Posted tagged ‘knowledgebase’

“Knowledge: Your Most Valuable Service Asset” Webcast on Thursday

March 6, 2012

My annual services technology survey is now closed, and I will be spending the next couple of weeks slicing and dicing data, making comparisons to last year, and starting the writing process to deliver nearly 20 reports on adoption and spending trends in time for our Technology Services World Conference in Santa Clara in May. At the event I will be revealing the findings in my Power Hour session, “The 2012 TSIA Technology Heatmap: Service Technology Spending and Adoption Trends,” on Monday, May 7th.

One of the first data points I have found is that spending is up across the board, but spending on knowledge management (companies with approved budget for new or additional KM tools in 2012-2013) is WAY up. The unaudited numbers show about 74% of technical support and call centers are gearing up for a KM purchase, compared with 50% last year–which was an all time high then! In a year when companies are being asked to tighten their belts and improve operational metrics, why is spending on KM so high?

Tune in Thursday, March 8th at 8am PT for a live webcast and find out! In the webcast, Knowledge: Your Most Valuable Service Asset, sponsored by RightAnswers, I will give a sneak peak at these spending numbers, and talk about the many impacts of knowledge management on operational metrics. I’ll even show some brand new slices of benchmark data to illustrate how an effective knowledge program has a direct correlation to customer satisfaction AND customer loyalty. You can’t argue with good data.

Additionally, having just completed judging the TSIA STAR Award applications for Knowledge Management and Online Support, I will also give a look at KM trends from best-in-class operations, including the importance of process, cross-enterprise KM initiatives, sophisticated approaches to knowledge maintenance, and some pretty impressive business impacts.

Please follow the link and signup for the webcast. Even if you are unavailable to attend live, by registering we will send you a link to download all the slides, as well as to view an OnDemand version of the webcast at your leisure.

Thanks for reading, and hope to see you Thursday for Knowledge: Your Most Valuable Service Asset!


Breakthrough Knowledge Management: A Conversation with David Kay

March 22, 2011

While as a services technology analyst I cover lots of different types of tools, there is no denying my real passion is knowledge management. Early in my career as a support manager, a KM implementation revolutionized the way we did business, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve worked for knowledgebase vendors, I’ve been a product manager for KM products, and I’ve implemented KM in the field for dozens of companies. As an analyst, I’ve been answering KM questions and making product recommendations for IT and service professionals since 2001. And one thing is very clear: while this may be maturing technology, with oceans of best practices and now recognized industry standards for KM in ITIL and Knowledge Centered Support, very few companies have it all figured out.

One person who does have it all figured out is David Kay, principal at DB Kay & Associates, and a longtime friend and partner of the TSIA. David is my go-to guy when I don’t have the answer, and he always has great insight and examples from the real world. David will be leading a professional development course, “Breakthrough Knowledge Management: An Introduction to KCS,” at our upcoming Technology Services World Conference in Santa Clara, CA on May 2nd. I had a chance last week to chat with David about current KM trends and his course on KCS. Here are some highlights.

John Ragsdale: For the uninitiated, could you give a brief overview of Knowledge Centered Support (KCS)?

David Kay: Sure! KCS is the industry best practice for capturing, structuring, reusing, and improving knowledge while delivering service and support. KCS has been around for nearly two decades, and many TSIA members including IBM, Cisco, Intuit, Yahoo!, and Symantec have contributed to making it as mature as it is today.

The big difference with KCS is that knowledge management is integrated into the job, so the knowledgebase is created and maintained as a byproduct of doing the things that people are already doing. Over time, without extra effort, the knowledgebase becomes a valuable repository of the organization’s collective experience.

Ragsdale: Over the last couple of years I know you have done KCS workshops with many TSIA members. Do you have a feel for the adoption of KCS in the high tech industry? It seems to have become a recognized standard.

Kay: Oh, it really has. When I started this eight-plus years ago, things were so different. The key premise of KCS, the fact that the people actually solving customer issues are the best people to capture their resolutions in a knowledgebase, was actually very controversial. People assumed you needed knowledge specialists or English majors or something. And the dirty secret was that some organizations didn’t really trust their own people to solve problems correctly. (In which case, we might ask, why were they putting them on the phones?)

It’s very different now. I remember at a recent TSW workshop, I asked people “how many of you are doing KCS?” and almost the whole room raised their hands. I was shocked! It’s silly, but I was somehow under the impression that I should have known at least some of them if they were all doing KCS. But it is really so much bigger than any one person or organization can keep track of now. It really has become the standard.

So perhaps the question to ask today isn’t whether you’re doing KCS or not, but how effectively are you doing KCS?

Ragsdale: I’m seeing more CRM/multi-channel/knowledgebase solutions being designated as KCS compliant. If you buy a KCS compliant product, what can you expect? What are some of the requirements for support platforms to be KCS compliant?

Kay: The Consortium for Service Innovation has a KCS v4 Verified program for technologies (and consultants like us). Details are here, but you’re right about the high-level goals.

To support KCS well, technologies must
– integrate knowledge capture into the case-answering process, avoiding duplicate effort
– make it easy to improve content in the workflow
– search effectively
– track how knowledge is reused when resolving cases
– support solution approval and publication without formal review queues
– report on knowledge activities and quality, as well as business outcomes

Beyond that, we’ve found that tools really need to keep things simple for the users. I expect you have the same reaction I do when watching some tool demonstrations with complex feature after feature…who has time for all that? So, as the KCS Practices Guide says, “tools must function at the speed of conversation.”

Ragsdale: In your course description, you talk about having the right culture for KM success. I’ve had 2 inquiries just this week from members who are having a hard time getting new support techs to fully document incident notes or create new knowledge articles. Could you talk about making a cultural shift to value—and participate in—a KM program?

Kay: I’m glad you asked about this, because this is tremendously important…and why starting a KM initiative without executive support is nearly impossible.

It all starts with the question, “why does our organization exist?” Sometimes when I ask that, people laugh a little bit and describe themselves as a “necessary evil,” or just shrug and say their product isn’t perfect. But mostly, especially at a senior level, they realize that the point of their organization is to help customers receive and perceive value — to make customers successful, to create loyalty, to drive repeat business, referrals, and deeper relationships. In short, they realize they exist for precisely the reasons that J.B. Wood wrote about in Complexity Avalanche, and that you and TSIA have been researching for years.

We’re all fixated on closing cases, getting to the next call, and reducing backlog. And closing cases is important. But viewed from the bigger perspective of customer success, closing cases is just one means to that end. Sharing knowledge on the web can help ten times as many customers–or more. Knowledge reuse can drive product improvements, pre-empting customer problems. And sharing knowledge internally can make every case go smoother, faster, more consistently, at first contact–all the things that delight customers. Viewed in that light, what could possibly be a more important job for support techs than capturing and sharing what they learn?

Leaders must articulate what the organization’s mission is, and why knowledge is central to that mission. Couple that with including knowledge into job descriptions, making knowledge part of the employee review process, communicating effectively, and recognizing contributions, and what we’ve seen is that the culture change is unstoppable.

Ragsdale: I’m working on a report right now about how many KM programs fail because there is no ongoing maintenance of content, project champions move on and efforts stall, and project staff get moved to something new 6 months later. Could you talk about the importance of ongoing maintenance to the success of a KM program? Does KCS include recommendations for content maintenance?

Kay: Hey, anyone can start a knowledgebase. The trick is keeping it up to date.

The traditional approach to this is to make knowledgebase maintenance someone’s job. Expire content every 365 days and, boom!, it ends up in their inbox to review for currency. But this is completely non-scalable. Who can keep up with the hundreds of articles that “expire” every day? Who has that breadth of expertise? What happens when they leave or get reassigned? Do we really want to wait a year to check to see if everything’s up to date? And who honestly wants to do this job, anyhow?

KCS recommends the only practical approach I can think of, which is to make every use of knowledge a review. If I’m working on a customer issue and I find a relevant article, if I use it as is, I’m effectively saying “This article is just fine.” If I see that it needs to be updated–it needs clarification, or it applies to a new software release, or maybe I’ve just learned a better way to solve the issue, it’s my job to do the update. Assuming I’m certified, I make the change then and there. Otherwise, I flag it with a comment for someone else to change.

The beauty of this is, the more frequently knowledge is used, the more often it’s “reviewed.” And besides, who’s in a better position to review content than someone who’s actually trying to use it to solve a real customer issue?

Ragsdale: Could you give an overview of how your professional development course is structured? How will attendees spend their day?

Kay: We’ll stay busy! We’ll set a little context by exploring what knowledge really is, and how shared knowledge is so powerful. We’ll look at the details of the KCS practices, many of which your questions touched on today. We’ll dig in to the structure, format, and style of content, which ends up being really important–we keep it really simple, because we don’t want people to think they need to become technical writers to contribute.

Perhaps the most enlightening section is our conversation about measures. Many KM initiatives fail because managers focus on numbers, rather than on behavior and outcomes. (Exhibit A: how many of us have made the mistake of setting quotas on how many articles everyone has to contribute to the knowledgebase?) We work through a scenario to show which metrics to track, but more importantly, we explore how to use those metrics.

We’ll close with the practical steps to go back to the office and actually roll out KCS. One of the things that has made me feel the best about TSW Professional Development Workshops is the fact that attendees have gone home and successfully implemented KCS, in many cases with no further help from me. That lets me know our time together was well spent.

People who want a five-minute preview can check out (which I made for our last TSW conference in Las Vegas.)

Ragsdale: Great to talk to you David!

Kay: Thanks for the opportunity! I’m looking forward to seeing you, and many TSIA members, in Santa Clara.


We’re going to have some great KM content at the TSW event, including case studies from VM Ware and IBM/Netezza, a session from Avaya (2 time STAR Award winner for best knowledge management practices), and more. I hope to see you there. And as always, thanks for reading!

Have You Refreshed Your KB Lately?

January 5, 2011

Like many people, I spent much of Christmas day doing tech support, setting up new toys Santa brought me. My favorite is a 3G Microcell cell phone tower from Cisco and AT&T that plugs into my DSL line and gives me–are you ready for this–FIVE BARS of cell service. A miracle for this mountain dweller, who has spent the last 5 years running out of the house and down the driveway to get more than 1/2 bar anytime someone called me on my cell. Another great toy is a Zomm, a Bluetooth ‘wireless leash’ for my phone. If you spend half your life searching for your cell phone, as I embarrassingly do, this is the gadget for you. It now hangs permanently around my neck and starts beeping anytime I’m more than 20 feet from my phone.

While setting up both of these systems was fairly easy, I did run into small problems with each and accessed self-help to solve the issues. And I ran into the same problem I have any time I attempt self-help–my problem doesn’t exist in the knowledgebase. It is beyond frustrating. You encounter a problem that many new customers are likely to run into, and there is nothing online to address it. Usually, you can find hundreds–or even thousands–of conversations in a forum about the problem, yet the knowledgebase contains not a single reference to the issue.

And that brings me to the point of this post. Having just pulled the latest and greatest self-service success numbers from the TSIA Benchmark for a white paper, and finding the average has now dipped to 39%–an all time low–I ask myself: are we doing all we can to ensure customers are successful with self-service? And the answer clearly is: no way, Jose.

It seems that most self-service systems I use are filled with content that has been prepopulated–what companies anticipate customers will ask, not what they actually ask. How often are you reviewing your most commonly ask questions, including discussion forum conversations, and making sure those issues exist in, and are easily found in, your knowledgebase? This is a critical step in knowledge maintenance, and my experience tells me it is overlooked by many companies.

So here is my challenge to you. Identify your top 10 most frequently asked questions by customers. And run a report to get this information, don’t assume you know what those 10 issues are! Then go to your self-service knowledgebase and try to find the answer to all 10, using simple user-oriented search terms. Even a truer test? Call one of your favorite customers and ask them to search your knowledgebase for all 10 issues, since they won’t know the automatic tags or search terms to use. If you can find all 10, you get my admiration and sincere thanks on behalf of customers everywhere. If you can’t find all 10, you have just identified a project to attack in 2011. And I’d encourage you to make it a priority.

Hope all of your new Christmas toys are up and running and delivering value, and if you do run into problems, you may want to start with the discussion forum–with a score of 3.5, it is kicking the knowledgebase’s ass. 😉

Happy New Year to everyone, and as always, thanks for reading!

Gearing up for TSW: Killer KM Content

October 5, 2009

The majority of my SSPA member inquiries are regarding some aspect of knowledge management (KM) and search, and increasingly I’m receiving similar inquiries from TPSA and AFSMI members.  KM is definitely a cross-service concern.

We are only two weeks out from Technology Serviced World-Vegas, with a conference track dedicated to KM.  Technology support organizations are pushing the envelope with KM in many ways, and attending these sessions is a great way to find out what’s working, what’s not working, and what ‘bleeding edge’ means in the fast changing world of KM.  Here’s a sneak peek of what we’ll be talking about at TSW:

First up is a session I’m excited about: “Quarterback Ratings and Knowledge Management: Maximize the “Pass Efficiency” of Your KM Users” by Jeff Harling, Global Process Manager for Knowledge Management, Avaya. Avaya recently won our STAR Award for Best Knowledge Management Practices, and they have lot of great insight to share. In this session, hear about the latest innovative KM project at Avaya–measuring participation in their knowledge management program. By normalizing across eight key data points similar to a passer rating or football “quarterback rating,” they are creating an aggregated approach to defining the value of each and every KM user. This presentation will look at the algorithm methodology, how it was created, and how it is being implemented into an on-demand report for an organization of over 6,000 associates.

My next big research project is a market overview of search technology. The world of enterprise search is encroaching on our KM-specific search universe, and now there are products serving both domains.  Here are 2 sessions that will help you learn more.  The first is: “Using Information and Knowledge Access Solutions to Lower Service Costs and Increase Customer Trust, Loyalty and Engagement,” by search vendor and SSPA partner Coveo. Coveo will co-present with one of their customers, a leading technology provider, about how their use of enterprise search has evolved from a single departmental implementation to supporting all call center and extranet content.

The second search-related KM session I encourage you to attend is a panel discussion of InQuira customers, led by InQuira’s Chris Hall. Chris and I did a recent webcast on KM best practices that had a very large audience and lots of great questions from attendees. If you want to know the truth about resource and maintenance requirements (a common inquiry topic) for search technology, this is your chance to hear it from real-world users.

If your interest in KM is more on the social media side, you will definitely want to attend this session, “Top 10 Things Online Support Communities Have Taught HP,” by Lois Townsend, Global Manager, Social Media Strategy, HP Consumer Support Operations, Hewlett Packard. Customers are blogging, posting, and tweeting about the problems they are facing and the questions they have. Lois is responsible for determining how HP should use social media to answer them. With more than 290 million customer interactions last year alone, this is no small task. She will give the top 10 lessons HP learned in the last year for you to take back and apply to your support organization.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing all of you in 2 weeks in Vegas!

RightNow’s Acquisition of HiveLive: Industry Implications

September 10, 2009

My first day back from vacation was a very busy one with RightNow’s announcement on Tuesday that they had acquired social platform vendor HiveLive.  I can’t remember the last time I had this many calls and emails from the press and other industry folks about an announcement, and it is no surprise:  this is big news.  Why? Not only did RightNow show the importance of communities as an emerging customer channel with this transaction, they also paved the way for a new round of industry consolidation–today’s end to end customer service platform must include community features.

I remember attending a regional RightNow user conference in Santa Clara a few years back, and I had an opportunity to spend time with Greg Gianforte, RightNow’s CEO, before the general session.  This was in the early days of Web 2.0, and none of the customer service/CRM vendors had a community strategy yet in place.  Greg said customer demand for discussion forums was just beginning.  Then we walked into the general session, and there was an uproar from the audience pushing for community features in an upcoming release.

Perhaps because RightNow is a pure SaaS product its customers were ahead of Web 2.0 curve.  But I had not seen a group of customers demanding so much so early, and I think this user conference played a role in RightNow’s early selection of Lithium as a community partner and building a really tight integration that defined what “best of breed” integration between self-service knowledgebases and communities should be.

By bringing a full community solution in-house, RightNow is again ahead of the Web 2.0 curve for customer service and CRM vendors.  This acquisition has large implications for our industry, including:

  • Partnering is not enough. Companies may buy one channel at a time, but they shop for a vendor that can support all their channels down the road.  By adding ‘best of breed’ community capabilities as part of their customer service and knowledge management (CS and KM) platform, RightNow has set a standard for end-to-end channel support including communities.  Their CS competitors who have relied on loose “Barney” partnerships for communities, or who have developed low-end community features as a stop-gap measure, will have to up their game.  And for the CS/KM vendors who don’t even have a community strategy in place, you are really behind the 8 ball now.
  • Beyond search integration, to process integration. Companies struggling with community and social networking today are being stymied by process, not technology. For example, how do you begin involving customers in content creation without losing control? RightNow knows the search and data integration points between CS, KM and communities, but what about process integration? How do you transition struggling community users to assisted support? How do you automate taking popular forum content and instantiating it into a knowledgebase? Creating process integration between these two worlds provides ample room for innovation, and I expect we will see some early examples from RightNow and HiveLive by the end of the year.
  • Consolidation begins…again. Let’s face it, there are an over abundance of vendors offering customer service, knowledgebase, intelligent searching, and social networking.  With much of the functionality maturing, there is less differentiation between products than ever before:  most, if not all, can solve your business problems.  Between big CRM vendors (Oracle, SAP, Consona, Netsuite, FrontRange, Epicor, Chordiant, etc.), the CS/KM/search vendors (KANA, nGenera, Consona, eGain, RightNow, InQuira, Q-go, noHold, etc.), the community vendors (Jive, Lithium, SocialText, WetPaint), and the new breed of CS/community vendors (Fuze, Helpstream, Parature), there is a tremendous overlap of functionality, with too many vendors competing for each deal, and discounting driving down profitability. I forsee a great deal of consolidation in the months to come.

What do you think? How important is pre-integrated KM/CS and community? Who did invent knowledge in a cloud? Please add a comment or drop me an email. And as always, thanks for reading!

Level 1 Shrinks…Isn’t That Counterintuitive?

August 18, 2009

Someone just asked me about staffing trends for Level 1/2/3, and one of my observations is that companies strive to push more issues (and headcount) into Level or Tier 1, since these tech support engineers (TSEs) are paid less than their more experienced Level 2/3 counterparts, therefore incidents resolved at Level 1 cost less.

To prove my point, I pulled the staffing allocation for Levels 1/2/3 from the current SSPA benchmark and compared it to the 2003 figures, expecting to see the percent of employees at Level 1 growing.  Gosh darn it! I hate when the facts don’t support my story! It turns out that as a percentage of overall employees, Level 1 has actually shrunk in the last 6 years, from 46% of staff in 2003 to 40% of staff today.

Tech Support Staffing Allocation by Level/Tier

Tech Support Staffing Allocation by Level/Tier

As you can see in the graphic, the numbers are very different by industry, with Consumer companies (who have less complex technology and more procedural questions) definitely leading the way with a whopping 82% of staff at Level 1.

I’m a bit taken aback by these numbers.  There is so much emphasis on tools (remote support, knowledgebases) to allow Level 1 to be more productive and avoid escalating issues to Level 2, that I really thought the reverse was happening.  What could be the reason? Off the top of my head, here are three:

  • Self-service. As self-service adoption grows, more of the easy questions never reach Level 1, so the pool of generalists answering password questions from years past are no longer necessary.
  • Complexity.  Are  you sick of me ranting on complexity yet? More complex issues require more investigation and longer resolve times, meaning Level 2/3 have more work to do.
  • Productivity. Maybe…just maybe…the tools and training are helping, and Level 1 is able to handle more issues with fewer bodies.

What are you seeing? Is Level 1 shrinking or growing? Does your company try to boost Level 1 resolutions?  If you have any thoughts, please add a comment or drop me an email.  And as always, thanks for reading!

The ROI of KM: Building a Business Case for KM Investments

September 8, 2008

Some of the most frequent questions I receive from SSPA members are in regard to the ROI of knowledgebases (KBs) and knowledge management (KM) for support.  Questions like:

  1. How do you measure KM effectiveness or ROI?
  2. How do my KM results measure up to other companies?
  3. How do I estimate the ROI for a proposed KM project?

Based in part on a presentation I built for a an Inquira webcast series on this topic, I finally committed to paper an overview of the metrics impacted by support knowledgebases, along with benchmarks (from the SSPA benchmark database) for each metric (where available), with the overall industry average as well as averages for B2B and B2C support.  The metrics are divided into 4 different areas of KM impacts:  Employee Productivity, Interaction Volume and Cost, Customer Satisfaction, and (believe it or not) Revenue and Repurchase.  I also have a section on emerging metrics for customer discussion forums/communities.

For long time KM experts, this may not seem like rocket science.  But what I have found is that different companies track, and care about, different metrics.  While most of the metrics are interrelated, some companies are only concerned with particular views of the data, so I felt it was important to look beyond the usual productivity metrics and include how upticks in employee performance impact other areas.  Here are a couple of examples: (more…)