Interview: What is Knowledge-Centered Support, and Why Is It the Future?

While Avaya is well known as the #1 contact center vendor for 15 years, what is less known is the best-in-class contact center that Avaya runs in its own support organization. Today, I’ve invited Russ Brookes, Director of Knowledge Management at Avaya, to talk about a key aspect of how Avaya delivers support to our customers, our knowledge base.

Carl: Welcome to the Avaya blog, Russ. Can you please do a level set for our readers on knowledge management and KCS?
Russ: Knowledge Management, as the name implies, is about managing knowledge. It’s about efficient ways to create and manage that knowledge. It’s about reusing that knowledge for maximum effectiveness. I like to think of it as a way to coordinate the creativity, imagination, and diversity of a large group of people to work essentially as one mind. It shifts the paradigm from “collectively being as strong as your weakest link,” to “collectively being as strong as your strongest link.” KCS, or Knowledge-Centered Support, is a specific set of practices regarding implementing knowledge management in a support or service environment.

Carl: Before we get into how you and the Avaya team have implemented a best-in-class KCS solution, can you elaborate on how this solution benefits our customers, partners, and our own support organization?
Russ: At Avaya, our interest is in making our customers, and our customers’ customers successful by providing them with communication and collaboration technologies and supporting them in deriving maximum value from those products and services. With our KCS system, customers and partners are able to get answers to their questions and resolutions to their problems at any time (and anyplace) via access to our knowledge via desktop or mobile access to our information.

Carl: I know you and your team have worked very hard to make this knowledge database so valuable; what would you say is the biggest change you made that led to its success?
Russ: We made many changes… I would say our move to “direct publishing” was the biggest. In this mode of operation, our support staff members are able to easily publish answers and solutions to problems in near real-time. As they encounter the need to provide an answer, they generate the answer, and publish it for other customers to see and use. By the time a service request is closed, the article has been published–available to customers as soon as the search engines have finished their indexing. This gets information out in the world in minutes or hours, not days and weeks.

Carl: Isn’t that risky? Don’t you need other experts to look things over and make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed before you make it public? Aren’t you in danger of publishing poor quality information?
Russ: That is many people’s first reaction. Here’s our take on it: Everyday, all day long, our support agents provide customers with answers and solutions. These are trained, knowledgeable people–we didn’t need someone reviewing everything they say before they say it to a customer, and then relaying it on only if it was “OK.” We trust them to do this directly every day, so why not trust them to do the same with their written articles?

There is much more to say on this topic. KCS helps address the shelf life of knowledge and the importance of making it available quickly, confirming accuracy by virtue of the fact that the information just solved a problem, closed-loop quality systems that allow for constant improving of information, the fact that information is never perfect (we used to think the world was flat), the number of people the information is going to, the speed with which feedback and correction happens in a networked world with many consumers of the information, and lots of other things that we don’t have time to delve into here. Net result is that we found direct publishing by our trained support agents didn’t degrade quality, it improved it–and also improved its timeliness.

Carl: How does your team benchmark Avaya’s implementation against other companies and industry best practices?
Russ: We are members of the Consortium for Service Innovation. This organization developed the knowledge-centered support practices used by many companies around the world. The practices are developed through sharing best practices, pitfalls and ideas. The Consortium, with members’ permission, publishes case studies of KCS implementations, which include things like business impact, metrics such as customer satisfaction, speed of resolution, productivity, best practices, and challenges.

As Greg Oxton, Executive Director of the Consortium says, ‘Avaya is the best KCS study we have showing the benefits that can be realized through implementing KCS.’ That’s high praise, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the KCS practices the Consortium published that we then used as the basis for our KCS system design. As members of the Consortium, we, along with other members, participate in continuing to develop these knowledge-centered support practices, collectively adding what works.

Carl: What other best practices has Avaya implemented based on guidance from the Consortium?
Russ: Well let me be clear: Some of the things we implemented were not considered best practices at the time. That’s the way the Consortium member companies work–we each try things that we thing will work for us, and test those practices in the real world. Once somebody has success with something, the Consortium then looks to others who have had success with it, and once enough members have found it works for them too, then the members decide to incorporate it as a best practice. Direct publishing was one such innovation: At the time we decided to try it, there were quite a few raised eyebrows, and, “Really? Are you sure you really want to do that?” Now, with the success we’ve had, other member companies have starting to do the same. Although that seemed a radical change, it was built on the other best practices of the consortium–the double KCS loop of “Solve and Evolve,” don’t overly rely on measuring “activities,” as that can cause a system to fail, coaching systems, and many others.

Carl: From my own experience, years ago, of writing KB articles, can you explain how important your team takes the feedback we get on the articles and how we handle it?
Russ: Organizationally we take it very seriously–it is a core component of our closed-loop quality system. We have invested in a number of systems to ensure the feedback gets to the right person quickly, and that they act upon it to close the loop with the rater. We don’t want people to think their feedback on an article went into a black hole–we want them to experience ‘Hey, somebody heard me and my feedback resulted in a change.’ I also know that it gets mindshare among the people who create content.

The other day I was in a meeting, not about Knowledge Management, and somebody spontaneously blurted out ‘Hey, I just got 5 stars!’ On the flip side, I’ve had people reach out to me because they haven’t been happy about some poor feedback they have received–it bothers them–they don’t like it when what they have written isn’t perceived as great. But the feedback is what it is. “The customer is always right.”

Carl: What is your next big opportunity to tackle to further improve our users’ support experience?
Russ: People become known through the content they create; that’s why they’re bothered by getting a low star rating, because they know that doesn’t reflect well on them. As they start to gain a good reputation in a particular subject area, more people seek them out, they get challenged more, and they get even better.

I find this isn’t limited to just our employees and the knowledge they create. Look at online support communities–stackexchange.com is a good example of this–people become known through their work. It improves their marketability and their opportunities. Our next big opportunity is to give the experts out there in the world, those who know a lot about Avaya products, or similar technologies, a place to shine. And to that end, we have invested in the Avaya Support Forums a place where all these people, not just Avayans, can ask questions and provide answers to questions. A place where they can build their reputation. A place where they can shine in their industry. At support.avaya.com/forums, people can participate in the conversation and develop their reputation, both through the questions they ask, and the answers they provide.

Carl: If readers would like to learn more about Avaya’s implementation of knowledge management and/or KCS in general, where can they go for more information?
Russ: There are a number of case studies and presentations published. I’d recommend the following:

http://www.serviceinnovation.org/included/docs/AvayaTransformingCE.pdf
http://www.serviceinnovation.org/included/docs/EveryoneCanPublish.pdf

Also if people are interested in more, or have questions, feel free to email me at rbrookes@avaya.com.

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A Closer Look at MiFID II Recording Requirements

The Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (MiFID II)—arguably the greatest reform to hit Europe’s financial industry—is finally in effect as of January 3, 2018. This EU legislation serves as a much-needed upgrade from the original MiFID, enacted in 2004, and addresses key issues that resulted from the 2008 global financial crisis.

The directive requires all national governments in the EU to adopt certain laws, which they are free to do in their own way should the resulting effect be the same. Financial services institutions—specifically investment firms, credit institutions and trading venues—are subject to MiFID II, including companies that are headquartered outside of the EU but do business there (for a more thorough overview, see this blog by industry analyst Sheila McGee-Smith).

Recording Regulations: Raising the Bar

Perhaps the greatest impact of MiFID II is the law’s tighter recording regulations. Under the 2004 MiFID directive, there was no mandatory requirement to record communications involving client orders. To ensure fairer, safer and more efficient financial markets, MiFID II now requires firms to record communications (both phone and electronic) for the following investment services:

  • Reception and transmission of orders
  • Execution of orders on behalf of clients
  • Dealing on own account (takes place when a firm puts its own trading books at risk)

The specific customer interactions that are required to be recorded in relation to investment services include:

  • Receipts of client orders
  • Transmissions of orders (both where the investment firm transmits and executes the order)
  • Conclusions of transactions when executing orders on behalf of clients
  • Conclusions of transactions when dealing on own account, regardless of whether a client is involved in the transaction

Important note: MiFID II covers all communications relating to activities intended to result in the conclusion of a transaction or the provision of client order services, even if they do not result in a financial transaction.

Communication of orders placed through channels other than voice—postal mail, faxes, emails, SMS, face-to-face conversations recorded using written minutes—must be stored in a durable medium.

Keep in mind a few rules that apply to this ‘durable medium’:

  • Records must be able to be replayed or copied
  • Records must be retained in a format that does not allow the original to be altered or deleted
  • Firms are required to ensure the quality, accuracy and completeness of all phone records and electronic communications
  • Records must be kept for a minimum of 5 years and, if requested by the National Competent Authority in a specific country, up to 7 years
  • Clients must be notified in advance of recording
  • Records must cover communications made with, sent from or received by equipment provided or permitted by the investment firm (privately-owned equipment used by employees or contractors is not prohibited)

Ensuring Compliancy with MiFID II Recording Regulations

If your business is involved in financial services in any way—even if it’s not your main focus (i.e. credit institutions performing investment activities, branches of third country firms)—you’ll need to investigate to understand whether this new legislation will affect you and, if so, what you need to do to comply.

We recommend a thorough review of compliance across all channels (including back office processes) to determine if they meet the new regulations. If not, you’ll need to deploy a workforce optimization (WFO) solution to demonstrate that policies, procedures and management oversight of the new recording and monitoring rules are in place. Here’s what you’ll need to consider in a WFO solution:

  • Continuous recording: This goes for all inbound and outbound voice and other electronic communications based on business rules. You need a WFO solution that will capture, search and retrieve calls, offer encryption for secure storage, and offer pause and resume capabilities.
  • Desktop screen capture: This is an undetectable back-end process that records desktop screen activity during each customer interaction. Supervisors and managers can use this both in the contact center and back office to view customer interactions from beginning to end via synchronized screen and call recordings.
  • Quality management monitoring: Identify and capture areas of non-compliance, while measuring how well employees are delivering services that align with customer experience expectations.
  • eLearning and coaching tools: Bring employees fully up to speed on regulatory changes and any new requirements, as well as correct any non-compliance behaviors.
  • Voice analytics: Proactively identify, measure and isolate areas of non-compliance by mining intelligence from large volumes of recorded calls.
  • Workforce management: Schedule employee compliance training while ensuring you have enough support personnel with the right skills to serve customers.

The greatest threat to reputability, revenue and customer experience is the thought that your technology is “good enough” to meet current needs. Your ability to innovate and grow are hinged on technology that meets the next-gen needs of today, tomorrow and beyond—something that only 24% of companies say their workforce optimization and recording systems achieve.

To complete a thorough review of your current MiFID II processes, connect with Avaya. For a deeper dive into MiFID II (including a few WFO features not mentioned above) download the white paper MiFID II: What Does it Mean for Your Organization?

MiFID II: What Do You Need to Know?

Sheila McGee Smith Sheila McGee-Smith is a leading communications industry analyst and strategic consultant with a proven track record in new product development, competitive assessment, market research, and sales strategies for customer care solutions and services. Her insight helps enterprises and solution providers develop strategies to meet the escalating demands of today’s consumer and business customers.

If you work in the financial services sector, you’ve likely seen news articles and heard IT, operations and other company managers and executives talking about the impending MiFID II regulation. It’s likely been a topic of conversation for months, if not years. Recently, The Washington Post began an article about MiFID II saying, “The impact of new market rules sweeping across Europe has been likened to motorists suddenly being told they must drive on the other side of the road.”

While the statement may seem like hyperbole to some, for those who work in financial services the statement will have the ring of truth. They have been working for years to create and refine practices and systems to be compliant with a European Union directive that became effective January 3, 2018: the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II or MiFID II.

An original MiFID was enacted in 2004, prior to the 2008 global financial crisis. Ad hoc changes were made by individual countries to address issues that resulted from the crisis. These issues are being addressed through MiFID II, which harmonizes the rules for all firms with EU clients, across all countries. The main goals of the MiFID II are:

  • Customer protection
  • Increased financial product governance
  • Unbundling of advice from the sale of financial instruments
  • Broader scope of supervision to include equity and non-equity trading
  • Firms must take “all sufficient steps” to ensure that transactions are executed in the best interest of customers
  • A considerable increase in the requirements for transaction data reporting

From an enterprise communications perspective, the aspect of MiFID II which is relevant is that it requires the capture of all communications and orders intended to lead to an execution of a trade, even if the transaction is not actually finalized during the interaction.

Penalties for non-compliance are set by the regulatory agencies in each European Union country. The first fine for non-compliance of the 2004 MiFID directive was given out to Barclays for inaccurate transaction reporting. Barclays’ fines totaled £2.45 million for their inaccuracies between 2006 and 2008. Since then, published reports say that banks have paid over $204 billion in compliance-related fines and infractions.

Every day, millions of transactions are reported by hundreds of trading venues, for thousands of different financial instruments. As a result, the potential for individual company fines of tens of millions of dollars is very real.

If, like so many companies, you are not sure if your current recording procedures will be sufficient to meet the requirements of MiFID II, the time is now to prioritize an assessment. Businesses need a comprehensive review of their compliance across all channels – phone, email, and SMS – to meet the new regulations. In addition, they need to demonstrate that policies, procedures and management oversight of the MiFID II recording and monitoring rules are in place.

If this post has made you wonder whether MiFID II regulations apply to your firm or what types of transactions need to be recorded and which do not, download the white paper MiFID II: What it Means For Your Organization? It gives a more extensive review of the MiFID II regulations and answers questions about what geographies are impacted, what types of firms are affected and how the new transaction recording rules are different from the rules in effect today.

Be Ready! Six Steps to Take Before a Natural Disaster Hits Your Communications

In what’s shaping up to be an unprecedented hurricane season for the U.S., Avaya wants to ensure that we all review our plans to keep communication systems running at peak performance and stabilized when disaster strikes. Keeping communication systems running often includes a great partner with a deep bench of experts who have experience in many complex situations. Particularly invaluable are battle-tested IT experts who can help rebuild and stabilize communications when disaster strikes. Avaya can engage in a proactive support dialogue to help you avoid complexity from the outset.

Before the Storm

Hurricanes like Harvey and Irma can be catastrophic to businesses. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy caused $65 billion in damage in the U.S., making it the second-costliest weather disaster in American history behind only Hurricane Katrina, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During the storm, 8,204,220 Americans and thousands of businesses lost power.

No matter the weather (and because the average cost of downtime is $2,700 per minute), it is best to avoid outages by knowing what is most likely to cause communication system outages. According to the research report The Essential Guide to Avoiding Networking Outages, power outages are the leading cause of communications outages. This white paper features an analysis of the top five causes of outages with the percentage of those outages that could potentially have been prevented had leading practices been followed. The top five causes of outages are:

  • Power outages – 74%
  • Lack of routine maintenance – 73%
  • Software bug – 69%
  • Hardware failure – 39%
  • Network issue – 35%

The analysis shows that outages can be avoided by using industry-leading outage prevention practices. Leveraging resources now and on an ongoing basis to determine if facilities can meet power demands and ward off problems is essential. Also, make sure to:

  • Schedule maintenance of systems to avoid what is the high percentage of remediable outages (73%) attributed to poor maintenance and underutilized upkeep.
  • Watch for telltale signs from equipment that a problem is approaching. Proactive health checks, disciplined system monitoring, and observed maintenance schedules can aid in hearing the signal, helping improve the reliability of communications assets.
  • Upgrade equipment approaching end of manufacturing support (EoMS), avoiding the fallout from the over-sweating of assets.
  • Verify system redundancy, system health checks, and failover strategies for critical systems.
  • Patch whenever possible to eliminate software bugs or software-related outages. Some choose to let others occupy the upgrade frontlines and endure potential rollout hiccups, then follow along at a safe interval. This strategy breaks down disastrously when an organization suffers an outage that would have been avoided with a fix that it voluntarily chose to postpone.
  • Draw a network diagram to isolate an outage, speed resolution by illustrating the relationships among pieces of equipment, and isolate that outage!

As a hurricane or other natural disaster approaches, try not to depend on local team members who could be facing challenges of their own at home. Instead, move team members to locations where they can work with clients. When assembling a team, pull from across the organization and leverage readouts at defined intervals.

Pre-Event Checklist

Follow these six steps to prepare before a hurricane—or other disasters—strike:

  1. Save translations before an emergency event impacts the site. This will help ensure that recent changes are not lost and speed restoration in the advent of damage to the system.
  2. Review safety procedures with all employees prior to the emergency event, if possible, and make certain to have an updated contact list to keep in touch.
  3. Secure back-up media so that translations won’t be lost or damaged, thereby delaying restoration of your service. Take a copy of back-ups and any other information off site.
  4. Print and store a current list configuration of key solutions. If a new system is necessary, this simple precaution will save time in starting the process.
  5. Consider powering your system down before the emergency event impacts the site. Electrical power surges both before and after an emergency event can pose the greatest threat to your system.
  6. Contemplate moving switch/applications if the site is located in an area that may be exposed to damage from the emergency.

Taking the above actions can limit risk and help ensure your communications systems make it through a challenging, tough time. Learn more at our Help Center. And if you do have an outage on your Avaya equipment, report it at Support.Avaya.com. Or call 800-242-2121.