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.