Kate Leggett reveals why it’s as important to cater to the communication requirements of today’s young people – Generation Y – as it is to provide a simple call centre for older customers, and how knowledge management can help.
My nieces, who range in age from 10 to 22, are all part of what is known as ‘Generation Y’, members of which are characterised by their enthusiasm for trends like social networking, blogging, music downloading and texting (SMS).
“Content from a knowledge base should be on-topic, written in the customer’s vernacular and kept up to date.”
My nieces teach me lessons about how we choose to communicate. The eldest sends me the odd e-mail. The middle one snubs e-mail as too slow, favouring instant messaging. And I hardly ever catch my youngest without her mobile phone – not to call, but to SMS cryptic messages to her friends. When I want to speak to any of them, I do it the old-fashioned way: I pick up the phone and call.
They never read the paper, watch the news or turn on the radio. Instead, they rely on blogs from underground news correspondents, wikis to research their homework, and user groups and forums to help troubleshoot their multimedia devices. They only pull the information they want, when they want it, in the format that suits them at that particular instant.
I think about my nieces often when I am at work. Not only because I miss them, but also because they challenge my own assumptions about how customers want to be served. Just because a Baby Boomer like me prefers to use the telephone doesn’t mean everybody does.
The proliferation of communication, and where knowledge fits in
The number of communication channels available today is exploding. In today’s world, customer service should not restrict you to a particular channel, but should provide a menu of options. Multi-channel customer service will help build trust and loyalty with your customers. Only when you have a receptive customer base, can you be successful at selling to them.
In our brave new world, many customers expect to find answers to routine questions on a company’s website without having to place a call to a support desk. This requires the website to be underpinned by a regularly maintained knowledge base.
A support site powered by a knowledge base should display answers to the most frequently asked questions, and offer tools to help customers search that knowledge using either keywords or natural language. The best self-serve implementations also include sophisticated knowledge retrieval methods that help narrow down search results. This is because search typically overwhelms a customer with too many solutions. Tools such as decision trees and clarifying questions should be used in conjunction with search to quickly hone in on the right answer.
Content from a knowledge base should be on-topic, written in the customer’s vernacular and kept up to date. Forward-thinking service organisations are experimenting with having power users publish content directly to a knowledge base without it being routed through a review process so that new information is instantly available to their customers.
These service organisations are also integrating knowledge bases with discussion groups and forums so that user communities can recommend information to be added, ensuring that it grows organically with customers’ changing demands.
If a customer cannot solve their issue via self-service, they should be able to escalate their question to a customer service agent using the communication channel of their choice – for example a web form, a free-form e-mail or an online chat session.
In each case, the details of the customer’s self-service session should be captured and passed to the agent receiving the request so that no information needs to be repeated.
Communication back from a customer service centre should also be offered in a variety of flavours. Customers should be able to choose to receive answers to their questions via SMS, e-mail, chat or all three. Customers should also be able to submit a request with their issue: for example, to be called back at a particular time.
How the best firms differentiate themselves
The most innovative customer service centres are actually solving problems before they start. For example, if an agent sees a customer is taking too long to complete a high-value transaction, such as a mortgage application, a proactive site would offer up a chat session to see whether they need help in completing the application.
The agent could additionally offer to co-browse the application with the customer, helping them navigate the complex form. For very high value transactions, sites additionally offer agent-enabled click-to-talk services to ensure the customer has all they need to complete the purchase.
Using a blend of analytics and knowledge of customer preferences, these service centres are also proactively pushing knowledge to customers, sometimes even before they experience a common problem. Analytics let you pinpoint the most frequently asked questions from your knowledge base, and if a service centre detects a skewed interest in a particular question, like, for example, a question regarding a feature in a newly launched product, these centres are able to push the answer to this question to all customers who purchased a particular product.
Even more forward-thinking customer service centres have melded speech-to-text conversion tools with knowledge bases and customer service tools so you no longer need to use your computer for self-service. For example, some telco companies can inform you of outages in your area when you call in. This information is derived by matching your customer information with service alerts for your area stored in a knowledge base.
Other companies offer voice-activated self-service help via a knowledge base as you are waiting in queue for a live agent. You are prompted to search the knowledge base or walk down decision trees as you wait – and if your issue is not solved by the time you are connected to an agent, your entire transaction is passed along to the agent, maximising the value of your hold time.
Making possibilities reality
Imagine the scenario where you call with an issue about a flight itinerary, and a knowledge base using text-to-speech conversion is able to walk you through a guided dialogue where a customer service application integrated with the knowledge base captures your name, flight number, flight change request, and is then able to execute the requested transaction.
At the heart of each of these solutions is a knowledge base integrated with a case management system that can manage multi-channel customer requests. This integration ensures agents always have the same view of the customer and are able to offer the same answer to a question every time – whether or not the same medium is used to ask the question that is requested to receive the answer.
With customer service software like this, even my nieces who are used to getting information ‘their way’ should be content.
Kate Leggett is director of product management – knowledge management – at KANA Software