Consistency is essential to first-rate customer service. All customers should receive valuable, relevant information that solves their problems and answers their questions. As companies add more channels to their service offerings, however, maintaining consistency can get complicated. A multichannel knowledgebase strategy can help maintain knowledge consistency across channels, no matter how many there are.
"Having a multichannel knowledgebase strategy is critical," says Anne Wood, head of knowledge management at mobile and electronics retailer Carphone Warehouse in the U.K. "We're trying to have consistency no matter what channel customers approach us from. By having a single knowledgebase for both our customers and our colleagues we're making sure we're giving the same answer. The result is that we're trying to service customers consistently and give them the right experience."
Robert Monteiro, director of customer service and product integration at CBS Interactive, agrees. "The biggest benefit of a multichannel knowledgebase strategy is to deliver support customers need in a venue that they want it," he says. "You need to fit into the customer's mold. If we can take more pain out of an issue by supporting the customer in the way they want, it improves the customer experience."
On the company side, a central knowledgebase can automate many customer support efforts and enable tools such as Web self-service and live chat. This drives down customer service costs while maintaining a positive customer experience.
So what information should be contained in a company's knowledgebase? Johan Jacobs, enterprise application analyst at Gartner, breaks down the content into five categories:
- Corporate knowledge - articles and information related to products, services, and other company insight
- Agent knowledge - product information, scripts, and other details needed to serve the client
- Partner knowledge - training materials, onboarding information, and other information relevant to a company's partner relationships
- Social knowledge - information contained on websites outside of a company relating to the company, such as product reviews and comments about service
- Hosted community knowledge - an established community owned by the company where people are invited to participate
Different companies have varied amount of information in each of these categories, depending on the business and needs of its customers, employees, and partners. All of these categories, however, must be centralized into a knowledgebase that can be accessed across any channels that customers and employees access, Jacobs says.
"The knowledgebase is a living entity," says Monteiro of CBS Interactive. "It's always changing." Working with RightNow, he oversees knowledge management and support for 42 information and entertainment websites, including CBS.com, CNET, Gamespot, and Last.fm. Each website team is responsible for maintaining its knowledgebase content, which is housed in two central repositories and accessible via Web self-service, live chat, and the call center. In addition, the customer service reps serving all brands can suggest new articles or changes to existing ones based on the types of customer interactions they receive. And three members of Monteiro's staff review the entire knowledgebase monthly to make sure the information is up-to-date and consistent. Since deploying its multichannel knowledgebase, CBS Interactive has seen a 96 percent deflection rate from the call center to Web self-service, and customer satisfaction rates remain steady at about 70 percent, well above the 40 percent industry average, he says.
Changing the channel
The call center, website, and email are the most popular service channels right now, Gartner's Jacobs says. But many new tools are emerging and need to be included into a company's knowledgebase strategy. Live chat, virtual assistants (avatars), mobile apps, and others are new support tools available to customers.
"Electronc Arts embeds live chat into its Star Wars online game," says David Vap, chief solutions officer at RightNow. In another example, Vap describes tools from smartphone accessory manufacturer Belkin that automatically connect mobile devices to Belkin's knowledgebase when an error occurs. The knowledgebase parses its repository and sends answers back to the device without any user action. "It's unbelievable how rapidly things are advancing," Vap says.
Technology is advancing, but so is the knowledgebase itself. Jacobs' "social knowledge" category is evolving as rapidly as the social sites that enable it. "There is an enormous momentum around social sites," says Ted Perrotta, national practice manager for SharePoint Solutions. Social media monitoring and other social CRM tools allow companies to search for knowledge outside its four walls. And within a company's knowledgebase, customers can rate the value of the knowledge they receive and suggest improvements. Some companies offer wikis for customers to make changes directly to the knowledgebase information or create content specifically for support purposes. Vap of RightNow calls it "organically crowdsourced content."
Carphone Warehouse adds customers to the mix
At Carphone Warehouse, for instance, Wood and her team originally centralized its knowledgebase using tools from Kana Software to allow employees in the contact center, stores, and direct sales to access consistent information about products and services when answering customer questions. "Once we got that in place, we thought, 'why not make it available to the public for self service?'" she says. In January the company began Web self-service on its site. "The rest of the journey is to cascade [the information] out in as many channels as possible." Carphone Warehouse links to its knowledgebase from the Web, call center, its blogs, Twitter, and the Yammer enterprise social networking tool, where employees can ask and answer questions of one another. There are also plans in the works to reach the mobile audience soon.
Customers contribute to the knowledgebase, Wood says, by rating content as helpful or not. They can also submit ideas for how the content can be improved or changed. Wood's team of eight monitors that feedback, acknowledges the customer with a thank-you message, and makes changes to the knowledgebase when appropriate. "Feedback is massively important," she says.
Wood says the biggest benefit to the company has been the integration of self-service on its "Contact Us" page. Customers can submit queries for service to try to resolve their problem or to learn what information to have available before calling into the contact center. If someone wants to upgrade a service plan, for example, the site will explain the online steps for how to do that. But, she says, "If you lost your phone, we'll give you the instructions on what to do and what information to have prepared before you call in."
As a result, 39 percent of people who go to the "Contact Us" page get information from the automated knowledgebase. Wood can't directly tie that to fewer calls into the call center, but she does say that average handle time per call decreased by 10 percent and email handling productivity increased by 39 percent and continues to improve. Next steps include launching online chat features and linking to the knowledgebase from product pages, not just on specific support areas of the site.
Integrating the knowledgebase more directly into the customer experience is where the market is headed, predicts Vap of RightNow. "Companies need to intertwine knowledge throughout the Web experience instead of appending pages," he says. "And in the voice channel, knowledge content can be delivered as a customer navigates through the IVR channel." For example, a customer calling in may automatically receive an option to hear about the fix for a product bug. "Companies need to put knowledge right at the point of interaction." He adds the explosion of the mobile and social channels will become a focus, as well, and companies must already move their information from silos to a centralized knowledgebase.
"You have to get away from the model where service is an island or a silo," adds Brett Williams, director of product management at Aspect. "The key is to connect into the enterprise to find content and experts to join the conversation. There should be no wall between the contact center and the enterprise."
Gartner's Jacobs says the eServices market, which includes knowledgebase efforts, is expected to reach $1 billion by the end of 2010. This shows its importance to business strategy. "Very few companies have deployed their knowledgebase strategy in all channels, but most use at least two or three," he says. "If you don't have that knowledgbase [in your service efforts] you will have difficulties."