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Knowledge management and the impact of COVID-19

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As the U.S. and countries around the world begin to ease—or at least think about easing—restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, executives at leading software and services organizations are reflecting on the lasting impact we can expect. Greater use of cloud services, accelerated digital transformation, a need for the latest and greatest technology, and a generally stronger appreciation for knowledge management are among the key changes being seen.

To help shed light on the lessons learned from the novel coronavirus and how it is impacting the way public and private organizations work internally and respond to customers, KMWorld asked KM leaders about the changes they expect in a post-pandemic world.

Answers have been edited and condensed.

Trustworty and easy-to-find information is critical during uncertain times. It appears that we are starting to flatten the COVID-19 curve. While this is good news, the process is going to be gradual and until a vaccine is invented, we will continue to live in an abnormal or semi-normal situation at best. Knowledge management will play a critical role in delivering customer service during this period. Just like consumers, employees may be cautious about coming to work and getting exposed. This will be even more of a problem in the contact center environment, which is typically not configured for social distancing. Moreover, some agents may get infected or care for other sick family members. This may result in continued agent absenteeism. Furthermore, offshore contact centers may be shut down due to local conditions related to COVID-19. This perfect storm is forcing many businesses to rely on "gig" agents or employees from other departments who are not knowledgeable enough to be on the frontline. Providing them knowledge that is easy to find and know-how that can guide them through customer conversations is critical to making them successful. Businesses will also need to make sure their self-service systems can do more by powering them with the same knowledge and expertise.  Anand Subramaniam, SVP Global Marketing, eGain 

Greater emphasis on flexibility. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on customer engagement and the contact center forcing many organizations to transition their agents to a work-from-home model. I believe this shift will result in several changes in the post-pandemic world. Now more than ever, "cloud is king." The companies that had those technologies in place pre-pandemic are definitely a step ahead of those that didn’t.  Second, cloud-based knowledge-as-a-service will be used more widely to push out information proactively through multiple channels in real time to keep employees and customers informed and ensure consistency of message. And third, with more agents working remotely, crowd-sourcing knowledge will become more important. Taking knowledge from disparate places and turning it into curated content will help agents find the information they need instead of asking a colleague who is no longer working in the same room.  Once organizations realize that it’s possible for contact centers to survive remotely, both from a technology and HR perspective, it’s going to lead to a lot more flexibility in terms of working arrangements. It will lead to organizational changes as well, and these will persist beyond the pandemic.   Heather Richards, Vice President, Product Strategy & GTM, Verint

AI is an essential tool for an organization’s armory. Even before the pandemic disruption, every organization wasted productivity through employees searching for reliable information and expertise. Employees need to source intel quickly and efficiently to continue doing the jobs they were hired and trained to do. Now with over 90% of the workforce remote - and when an organization is composed of tens of thousands of employees working across multiple countries and time zones - where to source answers and expertise has become a critical challenge.

AI is an essential tool for an organization’s armory. With human-inspired AI, organizations can recognize and surface expertise, skills and tacit knowledge that might not have been identifiable before. Business leaders can utilize AI to develop skill maps pinpointing where the organizational intelligence is strong and where development is needed based on their current and future strategies and in times like today, developing real-time skill scenario models. No organization anticipated how quickly the adoption of remote working would have to accelerate this year. But by embracing AI technology and placing trust in teams, businesses have already made great strides in adapting. — Eric Storm, Vice President, North America, Starmind

Digital transformation at high speed. Organizations have adapted rapidly during the COVID-19 response, but not all of the habits they have developed have been good ones. When it comes to digital transformation and knowledge management there are two major objectives, trying to get end-users to adopt new ways of working and creating a structured environment for maximum productivity and compliance.

Microsoft's Satya Nadella recently remarked that 2 years of digital transformation has happened in 2 months. That’s the positive side of things. Organizations and users that were on the fence have all adopted the cloud and new ways of working. They didn’t have a choice, but they are happy with it and won’t revert back to the old ways. But, on the negative side, while more organizations are in the cloud, not all of them have learned how to truly live in the cloud. Many have adopted non-enterprise, consumer communication and/or collaboration platforms which leads to ad-hoc, unstructured and ungoverned processes. Adoption isn’t a problem anymore, but now productivity and security are. As we emerge from the post-pandemic world, organizations are going to need to clean up their shadow IT, shadow users, and sprawling collaboration environments. Dux Raymond Sy, CMO, AvePoint

True self service—not bots—for CX. Right now, companies are blindly flailing about hoping for a technology life jacket just to keep heads above water. Predictably, they've found one—the chatbot. On the surface, this seems to make sense: A bot can't catch the coronavirus. A bot doesn't suffer from productivity loss, loneliness, or isolation—just the ticket to get out of this mess. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Bots are not the savior for a failing customer experience. It's not the bot's fault. Bots can be excellent pieces of software and some have a bright future. But why would a bot blaze a trail of glory where human chat has not? It's a rather simple question (and therefore completely ignored by companies the world over).

Someday, companies will learn that technology does not equal strategy. A bot is an amazing and worthwhile tool but it's not a replacement for a contact center. Why would it be? Trying to talk to a machine is not what customers actually want. Despite what many might think, bots are not self-service. If companies focus on providing customers with a true self-service option, their fortunes would truly start to change.  Aaron Rice, CEO, MindTouch

More reliance on KM for consistent information and guidance. Perhaps the major challenge organizations have faced adjusting to the “new normal” has been the shift to remote working in an unprecedented scale. Organizations have been purchasing laptops, shipping internally to ensure consistent configurations according to company policy, and then delivering to employees to work from home. Inevitably, this has led to an increasing need for knowledge management for two key needs. First, to help users find the answers to customer questions quickly and easily to respond to interactions, and second, to help employees know how to undertake their jobs—for example, by providing centrally managed guides on how to use the CRM or billing systems. These guides are not to cover the whole solutions but to serve as a reference for those settings, changes, or use cases which happen maybe weekly and are charging and not always remembered. These two use cases are increasingly important to provide consistent and accurate answers as employees are working without the support network of close-by colleagues to ask when needed. But public and private organizations have also needed to produce accurate content for their employees and customers alike with multiple updates daily or even hourly in some cases so having the flexibility and technology to support and empower the team to manage this without coding and programming is also critical. Doron Gower, Chief Solution Architect at KMS Lighthouse

Digital transformation and the move to the cloud. COVID-19 has taken the transition to cloud software and technologies and put it into high gear. Prior to COVID-19, the cloud was perceived by some as an immediate investment while others viewed moving to the cloud as more of a nice-to-have or something that could be done down the road. COVID-19 has changed both the current and future landscape when it comes to digital transformation and the move to the cloud. Cloud technologies can help mitigate short and long-term operational costs, make it easier for teams to share information and collaborate, especially when remote, and help arm businesses with the modern technology services needed in order to easier and more efficiently connect with customers and deliver the types of experiences customers will want, need, and expect in a post-pandemic world.   Anand Janefalkar, Founder and CEO, UJET

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