5 Secrets to Improve the Performance of Your Shared Services Function

July 16, 2015
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Fostering a Customer-Centric Focus in Shared Services

You’ve probably noticed that “shared services” are becoming a normal feature in the business landscape – particularly for back office functions such as finance, procurement, and HR.

While this is a development that can have many positive outcomes for your organisation, there are some challenges you will need to be prepared to tackle.

One of the biggest challenges you may face with shared services implementation is striking the right balance between customer focus, and maintaining your new accountability structure.

Why is Maintaining Customer Focus a Challenge?

The implementation of shared services involves taking people who were previously found in several areas of your business, and bringing them together to align them by function rather than business unit.

By changing your organisational structure in this way, you’re creating a powerful change both in your organisation’s accountability, and culture. Ultimately, you’re changing the affected employees’ alignment of interest from being directly to the business unit they once served, to either both the business unit and the function they serve, or, in some cases, purely the function.

A key impact of this change of alignment of interest is a change in the lines of accountability for individuals who are now in shared services functions. One of the most common complaints we hear regarding shared services implementation is the (actual or perceived) loss of influence of, or focus on, the main business, as business functions realign to the new business model.

Many businesses worry that this change in accountability may negatively impact on customer focus in the new shared services function. Thankfully, however, with the right controls and expectations, this can easily be avoided in your organisation. Here’s how you can maintain and foster a customer centric focus in your shared services team.

Define & Document Outcomes, Roles, & Responsibilities for the Service Deliverer & Customer

As discussed, in shared services, accountability often shifts from a business outcome focus, to an outcome focus within a specific scope. By taking a customer centric approach to delivering these outcomes, you ensure that your underlying business objectives will be met.

To do this, you must first define and document what those outcomes and expectations are.

As part of defining and documenting the service level agreement, the shared services team and the relevant stakeholders in your business should define the following:

  • What services will be delivered?
  • What is the expected service level?
  • What are the funding arrangements? (If relevant)
  • What specific items are in or out of scope?
  • What are the communication channels for discussing any issues that arise?
  • Who is responsible for resolving issues?

An often overlooked, but very important, part of this process is to not only define the service level responsibilities, but also the customers.

Culturally, one thing that business units can struggle with in a shared service environment is not having control of resources, and not being able to directly reallocate them to other tasks.

Furthermore, even when reallocation does occur, business units may forget or ignore the implications of requesting additional or different services to those that were initially agreed upon. In particular, they may forget the impact this will have on the speed of delivery of pre-existing deliverables that were defined in their service level agreements.

Because of this, it’s critical that you implement ways to track any changes to service delivery to ensure that changes to scope of works, or priority, including impact on other deliverables or outcomes, are clearly communicated and understood by all parties.

By clearly defining, communicating and managing these outcomes, you will create a much more objective way for all parties to be accountable under the shared service agreement (both customer and service delivery function). These clear outcomes, along with clear processes for managing conflicts between outcomes and resource allocation, will foster a customer-centric focus by both clearly defining and managing expectations, and delivering as promised.

Identify What Went Well & What Can Be Improved

Once you’ve completed a year, it’s important to conduct a review in order to understand what was delivered, what wasn’t delivered, and why. You must also be able to determine whether your outcomes are the right outcomes for your shared services team to be working towards, or whether they need to be changed to better fulfil customer service needs or the needs of your business.

The best way to do this, of course, is to introduce a review process. In doing so, you must define the following:

  • What outcomes are you measuring against?
  • How will you measure the success of each outcome? (What’s a good result, what’s a bad result?)
  • Who will be reviewing the information?
  • How will the reviews be communicated?
  • What resources are available to implement any lessons learnt so that the issues are not replicated?

Your review process may evolve over time, but it’s critical that you implement one from the start.

Review Regularly

Reviewing is most effective when it’s done regularly. The best way to review is therefore to set regular, less formal review points during a delivery period. This can be done by combining long-term annual reviews with shorter-term inter-period reporting and reviewing sessions (for example, monthly) to ensure that areas are meeting expectations.

While periods of review usually fall into annual and monthly review cycles for a lot of business functions, this may differ for your organisation. For example, shared service call centres may find that daily or even hourly metrics are necessary to manage performance. Other functions may find that weekly or monthly is optimal. Always do what works best for you, keeping in mind that the main outcome you’re working towards is a customer-centric focus for your shared services.

Improve & Have Resources Available to Implement Lessons Learned

Each time you conduct a review, you’ll no doubt find areas for improvement. So it’s important to set aside resources for implementing any business process improvements you identify in your reviews. As you do so, you’ll be able to better foster a customer-centric focus in shared services.

Your Say

Do you have shared services in your organisation? What other ways have you found that are effective for fostering a customer-centric focus? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author

Adam Stennett is the Founder and Managing Director of Stennett Consulting. He has extensive experience assisting businesses from a range of industries to deliver better outcomes and financial savings using business process re-engineering. For more information about Adam and the team, or to learn how we can help your organisation with shared services implementation and optimisation, contact us today.

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