"KCS is not something you do in addition to solving problems... KCS becomes the way you solve problems." – KCS Academy
If you want all of your support agents to deliver excellent service, a good place to start is with Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS).
To get the full benefit of KCS you need to implement it completely. However, that can prove quite cumbersome and you’ll face challenges along the way – such as the difficulty of getting all agents to buy in completely. Fortunately, it’s possible to take some of the best things from KCS and use them to improve agent performance and satisfaction, which will inevitably also lead to improved customer satisfaction.
This is my quick-guide to the parts of KCS that I’ve found highly useful in the past and I’m sure you’ll benefit from as well.
Before continuing I should mention that the benefit of working with KCS grows with your contact volume. Or at least you need to have a certain amount of contacts for it to be beneficial. If you only have a few customers calling or writing per day, KCS is probably not for you.
What is Knowledge-Centered Support?
By way of introducing KCS, I’ll turn to someone who has championed KCS from the get-go, the Consortium for Service Innovation’s introduction:
The starting premise for KCS was to capture structure, and re-use support knowledge.
In short, Knowledge-Centered Service is a methodology and a set of practices and processes that focus on knowledge as the single most important element of the support organization. It’s not a tool, but generally speaking the use of a certain tool - the knowledge base - is a key ingredient in working with KCS.
Going a bit deeper, the Consortium for Service Innovation further states that
KCS seeks to:
- Create content as by-product of solving problems
- Evolve content based on demand and usage
- Develop a knowledge base of an organization's collective experience to-date
- Reward learning, collaboration, sharing and improving
The benefits cited by implementing KCS are many and often overstated. But if your starting point is somewhere close to this description
“we are fairly specialized, have no self-service solution for customers, spend at least several weeks training new agents, and only some of our agents are multiskilled”
… then you’ll find that KCSs enables your agents to solve cases faster and more often the first time (First Contact Resolution rate really does improve a lot) and easily become multiskilled. You’ll also see a decreased training period (at my previous employer we went from 14 to two days) and finally an increase in employee satisfaction.
It’ll also enable a self-service strategy as KCS captures knowledge for your agents that often will be useful to customers online. In turn, that’ll deflect contacts and decrease your contact volume.
And finally, KCS makes root cause analysis possible which will help you rally the rest of your organization to your cause of improving customer satisfaction through improvements to communication, processes, products and services.
As I said, I’ve seen some crazy numbers cited after a successful implementation of KCS (and our training period reduction certainly was just that, crazy), but I won’t state them here for fear of simply being branded a liar or KCS-fanatic. I’d rather paint a picture of how things could be and then let you gauge the potential for yourself.
In order to fully understand what makes KCS brilliant, I need to take you through some knowledge management theory first. Bear with me, please.
The Support Demand Curve
Almost any issue with multiple contacts to a contact center follows the support demand curve: a demand rises, peaks and recedes.
How quickly demand recedes is very different for each issue. You could be dealing with a one-off incident - for instance if you made a mistake when billing a lot of customers at the same time. Alternatively, it could be something entirely different that will only recede after several initiatives have been taken to decrease demand either via self-service or a change to your product or service. But in any case, over a long enough timeline, demand will recede.
Traditional Knowledge Engineering
Now, in traditional knowledge engineering, it takes quite a few identical incidents before a support article is written and published internally (and often much longer before it’s published to customers). It usually takes multiple agents identifying the pattern of a repeated incident and each of them having come to a solution independently. That solution may or may not be the same, sometimes to the detriment of those of your customers who might not have gotten the best solution to their problem.
It’s a lot of work and time invested and it takes many incidents before your knowledge is trusted, validated and published for common use.
Dynamic Knowledge Management
KCS proposes working with Dynamic Knowledge Management in which a support article is created as part of the problem-solving process for the first incident. That information is then immediately made available for reuse by other agents in your knowledge base.
Every single subsequent incident validates the information based on demand, because your agents will always use your knowledge base and fix the support article if they find it lacking.
That same knowledge can be published to customers after a compliance review. It’s the straightest road to quick and efficient self-service.
All in all, this means that knowledge is trusted a lot sooner and the return on investment for the time spent on creating the support article is harvested for each subsequent incident. It eliminates a lot of rework and redundancy.
The Agent Workflow: How to Work with KCS
Just to make it perfectly clear how your agents’ process changes with KCS, I’ll refer to this simple diagram:
In most - if not all - cases you’ll want to assign ownership and editing rights to one or a few agents. If you feel comfortable going with editing rights for everyone, do so. But ultimately you do need to assign responsibility for the state and health of your knowledge base to someone.
If you have questions for the agent workflow diagram, read the following step-by-step walkthrough, otherwise you can skip it.
For any question, agents have to search the knowledge base. Every time. This ensures that they become aware of changes to procedures or products that they were not previously aware of.
If something in the article is incorrect, and the agent is unable to correct it, they have to be able to flag the article, so someone with editing rights can update the content.
When the agent obtains new information about the contents of an article, they should immediately correct any discrepancies to ensure best practice for the next agent (and customer!) who needs the information.
Not all customer questions can be anticipated and therefore not all relevant support articles will have been written. When an agent gets a customer question where no support article exists, it rests with the agent to create a support article answering that particular question.
Watch Your Knowledge Base Grow
When working with this kind of dynamic knowledge management for a period of three months or more, the knowledge base will get to a point where it contains articles that answer almost any question a customer might ask and it will continue to grow organically with each new question.
Frontloading the creation of support articles to the problem-solving process means that it does take longer to resolve the issue the first time, but it’s time well spent as the handling time for each subsequent customer request is reduced as well as solved correctly. It’s simply a good investment in the long run.
While a knowledge base is supposed to be searchable, I want to share a quick tip for getting your agents to the right articles even faster: make a section with most used articles, last used articles, last updated articles, and last added articles.
I’ve already said it several times: There’s more to KCS than creating and maintaining a knowledge base that your agents use. So let’s dive a bit deeper to get to some more benefits.
The KCS Process: Solve & Evolve
KCS follows a continuous loop of gathering, structuring and recycling content:
The Solve and Evolve Loop as an entire process does much more than just dealing with customer service and content. While customer service and content is the focus for this article, I should point out that the Solve & Evolve Loop is inherently a demand and usage-driven feedback mechanism that’s meant to both optimize your customer service and provide feedback for product improvement. I’ve written another blog post about how to use customer contacts for improving both service and product.
Following the focus for this post, let’s go through each of the four first steps:
Step 1: Gather knowledge
Knowledge always starts with the customer. Afterall, what they’re experiencing is what’s important to your business. When a customer asks a question, a support article is created as part of answering that customer. Your agents write articles based on the customer's context and are at the same time making that knowledge relevant and searchable.
Step 2: Structure knowledge
The best way to write a support article is from the customer's perspective. To do this properly, in most cases it’s easiest to start from a template. This ensures that the agents get the right perspective and makes the knowledge base uniform.
Step 3: Reuse knowledge
When a customer asks a question the agent has to search the knowledge base. Each time a support article is reused you’re providing consistent service, which is so important these days for your customer experience.
Step 4: Improve knowledge
The next step is to improve your collective knowledge. Making sure your agents know this, take part in it; ownership of it is vital to the success of KCS. It’s not just them, it’s a project for their colleagues, your business and your customers.
Hurdles You’ll Have to Jump to Succeed
The no. 1 hurdle: It takes a lot of discipline for agents to follow the methodology. Getting to the point where every agent actually searches the knowledge base every time they get a question isn’t as easy as it sounds.
In the beginning as a coach, expert or manager you’ll often find yourself in a situation where agents ask about something that they could have found in the knowledge base. When that happens, go through the process and send them a link to the relevant article. With enough patience from your end they’ll learn to search the knowledge base fist.
Hurdle no. 2: Agents are sometimes too busy to start editing or adding new articles. Sometimes they’ll entirely ignore the need for an update to your knowledge base.
There are two ways to combat this, and I’ve mentioned one: establish a culture of common ownership. The second way is to simply make it easy for agents to flag a change or the need for a new article, allowing them to move on quickly to the next customer. Sometimes, making larger changes is placed better with someone else who has more time to do that type of work. Someone like yourself as a manager or the person(s) responsible for your knowledge base.
3 Steps to Getting Started with KCS:
- Implement an internal knowledge base where all questions, answers and procedures are comprehensively documented.
- For any new customer contact and question, get the agents to search the knowledge base.
- If no support article is available to answer a question, the agent has to find the answer and create (or flag the need for) a support article in the knowledge base.
In my 10+ years as a customer service manager, implementing KCS has had the biggest single impact on onboarding new agents; this includes having agents take on new tasks for other departments and making sure the customers have the needed self-service articles. All of the above creates a much better customer experience and significantly higher customer satisfaction. You should try it out.
- ComAround Knowledge (KCS Verified)
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- RightAnswers (KCS Verified)
- Salesforce (KCS Verified)
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