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Golf and Agent Desktop Search!

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The slogan “Golf – Is it in you?” would fit very nicely in the hallowed portals of the Golf Hall of Fame.

It might even work as a catchy title for a show on the Golf Channel. But the quote struck me as odd, boldly displayed upon the entrance to the Director of Customer Care at a major global contact center’s office. My base level of golf knowledge came from Caddy Shack and as I walked into Frank’s office with visions of Bill Murray chasing gophers, I wondered if I should have read up on golf prior to the interview. What follows is an excerpt of our conversation that will help you chalk out a new innovative solution within your contact center. It may even help your golf game.

Question: Interesting reference to Golfing on your door. What is that about?

Frank: Golf is my passion, and the reference is a metaphor for “drive.” The real question is, “Passion – Is it in you?” I constantly challenge myself and the team to have the passion and drive to seek creative solutions to the challenges we face. There are also many parallels between golf and the challenges within contact centers. To use a clich golf joke, “the problem with golf is that the slow people are always in front of you and the fast people always end up behind you.” Similarly, in today’s contact center, information is fast; it needs to be processed and delivered in real-time but traditional knowledge bases are slow to react.

Question: Can you tell me more about this specific challenge – fast information and slow knowledge bases?

Frank: Contact centers today are a fast-paced environment. Information is the key; information is dynamic; information comes from disparate sources; and a significant amount of information is temporal – it is relevant only for a short period. The challenge is to process and deliver information in a real-time environment while maintaining the goals of accuracy of content and consistency of delivery.

Question: What has caused this shift in the need to process and deliver information in real-time?

Frank: Today, more than ever, we are in an increasingly competitive environment; cost of customer acquisition is higher, coupled with the fact that the Web has significantly reduced the end consumer’s barrier to switch companies. In order to respond effectively to this challenge, marketing is leaning more heavily on the contact center, causing both service and sales positions to be redefined. This means, more is riding on the abilities of agents and the rapport they establish with consumers.

Question: How has this marketing involvement affected information processing and delivery?

Frank: Marketing views every interaction with customers as an opportunity to sell. They want us to feed real-time relevant offers, coupons, and promotions to the customer. And the contact center is the perfect touch point to enable this. However, each customer contact has to be consistent and accurate. This is traditionally achieved using a centralized knowledge base. Consistency and accuracy means there have to be processes around information elicitation, approval and publishing. The challenge becomes striking the right balance between information accuracy and the need to gather and deliver real-time marketing information.

Question: How did you strike this balance?

Frank: The first step was to look at all the information sources and categorize them. We found that the 80-20 rule applies to information whereby 80% of the information is best suited for a knowledge base, such as problem solving and diagnostic cases, guided resolutions, policies and product information and 20% of the information, typically generated by marketing, is temporal in nature such as offers, coupons, promotions, etc. Temporal information is not suited to a traditional knowledge base due to its constantly changing nature. Because there is a lag between such information being uncovered or revealed and when it can be made available in the knowledge base, agents receive “late breaking” information via email, scanned documents containing offers and so on. All of this information traditionally resides on the agent desktop.

To meet the challenge of delivering real time information and still provide consistency of information, I knew the solution had to marry the agent desktop with traditional knowledge bases. The solution was staring us right in the face.

Question: What was the overall solution?

Frank: We provided a template solution that enabled direct access from within an Agent facing knowledge base to a leading desktop search application. The combination of desktop search capabilities and the agent knowledge base ensured that agents could access critical and timely information stored on the desktop directly from the knowledge base. This provided fast and easy access to email and custom documents stored on the agent desktop through a familiar and consistent knowledge base interface.

By combining desktop search capabilities with our knowledge search engine, we made it easier for agents to find real-time marketing information. Furthermore, service agents, regardless of channel, had access to the same real-time information, the same knowledge content, and the same unified history of communications. This approach guaranteed that customers got the same answers to the same questions across channels and agents.

Question: Did you realize any other surprise, fringe benefits?

Frank: Yes, we managed to solve what I call the “post-it” note problem. The solution lay in understanding basic human behavior. Even though the agents have access to a great knowledge base, they often store information on their own desktop, which they use for resolving customer issues. All agents and subject matter experts have their version of “post-it” notes, more like a personal knowledge repository, stored on their desktop in formats such as email, documents, text, PDFs, html, and organized in a manner “best suited” to them. The key was not to change their behavior, but allow them to quickly search the stored information through a consolidated search interface.

Question: But what about accuracy of information and consistency of delivery?

Frank: Good Point. We do have stringent monitoring controls in-place that ensure quality. In this case, we further ensured quality of the knowledgebase by adding a “publish to knowledgebase” from within the desktop search results. Leveraging this function, agents can immediately and seamlessly add their “personal expertise” to the knowledge base, thereby ensuring it can be shared across the contact center. We also put incentives in place encouraging the agents to use this feature and that had a snowball effect; suddenly agents were competing to submit their expertise into the knowledge base and that led to unprecedented organic growth of the knowledge base, resulting in reduced costs related to knowledge authoring. The key to the success of this feature was to make it easy for the agents to submit information to the knowledge, to make it part of their resolution steps and to make the process for submitting information simple.

This promoted the sharing of best practices and information from the agent desktop and publishing it to the central knowledge base for all agents to leverage. The result was faster resolution of customer inquiries at lower overall costs.

Question: What was the reaction of your key constituents, agents, and knowledge authors?

Frank: With this approach, we maximized agent usage, while boosting agent satisfaction and reducing churn. Empowering agents with flexible access methods got them back to doing what they are best equipped to do – resolving queries rather than poking around for information. This resulted in a huge morale boost. It reduced training times and enabled novice agents to perform like experts. In addition, knowledge authors were pleasantly surprised with the organic growth of the knowledge base; instead of chasing subject matter experts, they were now proactively being fed key information. It’s all good.

Question: Sounds like a win-win for everyone. Where do you see this technology headed?

Frank: The next evolution is an interesting and somewhat ambitious concept, but we are up to the challenge. The official project name is “Self Managing, Collaborative Knowledge Framework.” I like the “self managing” part because one in place, it will allow me time to pursue my other passion, golf. Our internal project name is “A hole in one?” and in typical golf tradition I will buy a round of drinks for everyone after a successful implementation.

Author’s End Note:

Using a creative and end-user-centric approach, Frank successfully applied desktop search technology to a pressing business problem and positioned his contact center for success. The bottom line is that information flow will only continue to expand in the future and so will the need to process and deliver it in real-time. Other Contact center managers should envision this future, and plan for it using the methodologies Frank employed.

Vikas Nehru is the Director of Product Marketing at KANA. His 12 plus years of experience as a senior marketing and product management professional in the enterprise software industry have been instrumental in leading the direction and strategy for KANA’s innovative channel management and self service applications. Prior to joining KANA, he spent a decade working in many diverse areas of the CRM software industry. Vikas uses his experience to help deliver world-class customer service solutions.

Golf and Agent Desktop Search!
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About Vikas Nehru
Vikas Nehru is the Director of Product Marketing at KANA. His 12 plus years of experience as a senior marketing and product management professional in the enterprise software industry have been instrumental in leading the direction and strategy for KANA's innovative channel management and self service applications. Prior to joining KANA, he spent a decade working in many diverse areas of the CRM software industry. Vikas uses his experience to help deliver world-class customer service solutions. WebProNews Writer
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