In my last article, I wrote about the importance of the service function as brands (particularly those in the subscription economy) try to combat customers who are less inclined to be loyal, given how easy it is to switch to a competitor. They'll also go through reassessment as inflation bites.
I also alluded to a key point that brands who find themselves in this position ought to focus on; giving their support staff the information they need to protect, build and strengthen the customer relationship, which in turn can lower churn and drive retention and loyalty.
Why is this important? In a survey conducted by Dixa, 74% of the 3,000 consumers we surveyed across the US and UK indicated that agents being knowledgeable about the product or service they were reaching out about was most important to them in a customer service interaction. But there’s a disconnect: we also spoke to 1,500 service agents who find it challenging to access the information they need, with 29% Googling answers to customer problems and 27% asking their fellow agents while a customer is on the line.
In my view, the core solution to this divide is for brands and their support teams to adopt Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS). And that’s what we’re going to focus on in this article: what KCS is (and is not) and why it matters to deliver a service level that can drive customer retention.
What Exactly Is Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS)?
In short, KCS can be defined as a methodology or a set of practices that focus on knowledge as the single most crucial element of the support organization. In other words, KCS aims to capture, structure and re-use support knowledge to improve a service operation. It’s not a tool, but a specific tool — the knowledge base — is often considered an essential ingredient (more on that below).
The Consortium for Service Innovation is one of the most prominent champions of KCS. They qualify KCS as striving to do four things:
- Integrate the reuse, improvement and (if it doesn’t exist) creation of knowledge into the problem-solving process
- Evolve content based on demand and usage
- Develop a knowledge base of collective experience to date
- Reward learning, collaboration, sharing and improving
The rationale is quite simple: knowledge should lie at the heart of every service desk. It’s how agents respond to customer queries and problems and learn about the systems they use daily. And the benefits are numerous. By using and evolving the knowledge you have at your disposal, you can reduce your support workload and increase engagement by enabling agents and customers to help themselves by providing up-to-date answers through your knowledge base.
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What KCS Isn’t
To bring this to life some more, it’s helpful to think about what KCS isn’t.
KCS isn’t traditional knowledge engineering. And what I mean by this is that when we typically think about capturing knowledge, it usually means multiple agents individually identifying a pattern of repeated incidents (e.g., customers having missing items in their delivery), then coming to a solution independently. Approaching knowledge management in this way means that, generally speaking, it will take quite a few identical incidents with one agent before a support article is written. It might take a while before that article is approved, validated and widely used by the rest of the team.
Contrastingly, KCS is the idea of managing knowledge dynamically. A support article is created as part of the problem-solving process for the first incident, so the information is immediately made available in your knowledge base for reuse by other agents. Crucially, as further similar incidents arise, this only validates the knowledge based on demand. Your agents will always use your knowledge base and fix the support article if they find it lacking.
Implementing KCS: How Can Brands Use This?
Now we’ve established what KCS is and what it isn’t, the question becomes: how can brands practically implement it?
A key step is establishing a comprehensive knowledge base, which captures and stores important information in one central location. Not only does this mean that agents can find answers to almost any question if used in tandem with KCS, but it also means that you can deliver fast and reliable answers to your customers, reduce the training burden on your existing team and avoid losing access to important information when a team member leaves.
Once you have a centralized knowledge repository in place, you’ll need to make sure your team is using it correctly if you are to embrace the KCS philosophy truly. Firstly, this means agents need to use it. For every question and customer query, agents need to search the knowledge base. It is the only way they will be able to deliver a consistent service to customers.
Secondly, they need to flag things if they are incorrect. That means raising things immediately if they notice that the knowledge is wrong. They then need to fix it if they can.
For a knowledge base to be successful, you’ll need to appoint at least one person who gets the responsibility for adding and updating content continuously. Still, ideally, you’d provide every agent with editing rights.
Finally, when an agent receives a customer question where no support article exists, they need to make sure they add the knowledge. The agent's responsibility is to create a support article answering a particular query or question. Agents will quickly see what is in it for them, as they will have trusted information that allows them to solve customer issues faster, and this will, in turn, drive internal adoption of the KCS practice.
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Effective KCS = Good AX
It takes a lot of discipline for agents to follow this 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. Establishing a culture of shared ownership is a central way this can be overcome and make it as intuitive as possible to make updates and improve knowledge.
But it’s a vital step brands ought to take. Ensuring customers always get the most up-to-date information is key to delivering a consistently excellent customer experience. It’s what every consumer now expects and a key pillar of customer loyalty.
You can do this by empowering your agents with the know-how they need — when they need it — rather than leaving it to them to Google responses. KCS and a centralized knowledge base are the foundation for making this possible.
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