It’s a moment of truth. Your customer has made contact with your business – they’ve called you, started a chat session, found your web site, sent you a fax, or walked in to your storefront. Your customer’s experience of your company and brand is made up of many of these moments of truth – and your goal is that the sum total of these experiences will add up to satisfaction and loyalty.
What’s the single most important key to customer satisfaction? Employee satisfaction! Making it clear, straightforward, consistent and easy for your employees or outsourced agents to deliver positive moments of truth to your customers, and to understand what their jobs are and how to do them, are keys to employee satisfaction.
In my experience, Knowledge Base Management Systems (KBMS) are a key component in driving positive experiences for customers and for employees. An organization that makes the commitment to implement and maintain a KBMS (commitments of people, process, and technology) will see measurable benefits in satisfaction, effectiveness, and efficiency.
Knowledge and Customer Moments of Truth: Many moments of truth require that the customer be able to access information – knowledge – about your products, promotions, policies, procedures:
- Buying decisions: Determining whether to buy your product, which product to buy, and how much all require access to knowledge. What are the features and functions? What are the benefits of this product? How does your product compare to other products you offer, and to competing products? What promotions are available?
- Service and Support: Buying your product is just the beginning of the “sale”. Now your customers need more information about the product or service they have bought – to reinforce their decision, to understand use, to resolve a problem, and to upgrade, replace, or repair.
- Retention and Risk Management: Policies, promotions, and procedures for “saving” customers you want to keep, and for reducing losses from customers you can’t keep, often need to be accessible to agents and in some cases to customers too.
Knowledge exists throughout any organization. Most transactional and some relationship knowledge is highly structured and stored in systems used for sales, account maintenance, and service. While this knowledge is critical, moments of truth often depend as much or more on unstructured information. In fact, most knowledge in most organizations is unstructured. This knowledge includes marketing materials, campaign descriptions, product specifications, training materials, policies, procedures, announcements, system updates – and all too often this knowledge is not available at the moment of truth.
Not only is most of the knowledge within most organizations unstructured, often it is in the form of institutional memory and tribal lore passed on from one employee to another – but not to the latest class out of training. More is on paper – either memos, notes from training or other co-workers, and even more may be in email folders and other sources not at the agent’s fingertips. Almost all of these repositories are inaccessible to your customer for self-service.
For this discussion, KBMS solutions are primarily geared at capturing, organizing, and delivering this unstructured knowledge to agents for assisted service and/or to customers through self-service channels. The KBMS may also be a repository for other tools, workflows, forms, and utilities that agents or customers us to solve problems and answer questions – but at its heart it is the place for agents and customers to find answers by searching for information the way that they think about it – consistently and accurately- when they need it – in one place – quickly and easily – regardless of the channel that the customer has used to access you.
Making The Business Case for KBMS
Curious how to determine if you have a need? Ask your employees, and watch them work. Tour the contact center – look for paper tacked all over the cubicle walls and more paper in 3-ring binders and metal racks on every agent’s desk. Ask how marketing and pricing information is communicated. How are critical updates to policies or crucial dates and events communicated? Ask five agents how to troubleshoot the same technical problem. Ask how an employee who has been out for a week or two on vacation or due to an illness catches up on key communications. Listen to calls and the questions customers ask. Ask yourself if you were your customer if you would want to be able to answer your own questions on your own time and on your own terms.
So – now that you know you need a KBMS, how do you justify the expense? Where’s the business case? KBMS need not be the most expensive system that your company implements, but there will be a cost. Where’s the return? What’s the value of providing a solution that delivers answers consistently and accurately- when needed – in one place – quickly and easily – regardless of the channel that the customer has used to access you? There are hard and soft measures. Hard measures include:
- Reducing handle time as agents find the information they need more quickly;
- Reducing errors due to delivering incorrect or incomplete information;
- Reducing repeat calls/increasing first call resolution due to reduced errors;
- Reducing training time, shortening the learning curve from new trainee to experienced agent, making cross-training and multi-skilled agents more possible more quickly;
- Supporting self-service sales and service; and
- Closing more sales/resolving more issues – increasing revenue and reducing churn.
Soft metrics, while harder to measure, are even more important. Delivering information more effectively and efficiently leads to more satisfied and more loyal customers who buy more and stay longer. Creating an environment where employees and contractors can feel more confident and effective in their ability to help a customer leads to more satisfied employees who stay longer.
What do you need for success?
- Commitment – leadership must believe in and support the investments of time, money, and technology to implement a KBMS, and more important, to lead the change and commitment necessary to maintain the KBMS.
- People – unstructured knowledge comes from people. People are already creating the content for the KBMS, but their roles need to be recognized and formalized. People will have to be committed to project roles to analyze sources of content for the KBMS, to develop the KBMS, to train, and to use the KBMS.
- Process – organizations constantly create knowledge. It’s virtually impossible to stop. What’s difficult to start and continue is following a structured process for capturing, organizing, and accessing unstructured information. There must be a knowledge management lifecycle process, and people must be assigned to the roles that perform the activities in the process.
- Requirements – there’s still no substitute for knowing what kinds of data (knowledge) you need to access, for what reasons, in what use cases, with what performance, security, and availability characteristics.
- Knowledge about your knowledge – establishing a taxonomy is one of the keys to organizing and retrieving unstructured knowledge. Metadata, or data about data (in this case, unstructured knowledge) suggests organization, search, index, and management strategies. The most important piece of metadata related to knowledge? An expiration, or review date. All content in the KBMS must have a periodic point of review where a determination is made to keep the content and extend its expiration date, revise the content, or remove it from the KBMS.
- Project, process, and change management skills – A few key points here – KBMS initiatives lend themselves to phases. The first phase is simply discovering where knowledge is stored in your organization. In a mid-size business you may well find a half-dozen or a dozen KBMS systems and hundreds of informal individual, team, or departmental collections of information stored in folders and directories. Requirements, design, development, and implementation are typical phases in software development and apply here as well. Adoption and implementation and conversion of existing knowledge into the KBMS will benefit greatly from identifying iterative phases where the roll-out of the KBMS can be supported and encouraged.
- Time – as the bullet above implies, moving an enterprise to a KBMS process basis and cleaning up and converting the existing myriad sources of knowledge that have been created by various groups takes time. Breaking the journey into phases can keep momentum up and deliver a steady stream of small “base hit” and “double” successes that greatly reduce risk but that make steady progress towards the goal – but if your organization has been in operation for several years and has thousands of “knowledge worker” and contact center employees expect to see the phases stretch over more than a year and likely longer – especially if there is a lot of existing information to assess and convert.
- Technology – Finally! We’re talking about something you can buy. I tell you where the silver bullets are and you can ignore the rest of this and just go straight to writing a check and waiting for things to change…right? No, there are still no silver bullets out there. There are some great KBMS platforms available to be licensed. There are also very valuable vertical and horizontal solutions targeted to deliver more than just unstructured knowledge for your industry, and targeted to deliver it across multiple channels. Whether one of these is the right solution for your organization depends on your needs. Whether your organization gets the return you expect from your investment will depend on the extent to which the other elements of success are present. In fact, I will argue that an adequate technology solution will do fine if the other elements are present, while no technology solution will succeed without the other elements being present. The decision of what platform you will need is dependent on your business and your requirements and your money – but, you can and should get some help…and that’s the last component to success, described in the next bullet.
- Leverage focused industry, CRM, and KBMS expertise from external consultants to accelerate development of your taxonomy, your requirements and design process, and to support scarce internal resources in developing training and acceptance testing approaches and teams. Doing so reduces the threat of delayed implementation due to lack of available resources and reducing the risk of poor adoption and project delays due to learning on the job. Designing and implementing KBMS for unstructured data is a skill that is learned through experience and practice – unless your organization has these skills and the experience, contract for it!
Knowledge is not just power
Knowledge is the key to success for your organization. Unlocking access to this knowledge for your contact center and for your customers means customer and employee satisfaction – and will deliver measurable results.
About the Author
Mark Behrens is President of TriSynergy Consulting LLC, an independent consulting firm specializing in contact center and enterprise communication business processes, strategies, and technologies. His clients span a broad range of industry verticals and include for-profits as well as not-for-profits, charities, and associations. Mark has operated as an independent consultant to business and IT leadership since 2001. Prior to his current role, Mark served as a Partner and CRM consulting practice lead at Grant Thornton, as a consulting Manager at Deloitte & Touche, and in corporate management holding positions ranging from project manager to CIO. Mark earned his MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago after graduating summa cum laude in Accounting from Bradley University.
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