Making Knowledge Work for You: Interview with David Kay, KM Guru
When I analyzed all of my member inquiries for 2009, 31%–nearly a third–related to knowledge management, search, and web self-service. You’ve all heard me complain about how shockingly low self-service success rates are, with the industry average dipping down to 40% at the beginning of 2010. Clearly this is an area that companies haven’t figured out, even though spending on knowledge technology has been strong for the last decade and a half.
Wouldn’t it be nice to spend a day with someone who has all the answers? Here’s your chance. At our Fall TSW conference in Las Vegas, David Kay will present a full day workshop, “Making Knowledge Work for You: Best Practices in Support KM,” Monday, October 18 from 8am-2pm. David is founder of DB Kay & Assoc, and co author of Collective Wisdom: Transforming Support with Knowledge, a must read for all support knowledge workers. David is my go-to guy for all things knowledge, and I wanted to take this opportunity to interview him about his workshop, and why KM is such a challenge for today’s support organizations.
John Ragsdale: What a pleasure to speak with you David! I’m excited about your upcoming KM Workshop, “Making Knowledge Work for You: Best Practices in Support KM.” You have spent time with many SSPA and TSIA members over the years, helping them create new knowledge processes and implement new tools. What would you say are the 3 most common problems you find regarding KM initiatives within tech support?
David Kay: I’m excited about the workshop at the Las Vegas TSW conference! We always have great conversations. The three problems I see the most have changed over the past several years. It used to be that KM efforts lacked executive sponsorship, but–as your numbers suggest–most support executives understand the benefits of knowledge, so that’s less of a problem. What we’re seeing instead is resistance among operational managers, measurement challenges, and a paralyzing fear of being wrong.
I feel for the operational managers I work with. Every day, some executive stops by and says, “hey, do this one other new thing,” and then walks away before the poor manager can ask, “what do I get to STOP doing?” With rising pressure to serve more customers, with more complex issues, with constrained resources, it’s not surprising to me that they see knowledge management as just one more thing they don’t have time to do.
The reality, of course, is that knowledge management will really streamline the job of support. Done right. it makes the job not only more efficient, but more fun: who wants to answer the same question over and over again? But line managers will need some convincing, and expecting that line managers will support KM just because they’re told to is a mistake.
Knowledge measures are different from other support measures. Typical measures are straightforward: all things being equal, we should close more cases per person, resolve cases more quickly, and get higher CSAT scores. But when it comes to knowledge, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Is authoring more content good? Yes…but only if it’s needed, and if it’s findable, usable, accurate, and timely–otherwise more content is actually bad. Knowledge measures require a mindset shift.
Finally, there’s something about writing something down in a knowledgebase that makes people just a little…crazy. Say someone to a customer, OK…write it in an email…fine…but write it in the knowledgebase? EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY! Someone’s going to take their entire network down! Let’s get 13 subject experts to review it first, with a side trip to Marketing and Legal. Never mind that, by the time the content goes through its review process, we’re going to be shipping the next major product release.
I don’t mean to be cavalier about quality, and much of the work that Jennifer and I do with clients involves building quality and continuous improvement into the KM process. But even if your knowledgebase is 100% perfect today, customers will still misinterpret it, and it’ll be obsolete tomorrow morning. Perfection isn’t an option, any more than it is in product development or in case resolution. The goal is the most value for customers, and efficiency for ourselves. And I find this requires taking a deep cleansing breath and giving up the illusion that perfection is an option, while figuring out how to get things as right as possible, as quickly as possible.
Ragsdale: I’ve been fielding KM questions since I started as an analyst in 2000, and a decade later, with all the new tools, social media, and Gen Y, the questions haven’t changed that much. Why is KM so hard for companies? What part of “people, process, technology” causes the most grief?
Kay: It’s the intersection of those–really, this issue is, why are we doing support in the first place? TSIA and The Complexity Avalanche are really helping here, by broadening our view of support. We’re not just in the business of closing cases. Our real job is creating value and loyalty by helping people use our products and services. Closing cases is just one means to this end–and a pretty reactive means, at that.
So KM success requires that people get what you, JB, and many TSW keynoters are talking about. If support organizations believe we’re in the business of creating customer value, then knowledge is the key asset for doing that, whether it’s through closing cases, self-service, product improvements, better PS engagements, you name it. If you believe we’re all about FCR, backlogs, and case SLAs, it’s going to be pretty hard to view knowledge as anything other than second priority–and it just won’t happen. Not really.
Ragsdale: I don’t want to open a big can of worms here, but as you already said, “Knowledge measures are different from other support measures.” What metrics should be tracked, how do you calculate them, what are realistic goals, etc.? Things like self service success, hit rate (percent of issues resolved by existing knowledge), satisfaction with self-service content, etc., are all pretty ‘grey’ metrics, meaning how you track them differs from company to company–making benchmarking hard. What are the key KM metrics you think companies should track?
Kay: What, you don’t believe in 30 page blog posts? The really quick version is that measures need to be tailored to your business goals, but almost all KM initiatives should pay attention to measures that show whether people are participating, for example, search rates, link rates (also called “participation”), certification profiles, create and edit rates. These are measures that we don’t put goals on, but track and look for variance over time and by individual. These can suggest when programs are thriving, when they’re hitting challenges, or when individuals need some coaching.
They also should look at self-service value. Here, I like to look at contact rates (sometimes called CPx), estimated self-service success, and estimated deflection rates. A number of companies are using the deflection rate calculations from our paper TSIA published here with good success.
Knowledge quality is important: citations, sampled quality, and maturity, measured as the ratio of reused knowledge to created knowledge. A mature knowledgebase has a relatively high reuse to create ratio.
Finally, knowledge should improve all the standard operational metrics organizations track today. Productivity should go up, resolution times should go down, satisfaction should go up. That is, until self-service really kicks in…in which case you’ll be closing fewer cases, but they’ll be harder, so per-case metrics will look like they’re going in the wrong direction. That’s actually a good thing.
As for benchmarking, I agree. We’re working hard to standardize some of these measures, especially on the self-service side. Perhaps this is an area where we can use the bully pulpit of the TSIA Benchmark Survey to drive standardization into the practitioner and the vendor communities.
Obviously, this is a big topic. People who are interested should definitely join us in the workshop, because we’ll be spending quality time on just these points.
Ragsdale: That’s a good segue back to your workshop. Could you talk a little bit about how the workshop is structured, and what you will cover during the day?
Kay: Sure! It’s a full day–we cover lots of material, but we do it in a very interactive way: no death by PowerPoint. Our big topics are:
- Models for doing support knowledge, and the advantages (and challenges) of Knowledge-Centered Support
- How to structure content for rapid capture and easy reuse
- How to make content creation, improvement, and reuse part of the support staffer’s job
- Publication processes
- How to measure and encourage knowledge work
- How to help people with the mindset shifts we’ve been talking about
- How to make it real in your environment, with real technology, busy teams, and financial constraints
Ragsdale: Before we go I have to ask a technology question. From my perspective, I’m seeing less focus on knowledgebases, and more focus on intelligent (and mobile) search, so support techs and customers can easily find information from any source–including social media channels. Having a single knowledgebase–which was the standard for so long–just seems unrealistic for large global enterprises. Do you see the new breed of search technology changing the way companies select and implement KB tools? Or is the KB still king in the companies you work with?
Kay: I’ve long been a proponent of what you’ve been calling the Intelligent Search approach to KM. One-stop shopping is so important, and with the proliferation of social content, it’s only getting more important.
I see customers interested in this concept, but they’re also lured by CRM vendors, some of which are making a big push in knowledge, whose knowledgebase modules don’t support cross-source search. They’re also very interested in going to the Cloud, but for technical reasons it’s hard to do Intelligent Search today well from the cloud. So I see a real tension here.
Ultimately, the customer and user experience should be the driver here, and that means one search box no matter where the content lives. I think the closed-box KB is an evolutionary dead end, and I trust that the smart vendors out there will figure out how to get outside the box, even through the cloud.
Ragsdale: Thank you David Kay for sitting down with me and sharing your collective wisdom with my readers! I look forward to seeing you in Vegas!
Kay: John, as always, it’s a pleasure, and I look forward to continuing the conversation at the TSW conference. Jacks or higher to open, please.
If you have any comments or questions for myself or David, please add them here or shoot me an email. And as always, thanks for reading!