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KM for Customer Service: Whose Truth is Worth More?

This article is part of the Best Practices White Paper KM for Customer Service [July/August 2011]
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What you want is to let the best-of-breed solutions to do what they do best. Expect to have multiple products that you need to support—that's the downside. It's hard, and it's complicated. But—and I'll go with Ed on this—"the trick is to be able to retrieve information from all those systems from a common platform. Let the data talk... not the applications," he said. "Data by itself is just data. The trick is finding the meaning in it. The complexity is derived from pulling data from a variety of sources and putting it in context."

That is, indeed, the trick.

Put It or Move It?

I wish it were that easy. And I'm not the only one.

"It's not just the growth of the volume of information. We call it the geometric growth of information—the expansion of the new and different types of information that has to be consumed differently," said Ed. "If it were just an increase in the same type of information... well, anyone can do that. It's the complexity of the diverse questions coming from different angles that is the challenge facing organizations."

So... how do you fix that? I wondered. "There are ways to display information from multiple sources  in customized dashboards that show the, maybe, six or seven different pieces of information coming from different sources in one view," Ed explained. "For example, while I'm talking to a customer, I can see that he/she is a ‘hot' customer, which can mean that there are outstanding issues, or the customer is high value, or whatever. Or maybe there's an outstanding invoice. Or maybe they represent a new opportunity to sell them a million dollars worth of software... This information comes from a variety of sources, but it is mashed up into one view, so the agent can very quickly review it when he/she needs to," Ed said. "It's not as though the agent needs this kind of access every time they speak to a customer... but sometimes they do."

So I had to ask: Isn't that the point of a creating a centralized knowledgebase? So that all relevant information is in one place for everyone to view? I thought that was the goal...? "No... unfortunately, that not practical," Ed insisted. "You can't have documents in various formats, coming from different owners, and expect them to reside in a single repository. Those documents from the R&D silo and that information from marketing's silo can't go into a single repository. It doesn't work that way... although many have tried. The trick is to solidify the collaboration and consolidation between organizational units."

Suddenly this started to sound familiar. I can remember a time when the trend was to put all customer knowledge—heck, forget customer knowledge—ALL knowledge into a CRM system or Salesforce.com or... somewhere. "There are ways to enhance and gain value from that information, leverage that information and share it with other sources. But quickly you will realize that a CRM system cannot expand enough to allow your people to do their jobs. CRM can do a fantastic job at what it does. So let it focus on the best-of-breed solution, but don't try to get it to do things it was not intended to do."

So I asked Ed: How do you break it to a manager, who's spent a fortune on CRM systems, that he/she now should bag it all and start over with a search-based solution? "You tell him or her that they have invested in that solution in order to bring a part of your business together. It's either been unsuccessful or successful, but, unfortunately, it's probably been more on the unsuccessful side. Regardless of the outcome, you're probably collecting good information. It's not a total loss. You're getting some value from it. Sure, we're asking you to invest more, but you're already spending money on an unsuccessful investment... why would you want to continue to spend more money on it?"

I wondered, considering Ed's background in business intelligence, whether he considers that investment worthwhile?

"Pulling together large amounts of data, crunching the numbers, creating reports... that will always be required. However, there's a whole other layer. Here's the example: Everyone uses a word processing application. Some people use 20% of it. Some use 10%. Some even use most of it...I don't know any of those people, but I hear they exist," laughed Ed.

But he's got a point. Access to that 10% of BI needs to be available to everybody, at their fingertips. That's the problem with BI—it's mainly backward-looking, it's awkward and it's undemocratic. To look at BI, you usually have to have special skills and expensive support.

"BI is useful, but if I want to know whether equipment shipping today from Japan has been exposed to radiation from the damaged reactors, BI wouldn't tell me that," said Ed. 

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