Empowering customer service agents with relevant, complete, and accurate answers to customer questions remains one of the major challenges in contact centers today. The past 10 years have seen efficiency and productivity gains squeezed out of the mechanics of routing and queueing a call to the right agent pool, screen-popping the customer information to the agent’s desktop, case management, and workforce optimization. Less attention has been placed on allowing agents to access information and informally collaborate with one another. Its no wonder that more than 70% of the time of an average call is spent locating the right information for the customer.
In many contact centers, content is created by groups of authors who are disconnected from the day-to-day conversations that agents are having with customers and who are unfamiliar with the language and terms that customers use. All content follows the same basic create-edit-publish cycle, irrespective of its usefulness in answering customer questions.
Today’s contact center ecosystem is complex, and comprised of multiple vendors who provide the critical software components. Read my blog post on what these critical software components are. Customers are looking for a simpler technology ecosystem to manage from both a systems perspective and a contractual perspective.
Suite solutions, available from unified communications (UC), CRM, and workforce optimization (WFO) vendors, are evolving and include comprehensive feature sets. These vendors have either built these capabilities out or acquired them via M&A activity. And we expect more M&A to happen.
The right knowledge, delivered to the customer or the customer service agent at the right time in the service resolution process, is critical to a successful interaction. When done correctly, knowledge personalizes an interaction, increases customer satisfaction, reduces call handle time, and leads to operational efficiencies.
Embarking on a knowledge management project is hard. Concerns include:
Worries about cultural readiness and adoption. Many executives don’t understand how activities done by a knowledge team translate into real business outcomes and don’t support these programs with the adequate resources for success.
Concerns about making content findable. The best content is useless if it can’t be found when needed. “Findability” has to do with search technology, a solid information architecture, and giving users alternate methods to search for retrieving knowledge.
Questions about keeping content timely. Knowledge must be kept current, and new knowledge must be published in a timely manner so that it can be used to answer new questions as they arise.
You have to admit that knowledge management (KM) is hard — it’s hard to explain, hard to implement, hard to do right. It’s not just technology. It is a combination of organizational realignment, process change, and technology combined in the right recipe that is needed to make KM successful. And when it is successful, it delivers real results — reduced handle times, increased agent productivity and first closure rates, better agent consistency, increased customer satisfaction. Check out the case studies on any of the KM vendors' sites to see real statistics. Yet despite these success stories, and despite there being commercially viable KM solutions on the market for over 10 years, I am unsure whether KM really ever crossed the chasm.
Why is it then that we are seeing renewed interest in KM in 2011? I believe it’s attributed to listening (and acting on) the voice of agents and customers, coupled with loosening the strings of tightly controlled content that has breathed new life into KM. Most common trends include:
Using more flexible authoring workflows. In the past, knowledge was authored by editors who were not on the frontlines of customer service, who foreshadowed questions that they thought customers would ask, and who used language that was not consistent with customer-speak. Authored content would go through a review cycle, finally being published days after it was initially authored. Today, many companies are implementing “just-in-time” authoring where agents fielding questions from customers, not backroom editors, create content that is immediately available in draft form to other agents. Content is then evolved based on usage, and most frequently, used content is published to a customer site, making knowledge leaner and more relevant to real-life situations.
Last week I was at Forrester's Consumer Forum in Chicago, where I gave a presentation with the title “If The Company Only Knew What The Company Knows: Introduction Of A Knowledge Center Can Empower Market Research Professionals.” For this presentation I did quite a lot of research and talked to many market researchers who have implemented some kind of knowledge management system. Knowledge management systems come in all kinds of flavors and with varying degrees of success, but the market researchers who managed to build a successful, engaging, and widely used system all agreed that it had changed their role.
In fact, the companies we spoke to all saw their knowledge management as a competitive advantage. Although we found a number of market researchers willing to participate in our research, none of them wanted to share all the ins and outs. In keeping with the theme, they said, "We don’t want others to know what we know."
But how can market researchers introduce knowledge management to their organizations? Based on our research, we see three different levels:
Build a research center of excellence within the department.
Implement a system for sharing and distributing (research) information with the organization.
Develop a companywide knowledge management system.
This year’s Boston Enterprise 2.0 Conference highlighted good examples of how companies are tapping into social technologies to empower their employees. For example, Mitre Corporation showed how they have successfully developed a collaboration community using open source technology. The platform they developed enables them to deliver secure access to ideas, discussions and content for employees and guests. Meanwhile, CSC showed how they have driven greater collaboration across 49,000 of their employees in just 18 months, with a strategy focused on connect, communicate and collaborate. (Those of us in the audience even witnessed the in-field promotion of Claire Flanagan, CSC senior manager for knowledge management and enterprise social collaboration, to director – congratulations Claire!)
Among a number of great speakers, JP Rangaswami, CTO & chief scientist at BT Design, opened the conference with a powerful speech that was supported by an innovative approach to real-time animation of content – alas, while the speech was good, the visuals were distracting for many in the room. JP suggested that the age of the locked-down desktop is coming to an end, “enterprises must design for loss of control.” Re-iterating a refrain from George Colony, who suggests “bits want to be free,” JP advised, “if you don’t want it shared, don’t put it on a computer.”
In the past couple of months I've been working on a document called 'Information Management For Market Researchers', released earlier this month to our dedicated Forrester Market Research Leadership Board Members. Although I can't share all lessons learned with you yet, there are a couple of insights I'd like to bring to your attention.
The most important outcome from my interviews with market researchers and knowledge managers is that a culture of sharing creates better products and helps companies be more successful innovators. Simply said: to innovate, knowledge from various departments needs to come together, irrespective of role or rank.