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Harvesting Social Knowledge for Customer Service

Community-based knowledge creation for customer service is not that new. However, enabled by the ubiquity and ease of use of the Web and the availability of social networking tools, it has gone to a whole new level, leading to the coinage of the term "social knowledge." While more prevalent in B2C sectors, social knowledge is also starting to matter in B2B sectors.

How can companies harvest the best of social knowledge for the customer service they offer through their own contact centers and service organizations? How should they engage with customers on social websites? The following five-step plan will help increase the odds of success in harvesting social knowledge for customer service.

1. Assess the opportunity. Companies need to first assess the opportunity for social knowledge harvesting in the context of the nature of their business (e.g. B2B, B2C, etc.) and the customer queries they get (simple vs. complex).

Social knowledge creation has been more common in B2C sectors because it is easier to attain "critical mass" with more contributors and less specialized knowledge. This means a bigger harvesting opportunity in B2C than in B2B (see Figure 1, Page S7, in the downloadable PDF).

Customer inquiries fall broadly into four categories—informational, transactional, diagnostic and advisory. Generally, informational and transactional queries tend to be of low-to-moderate complexity while diagnostic and advice-seeking queries are of moderate-to-high complexity. Informational and transactional queries, therefore, are more likely to be resolved by social knowledge.

2. Identify high-value knowledge. Social knowledge contributors have varying levels of reputation, prolificacy and influence, which most social networking tools measure (number of posts, acceptance rate, number of connections, etc.). The social knowledge value (SKV) of contributors can be estimated by using a combination of these metrics. Knowledge from high-SKV contributors is ideal for "deep dive" harvesting, while that from low-SKV contributors can be ignored or skimmed (see Figure 2, Page S7 in the downloadable PDF).

3. Engage current customers. Customers are key to the initiative-both as knowledge contributors and posters of queries on social sites. Businesses need to make sure that queries posted on social sites are resolved in a timely manner, especially if they are from high lifetime financial-value customers, whom you usually provide "platinum service" (e.g. proactive offer to chat, rapid service levels, etc.). The risk of non-resolution of customer queries is high on social sites because of broad market exposure.

If high financial-value customers are also high-SKV contributors, they not only present an opportunity for deep-dive knowledge harvesting but are also important for collaborative product development and social brand management. See Figure 2 for a framework for knowledge harvesting as part of customer service strategy.

4. Harvest and unify. Contact centers need to make sure that social knowledge goes through the same robust quality control processes as internally generated knowledge, so that it can be made part of a common multichannel knowledgebase. Likewise, social customer interactions should be added to other multichannel interactions as part of a unified customer interaction hub (CIH), which consolidates interactions, knowledge, business rules, analytics and administration in one place for better customer experience, service consistency and process efficiencies. The hub approach allows agents to view customers' social interactions, in addition to direct interactions with the business, for full context retention and rapid resolution.

5. Account for sector-specific and legal factors. Social monitoring tools, social knowledge and robust customer service compliance workflows can help businesses in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products track adverse incident reports and act on them rapidly in compliance with regulations.

All businesses should make sure they are not violating copyright laws while harvesting content from social websites.

When this step-by-step approach is implemented, social knowledge is bound to add significant value to any enterprise in the form of improved customer loyalty, enhanced brand equity, lower cost of knowledge creation and reduced customer service costs.


eGain is a leading provider of multichannel customer service and knowledge management software for on-site or cloud deployment. For over a decade, hundreds of the world's largest companies have relied on eGain to transform their traditional call centers, help desks and Web customer service operations into customer interaction hubs (CIHs) that help improve customer experience and optimize contact center performance.

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