Early stage or advanced, there’s more ways to benefit from knowledge in customer service

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Closing the time gap between the moment a customer has a question or problem and delivering a solution is the ongoing challenge in customer service. Through the years, the channels customers have used has evolved: from letters to telephone calls to text messages, each a progressively faster means of connecting. But at the other end, if customer service lacked a solution, that time gap did not really decrease.

This is where a strong, consistent embrace of knowledge management proves its worth. As problems are solved in the contact center, new solutions–knowledge–are generated. Documented answers not only benefit agents by helping them quickly find solutions to issues they might be familiar with, but they can also be published externally so customers can help themselves locate answers quickly.

The value of knowledge management isn’t up for debate. And regardless of where an organization is in its knowledge management maturity, there’s always more possible to further reap its benefits.

Beginner: transitioning from FAQs to knowledge articles

All companies have a handful of common customers questions. Documenting them and making them available via a Frequently Asked Questions (or FAQs) page on the customer service website is a typical route taken to address them. While a rudimentary form of knowledge management, it has some challenges.

An FAQ page is often difficult to maintain. Adding, removing, and updating typically requires technical resources that may or may not be readily available to customer service. FAQs can be difficult for customers to navigate: if there’s more than just a few, searching on the page can be difficult.

The move from an FAQ-type system to true knowledge management is a large transition. Look for a knowledge management system offering an easy way to “ingest” existing FAQs and other forms of knowledge that might exist around the organization. The ability to tag the audience for the article–e.g. customers, partners, internal, and any combination–is critical. It should offer a workflow process to ease publishing (more on that in a moment). It should integrate with existing customer service tools to easily allow agents to locate answers in-context to their work as well as quickly share solutions with customers. These represent a few of the basic considerations to ensure success from the start as well as to setup future opportunities as the organization matures.

Intermediate: reducing barriers to timely answers

With knowledge management in place and articles available to both customers and agents, the benefits are quickly appreciated. Customers finding answers for themselves online reduces that time gap and removes some burden from customer service. New agents can get up-to-speed faster, while existing agents are more quickly made aware of new solutions. Time to increase the velocity.

Defining a formal governance process is a must. The Knowledge-Centered Service (or KCS®*) methodology can assist here. The consortium responsible for maintaining KCS has documented the many benefits it offers. A key one is it can help define the lifecycle of knowledge: when to create, update, and retire articles based on demand and usage.

A methodology like KCS helps stay ahead of the latest issues by simplifying the knowledge creation process. New solutions typically come from two sources: the contact center itself, as agents assist customers, and online communities. Some knowledge management solutions provide an easy way to harvest those solutions as they are discovered to generate new knowledge articles.

This is where technology like workflow is also critical. Not only can it help automate the process of collecting even the most rudimentary case information or answer provided in an online community, but it can also help drive the process from initial documentation to eventual publication. In addition, it supports lifecycle processes like regular reviews, updates, and retirement of articles.

Advanced: expanding access

Having a robust knowledge management practice in place is something to be proud of. Many companies struggle to get to that point. But it’s also not the end of the road–even more is possible.

On a few occasions prior to 2020, Gartner had predicted it would be the year of the chatbot. Chatbots have definitely become easier to deploy and more useful in the last few years. When implemented well, they provide a simple, conversational means for customers to find answers. When customers’ queries require more than one or two steps to resolve, a best practice is to present relevant knowledge articles. This offers two benefits: it eliminates the need to update the chatbot’s available responses as well as ensures the most up-t0-date answers are always provided (thanks to that governance process in place).

Just as a chatbot makes it easier for customers, also consider how many typically start their hunt for answers: from their search engine of choice. While many modern knowledge management solutions strive to make articles accessible to search engines, there may be tools and techniques the vendor recommends (such as tagging or turning on metadata) to facilitate indexing.

Similar to making it easier to locate a solution, making the solution easier to follow is also important. Steps might not be clear. An illustration might help get the point across better. An example might be outdated. Enlist customers in ensuring articles are useful by giving them the ability to provide feedback. This could range from rating articles to supplying written feedback. Use this input (again, using workflow and the governance process) to adjust and deliver the best possible content.

Pushing the limits

Knowledge management offers the ability to take the wisdom of the customer service team and customers in online communities and make it widely available. It is a cornerstone for maintaining a company’s accumulated information and its importance is obvious to organizations today.

Despite this recognition, few have taken full advantage of what knowledge has to offer. Companies should explore every option to fine tune their knowledge management practice, thus reducing the time from customer problem to resolution.

*KCS® is a service mark of the Consortium for Service InnovationTM.

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