Knowledge management or sharing?


If you want to be successful in the call centre business, then you need to start sharing.

Peter Massey cosies up to talk about Wikis and collaborative working.

To some people the phrase ‘knowledge management’ (KM) implies academia, Google or esoteric stuff that has nothing to do with great customer experiences. That’s because it is very rare for practical contact centre managers to:

  • ‘Get’ KM
  • Have systems that can deliver KM the way they want. That is, embedded in the call flow with data that answers questions in context
  • Develop the publishing and re-publishing processes that keep the knowledge relevant, up-to-date, well presented and in context

I have seen it done. One of our clients, Ingenico, has done a great job of leading a publishing process that really works. It’s had a major impact on talk times, wrap times, training times, resolution and satisfaction. But such examples are very rare. I’ve seen some great publishing processes adopted at Surrey County Council, Microsoft and the BBC – but, again, they’re hardly the norm.

The common factor is that the ownership of the knowledge is with the business: not the techies, the publishers or the thought police. The business fundamentally sees its job as publishing correct, up-to-date information so that internal and external customers see one consistent view. To put that in context for a minute, the BBC has 80 hours of programming per hour, so it’s no mean feat getting the producers to think that the content for the web and for helping staff is a high priority.

We’ve also researched how Cisco internally has changed its methodology. Whereas previously it was focused on getting a resolution for customers, it is now concerned that its agents get that resolution and publish at the same time. That way, everyone else can re-use the answer if they have the same query (see “Making it easy when customers contact Cisco” at

Why KM doesn’t fit the bill

So what’s wrong with KM? Why do most people struggle to make it work for their staff and customers?

Maybe KM just doesn’t work well for human beings. You find an answer that works. You have it approved. Someone else publishes it. The management process lacks trust. It’s a 20th Century management philosophy.

But why not let the person who knows best, who found the answer, just publish it? That would be a 21st Century process. No checks. No policies. No controls in place to make things difficult.

The truth is that letting go of control can work really well – at least for 21st Century workers and managers. The problem is that asking 20th Century-trained managers to let go is probably as hard as getting knowledge publishing to work.

Changing minds is always hard. Even a man as bright as Einstein took 16 years to accept his own idea that he’d proven (that the universe is expanding at a rate of knots), so what hope the rest of us? Seeing is believing as they say, so piloting is the route many go down.

So is it time to dismiss knowledge management as dead in the age of Google? If so, what would replace it?

Opening up a world of collaboration

In my opinion, this is where ‘collaborative working’ or ‘knowledge sharing’ comes in to its own. It goes on all the time in the real world. Agents ask other agents questions during calls or over coffee. I just want to start seeing that happen on a wider scale.

How? For me, the key is to use a technology called Wikis – simple tools for sharing information. There are many different vendors out there selling this kit, many of them offering different functionality. In fact, there are many free ones available to download and try.

The best-known example is probably Wikipedia – an encyclopaedia of answers to everything offered up on the Internet. Look at it. Try it out for yourself at And once you have, ask yourself this question: why isn’t it full of daft stuff or errors? The answer is because people care about it. They’ll moderate any silliness; they correct any deliberate or accidental errors. It’s not managed, it’s shared. No one owns it or tells people what to do. No one controls it. And the best bit is that it works.

We’ve recently done some work piloting the use of Wikis in a major technology support company. We’ve been working across seven pilot centres, where the traditional knowledge management solution was gummed up with 5,000 posts waiting for approval and publishing.

In researching the work, we found many companies – particularly in technical development projects – had succeeded with Wikis. But few had thought of applying the low cost, no management technology to the front line.

Where do managers fit in to the equation?

So what does the role of management become in a collaborative, knowledge sharing world? To my mind, they can still be part of that world, looking to accelerate and stimulate participation by encouraging staff to take part and demonstrating how successes can be achieved.

Having said that, they do need to change rewards – both informal and formal – for the people who participate. They need to focus on supporting rather than managing the process.

The point is that in a culture where management does support the front line, knowledge sharing enabled by Wikis is easy to introduce.You don’t have to change people’s hearts and minds.

If you want to know more about using Wikis in contact centres, or about the pilot mentioned above, contact Peter Massey. Incidentally, Budd’s free white paper “100 things you can learn from Google Inc” is published this month at It doesn’t look at googling, but at what makes a successful business like Google perform so well.
Peter Massey is managing director of Budd in the UK and co-founder of the LimeBridge alliance, which operates in 11 countries
Tel: +44 7802 793515

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 21st Mar 2007 - Last modified: 27th Nov 2023
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