your front office system?”, they are wondering what CRM application you are using. 

There are multiple ways to define what has been traditionally known as “the front office” when it comes to business.  Investopedia defines it as “the customer-facing function of a firm, for example, customer service, sales, and industry experts who provide advisory services.”  Similarly, Business Dictionary defines the front office as “marketing, sales, and service departments that come in direct contact with the customers and liaise with the back-office (administrative) departments to maintain a two-way flow of information.”

Some key terms and phrases here are customer-facing function, industry experts, advisory services, and liaise with back office.

Critical roles in the new front office
So, if we use these terms to identify what is important to the front office definition, one could argue that in today’s world of service and technology, the new front office consists of a combination of, but not limited to, the following:
  • Field service technician
  • Customer asset/equipment
  • The customer

How do they come into play? The field service technician is oftentimes referred to as a service ambassador or trusted advisor.  Customer facing?  Check.  Industry expert/advisor?  Check.  Liaise with the back office?  Let’s think about this and come back to it.

Next up: the customer asset/equipment. Thanks to the explosive adoption of IoT, assets and equipment are now able to “communicate” how well they’re performing. Customer facing?  Check. Industry expert/advisor? With the help of sensors and machine learning, check. Liaise with the back office?  Let’s think about this and come back to it. (For a deeper dive on assets, check out my last blog post on the topic of mastering your assets.)

Finally, we have the customer. Is the customer a customer-facing function?  One could argue YES!  Customers today are much savvier and more knowledgeable as they research information before talking to a technician or a call center.  Industry expert/advisor?  Try as they may, and sometimes, they think they are, but no. No check. Directly liaise with the back office?  Let’s think about this and come back to it.  

With enough evidence from above based on some key terms/phrases, I think the combination of field service technician, customer asset/equipment, and the customer can be considered the new front office. 

Connecting to the back office 
Now that we’ve identified the new front office, what is the new back office?  How about the old front office powered by CRM: It’s typically focused on customer service, also known as customer care or call center.  I think we can define it as such when we reference above “liaise with the back office.”  

The technician, asset, and customer all have tools to “liaise with the back office” aka customer service.
Equipped with mobile phones, field service technicians are able to reach their organization’s call centers directly to get assistance.

Unfortunately, technicians dialing into the call center for help often creates too much call volume, taking critical time away from customers or causing them to wait too long.  Mobile field service apps have been able to alleviate a good portion of that.  There are new tools available such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Guides and Remote Assist.  Guides uses Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality to guide a user either in the field or in a training session on how to perform a procedure. (Watch an example of D365 Guides here, as produced by the Avanade Digital Studios.) In the new back office scenario, combining Remote Assist with Microsoft Teams enables a remote expert to help a field technician solve an issue through virtual annotation, voice and sending or receiving of documentation.  Remote assistance can be provided via a HoloLens headset, iOS, or Android device.  

Customer asset/equipment – how does an asset liaise with the back office?  By using sensors to capture data in Microsoft Azure and either notify the back office of an anomaly or use machine learning to predict a failure.  Dynamics 365 Connected Field Service has been enabling this capability for a while.

Customer – how does a customer liaise with the back office?  Traditionally, that connection has been through phone or email.  But as mentioned earlier, customers are now savvy enough to seek out answers for themselves.  

Future-ready organizations will provide customers with tools such as a customer portal with a knowledgebase to empower them to solve issues without any human interaction.  When that isn’t enough, support cases can be created in the portal.  Portals can also give customers visibility to the assets they have, active service agreements, case and work order status, etc.  All ways to liaise with the new back office.

As far as the old back office, let’s just think of it as the ‘foundation’ – nothing exciting, but you have to have it in order to support the new front and back offices. How are you managing your new front office?

Learn how Avanade helps organizations modernize their field service operations to deliver a better employee and customer experience.


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