Modern Customer Service Rests on a Solid Foundation of Knowledge Management

It's crazy to think that customers want to be delighted by customer service. They simply want relevant and complete answers to their questions delivered over the touchpoint and channel of their choice so they can get back to what they were doing before the issue arose. Forrester data backs these statements up. Our researchfound that 55 percent of U.S. online adults are likely to abandon their online purchase if they can't find quick answers to their questions. Seventy-seven percent say that valuing their time is the most important thing companies can do to provide them with good online customer service — up 6 percentage points from 2012.

Effortless and effective service is a win-win for customers and companies alike. Companies are satisfied because costs are contained, as this type of service minimizes handle times and customer re-contacts and maximizes first-contact resolutions. Customers are satisfied because these service interactions meet their expectations and help build loyalty and trust, which in turn correlate to an increased customer lifetime value.

At the heart of effortless and effective service is knowledge management because customers of all ages are increasingly using self-service channels (Web, mobile, IVR) as their first points of contact for customer service. In fact, for the first time in the history of our survey, respondents indicated that they had used FAQ pages on company Web sites more often than speaking with agents over the phone.

Self-service knowledge, especially when it is proactively and contextually delivered to the customer at the time of need, gives you that effortless experience that consumers want. On the simple side, self-service knowledge can be a set of FAQs that answers common customer questions. Knowledge has more impact when it is contextually linked to customer and product information so that the customer gets targeted and does not have to wade through a set of answers that might be irrelevant to his particular situation. And knowledge has even greater value when it is proactively delivered, right at the time of need, in context of a customer's or agent's process flow. An example is a troubleshooting guide presented to the customer as he is filing a ticket for a specific question.

Knowledge does not only have to be used in post-purchase customer service scenarios. It has value at all stages of the customer journey. For example, Zuora uses knowledge during the onboarding process to drive product adoption and engagement and, as a result, decreases customer churn.

It also doesn't have to be limited to Web, mobile, or in-app knowledge. Hi-tech companies like Xerox are embedding knowledge into devices, which allows customers to effortlessly troubleshoot their issues.

So, how do you start on the knowledge journey? Take these first few simple steps:

  • Focus first on FAQs. Determine the top questions that your customers ask and create relevant content to answer these questions. Post FAQs prominently on your Web or mobile site or even within your mobile app and allow customers to escalate to agent-assisted interactions if they are unable to find answers to their questions. Make sure that agents have access to these FAQs so that they can deliver consistent answers to customers.
  • Monitor FAQ use. Keep an eye on FAQ usage to make sure that your FAQs are answering customer questions. Mine call logs or email and chat transcripts to broaden your understanding of what questions customers are asking. Create content to answer these more detailed questions.

Once you realize the power of FAQs in being able to deflect incoming customer questions and increase customer satisfaction, you are ready to embark on a more comprehensive knowledge management program. When you are ready, you can do the following:

  • Determine ownership of your company's knowledge program. Customer service is the most natural owner of the knowledge management project. While the Web, mobile, or marketing teams could be involved in providing content and defining the presentation of self-service content, none of these departments are held accountable for the success of knowledge initiatives. However, knowledge management is a cross-organizational effort, and the customer service team must gain buy-in, long-term resource commitment, and alignment on goals and strategies to execute those goals from every team affected.
  • Design a framework for knowledge management. Knowledge base content must be easy to find and use. Before starting to create content, determine who will be using the knowledge base and the most effective way to organize content to make it findable and usable.
  • Create and maintain relevant content. A prime driver of knowledge management success is content that is always relevant to users. Relevance is a gauge of the freshness of content and its usefulness to the target user and his context. There is no magic number as to how many solutions knowledge bases should contain. Too little content and coverage will be inadequate. Too much content and users will have to sift through piles of search results to locate the right answers. Set up workflows to create and maintain content and get feedback from customers and agents who use the content.
  • Empower customers with usable content. Make content easy to find by using clean UI designs, industry-standard icons, and color palettes that match corporate branding. Use fly-over document summaries, highlighted search terms, counts of how many times solutions have been viewed, and solution metadata to allow users to locate suitable solutions. Offer natural language search in addition to keyword search and embed pictures and videos in your solutions.
  • Continually improve your knowledgebase. Your knowledge base is never complete. Content must evolve as new products and services are introduced or retired. Content must also be reworked if it is identified as inaccurate or incomplete. You must follow periodic processes to check the health of the knowledge base. You must also ensure that your knowledge program stays adequately staffed to support these periodic maintenance activities.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.