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Making the Case for Knowledge in Customer Service

Nowhere in your organizations can information be transformed into useful and actionable knowledge more gracefully and effectively than in your customer care (customer service, customer experience...whatever you want to call it) departments. For there resides the intersection between what you know, and what your customers want to know.

But nobody says it's easy, and it's only getting harder. The three-way collision of Web self-service and social networking smashing into a reduced IT workforce and budget has done a number of whammys on KM in customer service. For one thing, it has resulted in a messy mash-up of information repositories, off-premise information sources, cra-a-a-zy data formats (inbound AND outbound), all while the volume of information and the deficit of funds pile on. I would NOT want to be in the customer service business right now. Don't trust me alone: Even WITH significant technology investments, (if you can do that) the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) says its members are seeing a 24% decrease in first-call resolution.

I hate to say it (and it was unpredictable, admittedly) but the customer service industry sort of brought it on themselves. I will get hanged for saying that, but it's true. Contact centers spent a lot of money and time looking at their telephone systems, their training programs, their various workflows and policy programs, but they neglected to respect the knowledge in their organizations enough. I've said it plenty of times, in plenty of ways, but knowledge management could not get a foot in the door at most organizations for years, and that has led to today's woefully out-of-balance customer experience.

I'm not pointing fingers—customer agents have it tough. Think about it: a customer calls with a question—could be anything—and agents have to sift through product manuals, marketing collateral, corporate policies, bug reports (some of which could have been issued an hour ago!) and fellow agents' solutions articles. Most of it is crap, by the way, in terms of actually solving the problem. Meanwhile, there's a guy on the phone taking time out of his lunch hour to find out how to program his DVR. It's a hectic, high-pressure, low self-esteem thing to do. Like I said, see ya; wouldn't want to be ya.

What The Real Experts Can Tell You

I know what the fake experts will tell you, because I fall into that category. The fakers will tell you that all you need is a technology solution that allows customer service professionals access to a knowledgebase where they will dutifully scribe their brilliant answers to the latest customer question so that everyone else in the company can have immediate and effective access to that content to help the next customer.

Yeah, right.

I have no particular knowledge of customer service. But on the following pages you can find deep insight from some of those who do. I have excerpted some of their material here to make a perennial point: the sum is greater than the parts. The KMWorld White Papers are based on that premise.

For example, here's what KANA has to say about the complexity of today's customer experience challenge. KANA is, I think, one of the reliable partners which understands the difference between "technology" and "process," but also where the two converge:

"As users look for help on the Web, phone, online chat, email and now social media, large organizations often stockpile multiple silos of information scattered throughout the organization. Different departments manage different aspects of the customer journey. Mergers and acquisitions bring overlapping technologies into the IT landscape.

"So how do you really offer your customers one version of the truth? You need a single solution that presents knowledge to users across all channels, while providing the flexibility to display content that is formatted and permissioned for each user scenario.

"As customer expectations increase rapidly, it's important that organizations keep up. These revolutionary capabilities will allow companies to use knowledge management to provide faster, more accurate service across all channels of communication."

It's just as true that customer service needn't be thought of as a cost center. Empolis is clear on this point: "Customer service has become an integral part of the added value chain. It contributes to turnover, profit and ROI, and improves customer satisfaction and loyalty. Good service sets companies apart from the competition and stimulates growth in fiercely competitive markets."

However, they are correct to point out the 600-pound caveat in the corner of the room: "But the demand for fast reaction times with the correct answers in an atmosphere of extremely short innovation cycles causes service staff to be challenged even more. Furthermore, professional customer service relies on powerful IT systems. Traditional IT systems that primarily focus on management of service processes need to be complemented by innovative, intelligent knowledge management methods and tools in order to improve the actual problem-solving process. This is the only solution to reducing overall costs for resolving customers' problems."

But it's necessary to apply those resources correctly. As eGain correctly points out, "Ambitious, unfocused deployments almost always result in a shallow knowledgebase that is full of holes like Swiss cheese. If agents and customers can't find answers, or receive inadequate or wrong information, they simply stop using the system. Focus on depth rather than breadth. Start with common questions on common products or lines of business and expand out over time."

It's also unwise to underestimate the impact of the volume of content that bears down on the typical customer-contact group, as IntelliResponse correctly points out: "In a typical FORTUNE 500 environment," they write, "the combination of electronic documents plus website pages adds up to a staggering and unmanageable amount of content. For example, the average number of customer-facing webpages managed by companies in the financial-services sector averages at more than 11,000 and in telecommunications that number climbs to 64,000." The writer is appropriately awed by that. "Wow." ‘Nuff said.

At the end of the day, I think Coveo sums it best: "Bringing relevant content to the fingertips of your agents and customers will increase productivity, create happier employees and drive higher customer satisfaction. These are the best practices that companies are following to achieve a higher return on knowledge.

I know that "return on knowledge" thing is sort of a slogan, but it's pretty profound. There IS a return on knowledge if you do it right. You could do much worse than absorbing the following pages to learn how to do it right.

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