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Six KM best practices to enhance customer service

This article appears in the issue June 2011 [Volume 20, Issue 6]
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The right knowledge, delivered to the customer or the customer service agent at the right time in the service resolution process, is critical to a successful interaction. When done correctly, knowledge personalizes an interaction, increases customer satisfaction, reduces call handle time and leads to operational efficiencies.

Embarking on a knowledge management project is hard. Concerns include:

  • Worries about cultural readiness and adoption. Many executives don't understand how activities done by a knowledge team translate into real business outcomes and don't support those programs with the adequate resources for success.
  • Strategies about making content findable. The best content is useless if it can't be found when needed. "Findability" has to do with search technology, solid information architectures and giving users alternate methods to search for retrieving knowledge.
  • Questions about keeping content timely. Knowledge must be kept current, and new knowledge must be published in a timely manner so it can be used to answer new questions as they arise.

To better understand how some of the most successful customer service professionals are developing their knowledge management programs, we spoke with KM solution vendors and companies that have state-of-the-art knowledge management programs. We found that many of those savvy customer service professionals are adopting the following six best practices that have helped to enhance customers' experiences and serve them more cost-effectively:

1. Align the organization for success.

Before beginning a knowledge management project, it is crucial to gain executive and organizational support. Be sure to give ownership of the project to a defined team, including a project manager, knowledge authors, contact center agents, knowledge experts and IT. Once the project team is in place, determine a rollout strategy that focuses on depth not breadth, by developing a comprehensive set of knowledge for a single product, and by introducing the solution internally first before deploying externally to customers. Follow the same process for each additional product, measuring success with metrics that are closely aligned with business outcomes.

2. Design a framework for knowledge management.

To ensure that knowledgebase content is easy to find and use, identify the main users and the most effective way to organize content for maximum benefit. Make sure to develop content standards that keep the style simple, uniform and logically organized for best understanding. A good practice is to run the taxonomy and metadata tagging strategy by users to ensure it makes sense to them and the sources of knowledge are clear. Choose what content you want to reside within your knowledgebase and which content you want to leave in external systems such as CRM systems, intranet sites and discussion forums, but have that content show up in search results. Decide on the authoring workflows that you will use to publish content. It will also be important to think through your translation needs.

3. Create and maintain relevant content.

In order for knowledge management to be successful, content must always be fresh and useful to its target users. One strategy for ensuring that the right content is found in the knowledgebase is to use the "80/20" rule to identify the 20 percent of repetitive issues that cause 80 percent of inquiries. Another strategy is to look for inquiries that have repeatable answers, relevant to a larger target audience. To keep content relevant to users, use a direct, informal style that picks up the voice and terms that a customer would use. Allow agents to create content to be added to the knowledgebase, and engage your community to recommend content from blogs and discussion forums to be added to the knowledgebase.

4. Empower customers with usable content.

Web self-service is necessary for customers to be able to find information on their own terms, increasing satisfaction and minimizing inquiries. To empower customers to locate relevant content, Web self-service sites must have a user interface (UI) that is easy to navigate with clean layouts, standard icons and color palettes that match corporate branding. Navigation must be intuitive, using breadcrumbs and links to guide customers through the site. The knowledgebase should also go beyond keyword and natural language search by, for example, displaying answers to frequently asked questions, and using pictures and decision trees to help users interact with content in the way they feel most comfortable.

5. Focus on the agent experience.

For agents, knowledge management  provides multiple benefits such as reducing handle time, communicating answers more quickly to customers, increasing accuracy of case resolution and allowing more consistent answers to be given to customers. Knowledge management should be part of the agent's work life, not an afterthought. The agent should have a personalized view of the knowledgebase, tailored to his or her role. Agents should be able to interact with content—such as being able to tag it, subscribe to relevant content, and get pushed proactive alerts and notifications of changed content. Knowledge management systems should also be integrated with case management systems. This means that as agents are entering case data, under-the-covers searches can proactively push the right contextual knowledge to the agent. Agents can also access additional content directly from their case management system, eliminating the need to navigate through two different applications.

6. Continually improve knowledge management practices.

The content of the knowledgebase is never complete, and must constantly evolve as new products and services are introduced or retired. Running periodic reports helps examine content usage, search terms, content gaps and the vitality of the knowledgebase as measured by the amount of content being added, changed or deleted. This information should be used to tune knowledge content in line with customer demand. Additionally, be sure to collect feedback from agents and customers about content that should be reworked or new features that could be added to improve the knowledgebase.

A cornerstone to providing good service is empowering your customers and agents with the right knowledge. Look for ways to deliver knowledge within the context of where customers spend their time-make multimedia content available on YouTube, for example, or notify your customers of new knowledge content via Twitter to SMS. Contextual, proactive knowledge delivered before the customer knows he or she needs it helps build trust and satisfaction.

Knowledge management is a journey that is never over. You should be thinking about a continuous improvement strategy to help move your customer satisfaction metrics. Lay out short-term and long-term improvement goals for your knowledge. Tie knowledge management activities to company KPIs. Execute on your plan, and at every step, measure your success.

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