Raise your hand if you’ve ever been the unfortunate victim of an uninformed customer support specialist. You call or email support, and the so-called expert doesn’t have a clue as to how to answer your question, and doesn’t express any interest in finding out, either.
Everyone? That’s what we thought.
A solution exists to ensure that your own customers never have a similar experience when interacting with your customer support specialists. It’s called knowledge-centered service, and when you have achieved it, you have achieved customer support nirvana.
Knowledge-centered service, or KCS, is a set of best practices for creating and maintaining knowledge in work environments that are knowledge-centric. Just like digitization or digital transformation, having KCS does not mean solely throwing more software into your customer support tool box. It is first and foremost a people process. People provide knowledge, people record knowledge, and people use knowledge to provide the best customer support possible.
Knowledge-centered service revolves around four ultimate goals:
- Produce new content as a result of problem solving.
- Expand and review pre-existing popular content.
- Centralize up-to-date, relevant company knowledge.
- Incentivize social learning, knowledge sharing, and collaboration.
The eight steps to mastering KCS are commonly depicted in what is referred to as the knowledge centered support double process loop. The first half of the loop is labeled the solve loop. The solve loop is the four-step process of solving a problem experienced by a customer.
The flow of knowledge surrounding any particular issue begins with the customer. When you or a member of your customer service team receives an inquiry, it is imperative that you document that knowledge using the customer’s words.
In order to document customer service knowledge in a way that is searchable, organized, and efficient, a knowledge management solution is in order. If knowledge-centered service is nirvana, a quality knowledge management solution is yoga–the tool that will assist you in reaching your best self (in this case, your best team).
Create a post in your knowledge management system to document the inquiry, along with any other relevant information or attachments.
Pro tip: The sooner you document, the better. Immediacy increases the chance that the details of the interaction will be recorded as accurately as possible.
Structure your customer service knowledge by creating a template for reps to follow while documenting inquiries. There are several benefits to this practice:
- Consistency. Consistency makes information easily searchable. With structured posts, customer service reps know exactly what they are going to find when they search for a word of phrase in your knowledge management system.
- Guidance. A well developed template will guide newer customer support reps through calls and serve as reminder of what information must be gathered from the customer.
If your team is diligent about documentation, reusing knowledge will be a breeze, and this is the first step where you begin to see the benefits of knowledge-centered service. Every time a new inquiry is received, the assigned customer service team member should search the knowledge management system for previous posts surrounding the same issue. Someone else may have already identified a solution, or at least provided some additional information that will point them in the right direction.
In order for this step to be effective, make sure your knowledge management solution has a powerful search engine. Otherwise, you may miss out on valuable information and waste time conducting repetitive research.
No one can reach nirvana without constant self-improvement, and customer service nirvana (knowledge-centered service) is no different. By following the first three steps of the KCS process, you will likely build up quite a collection of valuable knowledge, and information that becomes outdated or irrelevant will inhibit employees from providing the best customer support possible.
To improve the knowledge living in your knowledge management solution, adopt a content curation strategy. Divide and conquer within your team by splitting up the posts in your community, and having each team member comb through their assigned posts to identify content that is outdated or irrelevant. Mark posts as green for no change necessary, yellow for relevant but requiring improvement, and red for no longer relevant.
This improvement will provide the clarity necessary in your community to easily capture, search, and reuse knowledge.
The next step in achieving knowledge-centered service nirvana through the KCS double process loop is the evolve loop. Once you have identified a solution to a problem experienced by the customer and documented the process (the solve loop), you transition into the evolve loop. The purpose of this process is to maintain the knowledge you’ve already captured so that it serves your customers and customer support reps to its maximum potential.
The evolve loop is comprised of the following four steps:
5. Content Health
You can have all the content in the world stored in your knowledge management platform, but if that content isn’t relevant, up-to-date, and organized logically, it isn’t doing your customer service team or your customers much good.
To assess the health of the content in your community, answer these five questions about each piece of content:
- Does the title of the document clearly reflect the content?
- Does the content use keywords consistent with your organization’s message and with other content living in your community?
- Is the structure of the content uniform with other content in the community?
- Is the content original (i.e., not a duplicate)?
- Is the content accompanied by metadata?
If you find that a piece of content fails to meet one or more of these requirements, don’t panic. These are easy fixes to make that will ensure the knowledge in your platform is best serving your customers and your customer service team. Some knowledge management solutions offer tools such as duplicate reports, which alert you when duplicate content has been uploaded, as well as content curation tools and professional services to assist you in keeping your content healthy.
Pro-tip: Many organizations struggle to keep the structure of content uniform in their communities. If this is an issue for your organization, try creating a few pre-approved templates for reps to use as they document knowledge and processes.
6. Process Integration
The purpose of taking all of these steps to achieve knowledge-centered service is, first and foremost, to give your customers the absolute best customer experience possible. For that reason, a knowledge management system that integrates with your CRM and help desk or ticket tracking system is critical.
This integration means that customer service reps have the information they need to solve customers’ problems as quickly and efficiently as possible.
7. Performance Assessment
In addition to assessing the health of the content living in your knowledge management system, it’s important to review the performance of customer service agents. Where many team leaders make a mistake is in how they evaluate performances. Team leaders moving towards knowledge-centered service should not evaluate team members based on their individual knowledge. They should evaluate team members based on the quality and quantity of what they contribute to communal company knowledge.
If you find knowledge hoarding is an issue in your team, you may need to reassess your team’s structure. Make sure every team member has a clearly assigned role with evenly distributed responsibilities that promote collaboration.
8. Leadership and Communication
This leads us to our final step in the loop: leadership and communication. The leadership team is ultimately responsible for keeping team members collaborating, and the best way to do this is to set goals.
Setting collaboration goals for your team members, like how many times a week they should post content, or how often they should comment on others’ posts, provides your team with collaboration guidelines that will set them up for knowledge-centered support success. Consider publishing a leaderboard to publicly acknowledge support team members who are consistently contributing and consuming content.
Communicate these goals by creating a post in your community; not only will this foster collaboration, but it will encourage others to document everything and post regularly in your knowledge management system.
And there you have it: the eight steps to mastering knowledge-centered service. Don’t forget that the process is not linear: it’s an ongoing loop. As you continue to gain new knowledge and maintain that knowledge, your customers’ experience will continue to improve.
This blog post was updated and expanded in March 2022.