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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Join us for the Transformational Journey: Avaya Evolutions is Now #AvayaENGAGE

For over 11 years Avaya Evolutions Mexico has been the milestone event for Mexico’s technology market, with over 3,000 visitors in each edition. This year Avaya Evolutions transforms into #AvayaENGAGE Mexico. Following Avaya Engage events in Dubai and Las Vegas, this is the third and final location on our tour, and the largest thought leadership event in Latin America. This must-attend event brings together top senior executives, industry leaders, technology innovators and key decision makers to reimagine the possibilities of Digital Transformation and Cloud.

In the past, Dr. Zedillo, Former President of Mexico; Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, former President of Mexico; Jose Fernandez, NASA’s first Mexican American Astronaut; Steve Wozniak; and Guy Kawasaki have all been a part of Avaya Evolutions.

Evolutions began in 2006 in Mexico as the annual premiere technology forum before expanding internationally in June 2010. The Evolutions tour gathered over 30,000 attendees in 15 different cities across the U.S., Central America, and South America, receiving the Internationalist’s Innovation Global Media Award in 2012. The success of these global events was made possible by the continuous commitment and support of our partners and sponsors.

When customers join us this June in Mexico City, they will be introduced to the latest concepts on smart digital economies from forward-looking organizations. At the Digital Transformation Lounge, customers can experience innovative demonstrations and view software solutions live.  

Join us to learn how the experience is everything. Gain knowledge and insights to make informed decisions to support your digital transformation journey.

We are bringing together an exciting lineup of keynote speakers at #AvayaENGAGE Mexico. We’re featuring Kevin Kennedy, Avaya CEO; Morag Lucey, Avaya CMO; and Gary E. Barnett, Avaya Senior Vice President and General Manager, Engagement Solutions. You can find us on Twitter @Avaya. Follow us in early May as we announce our very special guest speakers.

Join us in Mexico City on June 21 for a can’t-miss next-gen experience. I hope to see you there!

Don’t Underestimate Smart and Secure Remote Access

Like many people, I’ve spent a lot of time watching great NCAA March Madness games in the last two weeks. During the commercials, I’ve been thinking about the challenges faced by athletes aspiring to get to the Final Four—and realizing that many careers bring similar tremendous pressure. In my communications industry, I think of IT professionals trying to solve technology issues, bridging legacy and new solutions, always on tight deadlines and tight budgets. These teams need things to go right—and when there’s an error—they need smooth, secure, fast fixes from their vendors.

Underestimating the skills of the remaining NCAA players might be a mistake—don’t blame their current success on luck or a fluke. That’s basketball, but I’ve seen IT departments underestimate the problem-solving power of remote connectivity in a similar way. Remote Access is often dismissed as being too risky for network security.

In his blog “Achieving Secure, Mission-Critical Technical Support is a Two-Way Street” Mike Runda, President of Avaya Client Services, refutes the misconceptions IT can have about remote access. Mike discusses the three key attributes that IT managers should demand of a remote access solution. Before you choose your communications solution, make sure that the provider’s connectivity into your enterprise is smart, secure, and gives you full control.

Secure remote access connectivity is the foundational component for resolving complex network issues. Mike tells the real-life story of an Avaya customer having a network issue, and blocking remote access for Avaya support technicians. The techs needed access to diagnose and resolve the problem. The customer was steadfast in its cybersecurity. The situation became a full-court press (i.e., escalations) by both teams. Once both teams got together and discussed the power and security of Avaya’s remote connectivity, the issue was quickly fixed. Read the whole story in Mike’s blog.

For now, we know the teams heading to the Final Four are doing all they can to bring their A Games to Phoenix. Likewise, when the pressure’s on in IT, Avaya customers can work with us via remote connectivity—with confidence that the pros at Avaya will protect security and bring proven results.

Get out of the Queue: Drive Your CX with Attribute Matching

At this point, nearly every company is working overtime to realign around two simple words: customer experience (CX). So much so that nearly 90% of companies now compete solely on CX—a drastic increase from 36 % in 2010—and 50 % of consumer product investments are expected to be redirected to CX innovations—like attribute matching—by the end of this year.

But what exactly does the CX consist of, especially in today’s new world of digital business innovation? This next-generation CX is supported by several advanced technologies—big data analytics, omnichannel, automation—however, these investments are all aimed at driving one thing: contextualization.

The rise of contextualized service—the ability for companies to not only gain insightful information about their customers but also deliver information in a way that is relevant and meaningful to customers based on individual circumstances to improve their experience—has evolved the CX to a point where it looks virtually nothing like it did as recently as 10 years ago. Whereas consumers once primarily focused on the act of purchasing, driven by such things as product quality and price, they now focus on the richness of brand relationships, driven by the personal value that companies deliver throughout the customer journey. Just consider that 70% of buying experiences are now based on how customers feel they are being treated. This is the key factor that sets apart market leaders like Amazon, Trader Joe’s, and Apple from the competition.

According to Accenture, there is an estimated $6 trillion in global revenue up for grabs due to dissatisfied customers constantly switching providers. The ability for companies to offer contextualized service is vital for operating at the speed of the consumer and capturing more of this market share. There’s just one thing preventing companies from seizing this limitless potential: the traditional call queue.

Every customer is familiar with the call queue. This is the place where statements like, “Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold,” and “Let me transfer you to a specialized team who can help you with that” perpetually live. It’s where exhaustive efforts to route customers to the correct service rep become lost, or where consumers must repeat the same information to multiple agents across different teams. It’s the greatest barrier preventing companies from being more dynamically connected to their consumers, and one of the greatest reasons why customers reduce their commitment to a brand.

Driving Contextualization with Attribute Matching

In a world where customers demand a profound level of connection and transparency, organizations can no longer support a contact center environment in which calls are distributed among agents who are organized by function (i.e., sales, service, support). In today’s smart, digital world, companies must transform the traditional call center into an integrated, digital communications hub. This means moving away from a siloed, metric-driven queue and instead working to put customers in touch with the best organizational resource depending on their exact need or circumstance as immediately as possible. The most effective way to achieve this is to migrate from archaic infrastructure towards an integrated, agile, next-generation platform built on open communications architecture.

Open communications architecture allows organizations to seamlessly collect, track and share contextual data across various teams, processes, and customer touch points. This integrated environment supports a real-time data repository from which businesses can pull from to route customers based on needs beyond traditional characteristics (like language preference). Rather, the technology allows companies to build customized learning algorithms that drive anticipatory engagement, enabling them to match customers based on next-level variables like personality, emotion and relatability.

Imagine, for example, a hotel routing a customer directly to an IT staffer after seeing that the person tweeted about a poor in-room Wi-Fi connection. Imagine a bank being able to route a customer to a money management expert after seeing that the last five questions asked via live chat were about account spending. Imagine an athletic apparel company matching a customer with an agent who is an avid runner after noticing that the individual recently signed up for a 5K.

The future of the CX means creating and continually building a contextualized view of customers throughout their entire brand journey. It means going beyond customer service to establish unparalleled, organization-wide relationships. It means transforming peoples’ lives, verses simply answering questions. This is what companies must work to align themselves with. The good news is that technology has evolved to a point where they can now easily, effectively and cost-efficiently do so.

Interested in learning more or getting beyond the queue to Redefine Your Customer and Employee Experiences? Contact us. We’d love to hear from you.