A good knowledge program is one of the foundational elements of a good service experience. Many informational requests can be easily handled using a simple FAQ, which deflects calls from your contact center and keeps your customers satisfied with relevant answers. Agent knowledge that is the same across communication channels guarantees that your customers receive consistent and accurate answers.
But getting your arms around your knowledge assets and maintaining them is hard work. I use a six-step best-practice framework to get you going with knowledge management:
Align the organization for success. To be successful, you need an executive sponsor who will fund your knowledge program and allocate resources to the effort. You also need to put together a project team, follow proper project management practices, and define a rollout and adoption strategy.
Design a framework for knowledge management. Knowledge base content must be easy to find and use. Before starting to create content, you need to determine usage roles, content sources (i.e., what content lives inside the knowledge base and what content lives outside of it but is accessible via knowledge base searches), content standards, and information architecture and localization requirements.
We know that customers don’t choose to interact with you on a single communication channel from start to finish. They interact with you on whatever the most suitable channel for them at that point in time is — which could be via their mobile device, a chat session, a phone call, email, or web self-service from their iPad. This agile behavior is not limited to customer service; it extends to everything that we do, from buying to receiving marketing offers to getting service. Saying this another way, customers don’t make a distinction between a sales transaction and a customer service transaction. All they expect is to be able to receive the same customer experience every time they interact with a company, over any communication channel that they use. This point is very well illustrated in fellow Forrester analyst Brian Walker's report “Welcome To The Age Of Agile Commerce.”
More than that, customers expect personalized service targeted to their situation at hand. Customers expect you to know who they are, what products and services they have purchased, what issues they have had, over what channels they have used to contact you in the past, and what offers they have been presented with and either accepted or rejected. In addition, they would like to know whether you have read and responded to the feedback that they have given you.
As one of the industry-renowned data visualization experts Edward Tufte once said, “The world is complex, dynamic, multidimensional; the paper is static, flat. How are we to represent the rich visual world of experience and measurement on mere flatland?” There’s indeed just too much information out there to be effectively analyzed by all categories of knowledge workers. More often than not, traditional tabular row-and-column reports do not paint the whole picture or — even worse — can lead an analyst to a wrong conclusion. There are multiple reasons to use data visualization; the three main ones are that one:
Cannot see a pattern without data visualization. Simply seeing numbers on a grid often does not tell the whole story; in the worst case, it can even lead one to a wrong conclusion. This is best demonstrated by Anscombe’s quartet, where four seemingly similar groups of x and y coordinates reveal very different patterns when represented in a graph.
Cannot fit all of the necessary data points onto a single screen. Even with the smallest reasonably readable font, single line spacing, and no grid, one cannot realistically fit more than a few thousand data points using numerical information only. When using advanced data visualization techniques, one can fit tens of thousands data points onto a single screen — a difference of an order of magnitude. In The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward Tufte gives an example of more than 21,000 data points effectively displayed on a US map that fits onto a single screen.
Retail is experiencing substantial change because consumers are now empowered by the web with information about price, availability, and merchandise features.
The retail industry is still served by solutions that are too fragmented to adequately balance the asymmetry introduced by radical price transparency. There are solutions for transactions, web site, stores, and so on but little to empower the cross-channel retailer to really meet the consumer’s needs.
I’ve recently been looking at IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative and its portfolio that integrates:
1) Store applications. IBM has well-established high-volume store apps appropriate to high-volume, low-touch retailing but correctly identifies these as inappropriate for fast-growing specialty retail with low-volume “high touch.” This is why it acquired the “asset” of Open Genius.
2) Web metrics. IBM acquired Coremetrics in order to bring the discipline of measuring traffic, conversion, and average order to cross-channel retailing. It’s only by monitoring such metrics that retail can understand which marketing strategies are really successful and which market segments are most receptive.
3) Direct-to-consumer initiatives. IBM acquired Unica as a platform for integrating automated direct-to-consumer marketing with its cross-channel offering.
Step 6 of my 10-step program on how to master your service experience is to make your agent tool set more usable. This is because the work environment of a customer service agent is pretty awful. Agents use dozens — sometimes hundreds — of disconnected tools and technologies like CRM systems, billing systems, ERP, transactional systems, knowledge bases, information in email correspondence, and training manuals to find answers to customer questions. Have a look at the customer service IT ecosystem from a North American telecom company to internalize this complexity.
Most applications that agents use lack intuitive navigation, have cluttered screens that contain too much information, and have overly complex process flows that rely too heavily on agents to navigate. Moreover, agents don’t always navigate through their set of disconnected systems in the same way to find the answer they are looking for.
All these usability issues lead to variable handle times and inconsistent customer experiences. There is no way for managers to make sure that agents are complying with regulations or company policy. Knowledge exists on an island of its own, disconnected from the rest of the customer service ecosystem, and is sometimes duplicated for each communication channel that the company supports — which leads to inconsistent answers that are sometimes just plain wrong. In addition, agents don’t have access to a consolidated view of a customer’s purchase history or prior interactions and thus cannot personalize the conversation to the customer.
My colleague John Rymer expects platform-as-a-service (PaaS) technology to “cross the chasm” into mainstream status over the next three years (2012-2014). Today, PaaS solutions, which provide application development and deployment tools abstracted from the underlying cloud infrastructure on which they run your apps, fall into four types: 1) Pure cloud integrated development environments (IDEs); 2) Traditional IDEs that offer the option of cloud deployment; 3) IDE-neutral cloud runtimes that can run apps built by multiple types of IDEs; and 4) PaaS solutions designed for use by business developers. John sees all four of these categories aiming to cross the chasm in this timeframe but doesn’t expect all four segments to succeed in making that transition.
Why does this matter? PaaS is one of the easiest and most productive ways to take advantage of cloud economics, and the elasticity of the cloud, by providing an easily consumable elastic app platform. Today, most apps for the cloud either lack the ability to automatically scale up or down in their use of cloud resources, based on demand, or else gain that ability through complex programming to low-level APIs and frameworks. PaaS provides access to the cloud without all the drama. Only through taking full advantage of these attributes of the cloud can your business realize the full benefits the cloud theoretically provides.
Demands by users of business intelligence (BI) applications to "just get it done" are turning typical BI relationships, such as business/IT alignment and the roles that traditional and next-generation BI technologies play, upside down. As business users demand more control over BI applications, IT is losing its once-exclusive control over BI platforms, tools, and applications. It's no longer business as usual: For example, organizations are supplementing previously unshakable pillars of BI, such as tightly controlled relational databases, with alternative platforms. Forrester recommends that business and IT professionals responsible for BI understand and start embracing some of the latest BI trends — or risk falling behind.
Traditional BI approaches often fall short for the two following reasons (among many others):
BI hasn't fully empowered information workers, who still largely depend on IT
BI platforms, tools and applications aren't agile enough
Not all customer questions can be answered in real time; some require offline research time. Other questions, like those that come in by email or a web form, have inherent delays. It’s important to communicate service expectations — and meet them so that your customers learn to trust you. Here is a good example of an acknowledgement of an email sent to Starwood’s customer service organization; it tells the customer to expect a reply within 48 hours, but if this is too long to wait, the customer can contact the company via phone for help.
What is surprising is that SLAs are communicated to the customer for customer service via Twitter. Here is a rare example that lets users know that Twitter is offline for the night:
Step 4: Understand what your customers are trying to do
Offering the communication channels that your customers want to use and linking them together is a big first step. You must also steer your customers to use the right channel for their question and maximize the value of that channel for them. For example, don’t let them use email for time-sensitive requests; guide your customers to using a live-assist channel like chat or the phone. Don’t blindly port your web self-service capabilities to mobile devices; look at their value-add capabilities, such as the built-in camera, video, or geolocation features that these devices offer, and use them to add value to the self-service interaction.
Intuit, for example, allows customers to take pictures of their W-2 tax forms with mobile phones, answer a few questions, and e-file their taxes, which streamlines the entire process. Many automobile insurance companies allow customers to take pictures of accident damage with their mobile device’s cameras, again adding value by simplifying the insurance claim filing process.
How many of you are right-channeling your customers’ issues to maximize their satisfaction and control your costs?
Here’s the third tip in my 10-part blog series on how to master your service experience in order to better align your capabilities with customer demand and do it at a cost that won’t kill your business. Step 3 highlights the need for multichannel integration.
Step 3: Don’t offer silos of communication choices
Your service experience should allow customers to start an interaction in one communication channel and complete it in another. For example, they should be able to start an interaction over the phone and follow up with an email containing more detailed information. Each interaction should convey consistent data and information to the customer. The agents that support each communication channel should follow the same basic processes, like asking for authentication at the same point in the service process. Each interaction should build on the prior one so that the customer does not have to repeat his question each time. This is more difficult to do than it seems, and companies have struggled for years to offer this type of seamless experience.
To allow for this, channels can’t be implemented in silos, but must be integrated so that agents have a full view of prior customer interactions over traditional channels like phone, email, chat, and SMS and social ones like Facebook and Twitter. Agents use this information to understand what conversations the customer has already had with you and can then better personalize the interaction and add value.