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Customer Relationship Management
August 2004

Five Steps To Successful Knowledge Management In Your Service Center

By Daniel Mason, NextPage

Knowledge management ' like so many other popular industry terms ' has certainly suffered from its share of hype and misrepresentation. But that doesn't change the fact that the right approach to knowledge management can have a tremendous positive impact on productivity, innovation, knowledge retention and customer satisfaction. This is especially true in service center environments, where fast and consistent access to the right information, and the ability to capture and share new information quickly and effectively, often spell the difference between success and failure. Most modern service centers are already proficient at tracking calls, but finding the information to resolve those calls is another matter. Service center organizations currently focus most of their resources on tracking issues rather than on resolving problems. However, according to the Service and Support Professionals Association (SSPA), 82 percent of a service center's costs come from problem resolution, not issue tracking. Customer feedback supports these findings. The most common customer support complaint is slow and inconsistent issue resolution. It's clear that smart, effective knowledge management is the key to lowering operating costs and improving service.
The following are five important steps designed to help you along the path to successful knowledge management. All of these steps go beyond technology issues to address processes, strategies and even human nature. Time and experience have proven that each is an absolutely essential piece of a successful knowledge management solution.

Step #1: Capture new solutions within your natural problem resolution workflow.
Service organizations often make the mistake of separating knowledge creation and incident resolution processes in an attempt to control and improve the quality of the content they make available. As a result, service center analysts usually author new knowledge articles in batches ' at the end of the week or once a month ' because they simply can't afford to take the time during the problem-solving process. This increases the risk that important new information will never get authored, staying trapped inside the heads of individual analysts. Separating knowledge creation from the problem resolution process also results in the loss of important context and nuances of language, which fade over time and inevitably make the knowledge less useful and more difficult to find.

Ultimately, knowledge management is about solving problems quickly, and the ability to capture knowledge on the fly while closing tickets is crucial. Collective knowledge is always more useful than individual knowledge, and any knowledge management solution that makes it difficult to build a complete and accurate body of knowledge ' or slows the process of adding new information to the knowledge base as part of a natural problem resolution workflow ' cannot be considered completely successful. Integrating your knowledge creation and problem resolution processes is an excellent way to streamline and simplify the process of adding important new information to your knowledge base quickly.

Practical Tips: Make sure your knowledge management system is tightly integrated with your call-tracking system. This includes making it possible for analysts to find solutions and capture new information without leaving their comfortable and familiar call-tracking window.

Step #2: Streamline and simplify the content review process.
Many organizations develop elaborate review processes to make knowledge base content more 'perfect' or 'pristine.' These reviews often delay the availability of important new information, wasting a great amount of time ' especially since most new content (around 60 percent) will never be reused. As a result of these delays, analysts quickly lose confidence in the knowledge base as the best source for current and relevant information. Any effective knowledge management system must recognize that collecting raw information can be messy, and making unrefined information available quickly to appropriate audiences is often more important than perfecting it. This requires simple, effective processes and systems for making rough new information available quickly to a limited audience ' then making it easy to evaluate, refine and perfect the content for a wider audience as demand (and not some indiscriminate process) dictates. Streamlining and simplifying your review processes can eliminate bottlenecks, reduce administration costs, simplify and accelerate the content creation process and make your knowledge base more relevant, timely and useful.

Practical Tips: Eliminate the need for a full-time knowledge administrator by making it easy and practical for frontline analysts to capture and publish information within their call-tracking windows. Then make sure your knowledge management system can track how often this 'rough' information is being used, automatically push frequently used solutions down to designated second- or third-tier subject experts for fact checking and refinement, and make the most valuable articles visible on a self-service Web site. This should be a practical, demand-driven process.

Step #3: Use consistent standards and templates to improve quality.
Creating high-quality knowledge base content is extremely important because poor quality translates directly into inconsistency and lack of confidence among staff members. However, talking about quality is much easier than actually improving it. Unless the people who make new contributions to your knowledge base have an accurate understanding of what 'quality' means in terms of authoring new articles, improving the quality and consistency of your content will remain an elusive goal.

To bring your content quality goals down to earth, it's helpful to define, communicate and enforce 'quality' in concrete terms. After you establish these specific quality standards, you can then create sample articles that exemplify those standards. This helps analysts by giving them a template to follow for their own articles.

The best quality standards are simple and easy to understand. Examples of concrete quality standards include using active rather than passive voice and using bulleted and numbered lists rather than paragraphs. These kinds of clear, easy-to-understand rules will boost the confidence of analysts, encourage information sharing and improve the overall effectiveness of your knowledge base.
Practical Tips: Provide best practice forms or templates that automatically capture relevant call log details (issue, resolution, environment, etc.) in a standardized document format. This makes it possible for analysts to convert call log details into new problem resolution documents by clicking a button rather than manually re-keying the information into a different system.

Step #4: Get top-to-bottom buy-in for your knowledge management solution.
One of the most common and damaging mistakes knowledge management proponents make when developing and presenting knowledge management proposals is failing to create a shared vision and alignment among executive leadership, management and frontline people. This failure to gain consistent and enthusiastic support across all levels of the organization can lead to inadequate executive support and skepticism among analysts who may view the effort as the latest 'flavor of the month' initiative. Without proper buy-in, even the most promising programs can fail to produce the desired results.

To achieve this top-to-bottom buy-in, it's important to clearly understand and define the desired outcomes and expected benefits of your knowledge management efforts. Next, you need to show how these outcomes and benefits align with your organization's objectives. Finally, it's critical to communicate the project's objectives and the benefits to each stakeholder, anticipating and addressing concerns at each level. By clearly demonstrating how every layer of your organization will benefit by adopting a more effective knowledge management solution, you pave the way for an effective, successful implementation that resonates with every person in the organization.

Practical Tip: Implement an executive dashboard that allows executives to see the results of your knowledge initiatives and to identify areas for improvement. If your efforts reduce escalations by 10 percent or lower handle times by 20 percent, you'll want your executive team to know about it quickly.

Step #5: Reward and recognize people for sharing knowledge.
There is a common misperception ' fueled by human nature ' that people who have knowledge are more powerful and have more leverage than people without. As a result, many organizations unknowingly encourage a culture of 'knowledge hoarding' by recognizing and rewarding people who possess knowledge, rather than those who share it. In this situation, individual knowledge becomes more important and desirable than collective knowledge. This encourages people to focus on their own needs rather than the needs of the customer or the organization. In addition, when 'information hoarders' leave the organization, they take their knowledge with them and leave you with problematic knowledge gaps.
By contrast, an effective, successful knowledge management solution encourages information sharing and makes collective knowledge more desirable than individual knowledge. To create this type of information-sharing environment, it's important to encourage, reward and recognize efforts to collaborate and contribute shared knowledge with the group. As you recognize and reward people for contributing and sharing information, you increase the value and quality of your knowledge base. You remove single points of failure. And you make those who choose to hoard information powerless and obsolete. This enables you to encourage the development and progression of your staff to new areas where growth and career development become alternatives to leaving the organization.

Practical Tips: Don't roll-out your knowledge solution to everyone at once. Start with a core team of a few key frontline and second-tier analysts, including one person responsible for refining solutions. Incorporate many different personality types into this core team, including experienced experts who may be threatened by knowledge management as well as those who tend to trust and follow. Make sure everyone on your core team is comfortable with the application and process. Run reports to recognize and reward your star contributors, and create enthusiastic champions who will evangelize the new knowledge initiative when you roll it out to the rest of the organization.

These five steps are certainly not all-inclusive, but they can help you avoid some of the most common mistakes and traps service organizations fall into as they design and implement knowledge management solutions. They can also help you to broaden your perspective and to see beyond product features, system capabilities and process charts.

In the end, successful knowledge management is a balanced blend of technology, training, people and processes. Ignoring or neglecting any of these elements can result in lost time, wasted money and a knowledge management implementation that fails to meet expectations or live up to its potential.

Daniel Mason is the vice president of GetSmart Applications at NextPage, a knowledge management and content solutions provider. He is responsible for researching, developing and marketing knowledge management products for the service center. He is certified in knowledge management by STI Knowledge and trained in Knowledge-Centered Support best practices. At NextPage, he has been instrumental in launching NextPage products to customers in the knowledge management, content management and publishing markets.

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