Customer experience is ruling the world of shared services 

The customer stole the show at Deloitte’s annual SSC, GBS and BPO conference. More than 1100 delegates attended the conference making it one of the largest worldwide.

A giant robot appears on the big screen at the center stage. We are at the Austria Center Vienna where the 2017 annual Deloitte Shared Services, GBS & BPO conference takes place. The robot’s name is Clive, and for the last couple of years, he has been on a mission to take over from the Conference chair, Peter Moller. There is no need for humans anymore is the joke, referring to the increasing automation in the sphere of shared services centers (SSCs), global business services (GBS) and business process outsourcing (BPO). The audience breaks out laughing. SSC humor at its best. 

Meanwhile, shared services centers are not a joke. Even though most companies that use shared services established them a decade ago, the potential is still huge. The number of delegates at the conference is a clear sign of that: from a few hundred just a couple of years ago to more than 1100 delegates representing 40 countries listening to speakers from companies such as BP, Unilever, Facebook and Maersk. 

A new trend is appearing
Automation has been on the SSC agenda for several years, but there is definitely a new trend this year: the customer experience as a lever to position and integrate the SSC within the business. A delegate from the public sector puts it this way: 

“I am pleased that customer experience has a strong focus this year, as we have not spoken enough about the subject in recent years. Instead, we have been a bit too technology-oriented. Now the customer has come to the center, which is crucial if we are to develop our services and be competitive in the future,” says Per Helmer Roos, Head of Department at Statens Administration, which is a shared services center for most Danish government agencies. 

Another view comes from the largest consulting engineering business in the Nordic countries, Ramboll. Their shared services center started as an engineering center in India with 300 engineers working across all projects. Since then, the company has utilized the SSC as a base to also offer support services with IT and HR, and at the end of last year, they also established Finance and Accounting. The company’s objective is to move all Finance and Accounting processes to India in 2019. Project Director Paul Hansen is the senior employee responsible for the transition, and he sees customer experience as the key to success for the SSC.  

“How do shared services centers ensure that the customer has a good experience and will continue to use the service? As private persons, we are used to services with enormously high levels of quality. We bring this with us to work, why a shared services center must also keep an eye on the customer in all that they do. If you do not manage to make your services user friendly, management will finally ask the question: Is this the right way for us? If management cannot see that it is beneficial to the business that it is Ramboll itself, which operates the SSC, they may as well choose to outsource parts of it,” Paul Hansen says and points to customer experience in terms of attracting talent. 

“I cannot attract the best if they do not feel that they make a difference to their customers. If they, instead, experience that they get only a negative response and boring routine tasks, they’ll find somewhere else to work. We all want to be recognized for what we do,” he says.  

“In relation to this, I’ve noticed that there is a clear tendency that the leaders of the shared services centers are commercially educated, especially among the speakers at the conference. They are very good at selling their story internally in the company. It is an important competence. If business managers do not take you seriously, and the customers cannot clearly see how the [shared] services center removes their obstacles or supports their growth, you are not seen as relevant, and you will lose in the end.” 

Biggest in Europe
How is it possible to gather 1100 people at an SSC conference in Vienna? There are several answers to the question. Many have their eyes on the customer, but automation is still a hot topic when eavesdropping in the lunch line. “We have just shut down an operation in India,” a delegate from a global company says. Twelve months ago, the company had 500 people at the location, but because of automation, only 70 are left, and they all have moved back to their previous business units, he says. It is not even a secret anymore, as empty offices in Asia could become a trend. 

In addition to automation, most delegates attend the conference to explore how others are reimagining new ways to work through disruptive technologies, while attracting and retaining a globally mobile workforce. 

”We are here to keep us oriented about how other companies have chosen to address similar challenges and what learnings they have gained from their approach. This way, we can gain new perspectives on the road we have chosen and to determine whether we are on the right track. The speakers at the conference represent some rather large and truly global companies, and when translated into our context, these insights can be really value adding to our business in Egmont,” Lars Kjærgaard, Head of Finance Projects at the Danish media organization Egmont, says. His colleague Malene Rohde, Director of Finance Shared Services, agrees. 

“I participated in the conference in Berlin two years ago, and it remains relevant, especially because of the digitization agenda that, of course, has dominated for a few years now but has gained even more momentum recently, and that will have real impact on all companies working with shared services centers, no matter the size, context or location.” 

Correcting the route
Another perspective comes from Brian Iversen, Vice President in Finance at GN Store Nord. His aim is to get insights into which route the company should take in terms of strategy, timeframe, setup, digitization etc.

“Just during the first half-day, I have had discussions with several companies that had or have the same considerations and challenges as we have today. It does not diminish the challenge, but it is also rewarding to talk to people who found a way to ‘eat the elephant.’ The conference provides a range of insights regarding the digital agenda, but there are also many specific examples of how others have tackled the journey. There has been a number of examples of companies that have begun with small projects, that tested, failed and learned,” Brian Iversen says and points to the fact that GN Store Nord is at the beginning of their journey. 

Other delegates represent companies at a very different stage, like Giedrė Gečiauskienė, the Global Head of FX, Derivatives and Liquidity Operations at Danske Bank’s Global Services, Lithuania (GSL). GSL now employs more than one thousand full-time employees and was recently named the Best Shared Services Centre in the Baltic region.

“I work at Danske Bank’s shared services center which was founded five years ago. We have achieved very good progress already, but we can still get better. We like to get continuous information about how to manage shared services centers from other companies. How to get global and be truly agile in a very large company like Danske Bank. Further, it is very important for us to have deep insights into the new technologies that are developing and new ways of doing process management,” Giedrė Gečiauskienė says. 

The 2017 Deloitte Shared Services, GBS & BPO Conference took place 21 and 22 November 2017 in Vienna. In 2018, the conference will be held in Prague. The conference is a “must attend” for CFOs, Financial Controllers, Shared Services Heads, Global Business Service Leaders, BPO Contract Managers, CIOs, Global Process Owners and HR Leaders.

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