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Source : Consona
10 Principles for Knowledge Management Success
Knowledge Management is also known as :
What is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge Management (KM) can mean different
things to an organization depending upon the
nature of the initiative. KM, as we all know, is not a
technology or a set of methodologies… it’s truly a
practice or discipline that involves people, processes
and technology. And, if implemented correctly
with cultural buy-in from users and management,
plus clearly defined goals, a KM initiative can
improve the productivity and efficiency of an entire
Although KM is as an enterprise-wide goal, many
companies find success if they kickoff an initiative
in one department and then extend the practices
throughout other parts of the organization. This
paper will outline those practices that help ensure
a successful KM initiative within the IT help desk
or customer contact center. Often KM practices
relating to service and support can be defined
as knowledge-powered problem resolution -
using a knowledge base, knowledge sharing,
collaboration and knowledge reuse to efficiently
solve customer questions.
Knowledge Management for Service and Support
A successful knowledge management initiative
within a help desk or call center can reduce agent
training time and speed new employee ramp up.
Knowledge-powered problem resolution enables
agents to become more confident and competent
sooner than they otherwise would without a KM
practice. By having access to a knowledge base,
new help desk and customer service agents can
get answers to common questions without having to constantly ask other more experienced agents.
Customers and end-users benefit from faster
problem resolution, and experienced agents can
focus on solving more challenging problems.
Customers and end-users also benefit when they
have direct access to a knowledge base to solve
their own issues without ever contacting an
agent. A growing number of people now prefer
self-service to live interaction, at least for certain
problem types. For some people, self-service fits
perfectly into their lifestyle. They are in a hurry
and they need a specific piece of information
and that’s all they want. Say, for example, in
a corporate environment, an employee needs
to know if there is a Windows 2000 driver for a
USB Zip drive. She doesn’t want to wait in a queue.
She doesn’t want to talk to an agent. She just wants
to know if there is a driver available and where
to find it. In this case, self-service can be superior
to agent-assisted service.
Knowledge Management is an evolving discipline
that can be affected by new technologies and best
practices, but there are some things that we do
know for sure. There is a systematic approach to
successfully implementing knowledge management
and if you analyze what you are trying to
accomplish, map out a strategy, garner support
from the organization and have a way to measure
it, then you are much more likely to be successful.
Although conducting a successful KM practice
requires more than simply reading this white
paper, I have outlined 10 principles that will
serve as a primer to help your organization
understand what it takes to have a successful
Knowledge Management initiative.
KM and the Economy
The practice of knowledge management can be useful during tough economic times and in times
of rapid growth. When an organization downsizes, critical knowledge and intellectual capital
are lost. When business picks up it often picks up quickly. You can’t hire and train fast enough to
maintain a satisfactory level of performance using traditional methods. Even if you could, at some
point it becomes cost-prohibitive to keep hiring. You can’t hire your way out of growth. Instead,
you need a more efficient way to deal with growth. Knowledge Management and a system for
capturing and reusing knowledge can help businesses deal with the economic fluctuations.
Knowledge Management is a discipline
A lot of people think knowledge management is
a technology or software solution but it is much
more than that; knowledge management is a
discipline. Obviously, you have to have a good
piece of software or a good system to capture
knowledge – but that’s not the whole equation.
Underestimating what it takes just to capture
the knowledge correctly is a big risk, as is
underestimating the integration task into your
already complex environment.
There are some providers of pre-packaged
knowledge out there, but my experience is that
while they can be useful to the help desk they
are not relevant to customer service centers which
have business-specific content needs. In either
case, you must ensure you have the adequate
resources to create and maintain the content you
promise. Creating content is not a one-time project.
Also, over time the content must be updated and
supplemented as new products or services are
supported. Empowering agents to add new content
as resolutions are discovered is key to maintaining
a robust system.
One champion is not enough
To be successful, your project must have several
champions within the organization. These
are individuals that believe in the project,
enthusiastically advocate it and have the clout
to “make things happen.” Projects that lack a
champion generally don’t get off the ground. Those
with only one champion are also at serious risk.
Losing your champion can spell disaster for your
project. This is a real problem for knowledge
management projects, due to their continuous
duration. If the project champion transfers, retires
or leaves the company, the project often loses its
momentum and the project may falter as someone
else takes it over.
What I like to see when I work with clients is a dualsponsorship:
one at the operational level and one
at the executive level. So if an operations manager decides the company really needs knowledge
management, that manager should find somebody
on the executive staff that will agree to support
the vision. By having that dual track of vision the
project is more likely to succeed.
Cultural change isn’t automatic
Buy-in is needed at all levels, and this may require
cultural change. The people that are going to
use the tools have to be part of the design unless
you plan on strong-arming them (and that doesn’t
work very well). Don’t make this management
decision in a vacuum. Include some people from
the various groups that would directly or indirectly
use the system.
Sometimes there is a fear that knowledge
management will be used to replace people. If your
staff thinks that is what you are trying to do, then
you really need to address that head-on. If that
is not your intention, you should convince your
team that current head count reduction is not the
goal. Therefore, you need to look for and plan the
motivation for each party. After all, you are asking
people to shift from a system where being a tower
of knowledge is rewarded to a system where they
share their expertise with everybody on the team.
Each party will have a unique motivation to
embrace knowledge management. For example, in
a technical support environment, a frontline tech
will have a different motivational schema than a
3rd level technician. The frontline tech is not going
to have to ask the 2nd line tech as many questions,
and can resolve more problems faster. The 2nd level
tech is not going to get as many of the common
questions. Level 3 researchers won’t have to start
at ground zero when handed a problem by level
2, because they know that all the intermediate
steps have been covered. So as you look across the
organization everybody has a different interest and
you have to protect all of them.
Failing to see how knowledge management is going
to fit into the rest of the organization is a mistake.
You must invest the time and energy to understand
the culture, identify motivations and ensure change
happens where needed.
Create a change management plan
If your employees are not already sharing
information, you will need a change management
plan because you are asking people to do their jobs
differently. The change management plan specifies
how you will gain acceptance of knowledge
management within the organization. Let’s say you
are a call center manager and you measure your
employees’ performance by call handle time and
number of cases closed. Now you are going to be
asking them to use a knowledge base on every call
or email interaction – thus asking them to change
the way they perform their job on a daily basis.
Also, if you don’t make changes to their performance
reviews and compensation, there may be friction
because you’re asking them to do one thing but you
are judging them by another set of rules. As part
of the overall change management plan you need
to update job descriptions, feedback sessions and
performance reviews to reflect the new workflow.
Neglecting to make these changes may foster
acceptance issues with your team members.
Knowledge management is a strategic endeavor, not
just a project. I prefer to call it a strategic initiative as
opposed to a project because a project implies a finite
timeline. With KM you are never really done; you
initiate it and you build it and then its online and you
In my practice we look for our clients to have a
strategic goal for the project rather than a tactical
goal. If you are looking to shorten handle time
that’s a tactical motivation and you’re not as
likely to be willing to go through the steps that a
successful enterprise rollout would take. But if it is a
strategic initiative, especially something that is topdown
motivated (for instance improving customer
service or improving employee satisfaction) then
there is a better value statement involved and you
are not relying on changing one metric. So you
might see improvement in individual metrics like
handle time and resolution rates but their value is
limited compared to the return from becoming a
collaborative knowledge sharing organization.
To get going, decide what goals you are trying to
accomplish and why. Then try to identify a solution
and methodology that will help you attain those
goals in your environment. Sometimes people
within an organization may say that a KM initiative
is nice-to-have, but an economic downturn might
slow the process down or defer it - thus being
counterproductive when resources are scarce. But I
think it’s counterproductive to consider KM a niceto-
have because the rewards are equally beneficial
during both a downturn and the inevitable upturn.
If you wait until the upturn then you will be forced
to play catch up as your call volumes increase and
your email volume doubles; that’s not the time to
introduce a knowledge-powered system or build
a knowledge base. It’s not necessary to hire more
employees if you have resources that are not
100% utilized or if you encourage your agents to
contribute knowledge during their daily workflow.
Pick a topic, go in-depth, keep it current
I advise that you pick one area that needs
improvement or has limited resources, and then
build a robust knowledge base for that subject
matter. Use that experience to learn about
implementing knowledge in your organization;
do one call center or one product group and learn
from there. It is much better to be comprehensive
for a narrow topic than fail to get enough depth.
Sometimes an enterprise initiative is needed right
away, and it can be done successfully, but it can
involve a larger resource commitment to do a fullscale
project all at once. Remember, the depth of
your knowledge base truly depends upon your
Today’s systems should enable agents to contribute
new knowledge during their natural workflow.
This is critical to ensure that solutions that are not
currently in the system can be quickly added once the
resolution has been determined. It’s also important
to remember that regular and timely maintenance
of the knowledge base is key to success. You should
also consider appointing resources to maintain the
knowledge. Be sure to build in a mechanism that
identifies gaps in content (information sought but
not found), and a process for filling those gaps. If
people repeatedly fail to find what they are looking
for they will stop using the system.
Don’t get hung up on the limitations
Certain types of knowledge are very well suited to
quickly harvesting into a knowledge base. Company
processes or technical procedures are well suited
for knowledge management. By populating a
knowledge base with this type of information and
making it available to employees and customers, an
organization can shorten or even avoid many calls.
Organizations can also use a KM system to access
existing unstructured sources of information that
may already exist on a corporate network, intranet
or within an existing call center or help desk system.
It’s important to note that experienced agents can
certainly benefit from access to both structured
knowledge and unstructured information because
they’re more likely to be able to pinpoint a solution
within an unstructured document. However, level 1
agents or end-users accessing the knowledge base
through self-service, may not find these sources
of unstructured information helpful because
they don’t have the expertise to decipher the
In addition to sources of knowledge, the specific
type of information is also important to consider.
The craftsmanship or expertise that a true expert
has is much more difficult to capture. A master
craftsman has a huge body of knowledge. They
tend to “chunk” their knowledge and can’t tell you
the steps they use when they make a decision in
their field; they just do it. Much like tying your shoe,
you do it everyday but when you have to explain
it its tough because you have internalized the
process. I think that is where the breakdown is for
harvesting expertise. I think a KM initiative could
be somewhat limited because of the nature of
complex knowledge, and thankfully we will always
need human expertise. However, when it comes to a
successful initiative, it’s important to first determine
what knowledge can be easily added to the system
and then provide agents or a knowledge manager
with the tools to add this step-by-step complex
information to the system, ensuring that even
difficult questions can be answered accurately.
Set expectations or risk extinction
A big pitfall is the failure of knowledge
management proponents in helping executive
management set appropriate expectations.
Customers, employees and management alike
must know what they are going to get out of
knowledge management, what it will take to get
those results and how success will be measured.
Measurement is where most organizations fail
because they are doing things that were not
measured before. So a year from now, you’ve built
this thing, it’s up and running and everyone loves
it and your boss says “where’s my return?” If you
don’t have a measurement system in place then
you will have a hard time answering his or her
question – especially for the new metrics that didn’t
exist before. You probably measured handle time,
abandon rates, and similar operational metrics.
But you may not be measuring call avoidance or
knowledge usage, which affects ultimately the
ability to measure resolution rates.
In addition to setting management expectations
you have to set customer and end-user expectations.
For example, if you are going to provide customers
with Web self-service for one specific product then
you must include the known problems that they are
going to encounter in the knowledge base. In that
situation you are better off to set their expectations
that the knowledge base covers only that product
and no other. Customers pose the same extinction
risk that your employees do. If they visit the site
a few times and they can’t find an accurate or
appropriate answer they will probably not return
Integrate KM into existing systems
Typically, organizations that are implementing
knowledge management already have an
established data center, so they are not only building
a knowledge base – they must also integrate it into
their existing environment – their call tracking
system, IVR system, email, remote diagnostics and
other support systems.
When selecting a KM system, consider systems that
have open architectures and proven integrations
into existing call center and help desk tools to
ensure a successful implementation. Also, processes
will be affected, requiring change to reporting and
measurement systems as well. Integrate reporting
capabilities where possible to best understand how
the combined systems are affecting the effectiveness
of your support operations.
Educate your self-service users
You’ve created your KM plan, determined the
critical knowledge to include, initiated a plan to
garner cultural acceptance, trained your agents
and pinpointed key sources of knowledge – finally
you need to educate your self-service users on how
to find and access support information online to
ensure a satisfying experience.
There are many ways to “push” your self-service
capabilities out to your end-user audience.
Traditional marketing techniques should be
employed to promote this valuable service, such as
email, online newsletters or direct mail. Encourage
users to visit your online support site by making
it easy to find and access the knowledge base.
Be sure to include the site URL and directions for
obtaining a login, if needed, in your marketing
Another method is to encourage your agents to end
support calls by informing the user of the support
site. “Thanks for calling today, I’m glad that I could
help you solve your problem. By the way, we now
have a Web self-service site if you’d like to search
the knowledge base. You can find it at www.ABCSupport.
com and you can obtain a login by clicking
the request login button on that page.”
Finally, make sure your Internet or intranet site
includes an easy-to-find link to your Web selfservice
site. A twist on the old saying, “If they can’t
find it, they won’t come.” So make it easy to find,
easy to access and easy to use.
Become a Knowledge-Enabled Organization
I think it is inevitable that knowledge management
will have a high adoption rate in the next few
years. Over time to remain competitive it will be
essential to be “knowledge-enabled.” Just a few
years ago email was not a common method for
seeking customer service; now customers demand
the ability to contact you through channels other
than the phone. Going forward, as customers deal
with companies that are knowledge-enabled and
can quickly and efficiently answer their questions,
they are going to expect a greater level of service
in all of their support interactions.
The bottom line can be summarized with a quote
from Gartner, Inc. – “Those enterprises that include
KM processes as part of their customer relationship
management initiatives have a higher probability of
success than those that don’t.”1
1 - Source: “The Case for Knowledge Management in CRM,” Gartner Inc., April 2003
About KNOVA Software
KNOVA, a Consona CRM solution, is an intelligent
customer experience solution that maximizes
the value of every interaction throughout the
customer lifecycle. KNOVA turns information
into a knowledge powerhouse, and delivers it
in a user experience that raises the definitions
for collaboration and community to new levels.
Built on an adaptive search and knowledge
management platform, KNOVA’s suite of
applications helps companies increase revenues,
reduce service costs and improve customer
satisfaction. Global Industry leaders including AOL,
HP, Ford, H&R Block, Novell, Merrill Lynch, McAfee,
Reuters, and QUALCOMM rely on KNOVA solutions
to deliver world-class customer service.
For more information, call 1.888.8.CONSONA or
- What is Knowledge Management
- Knowledge Management for Service and Support
- Ten Principles for Knowledge Management Success
- Become a Knowledge-Enabled Organization
- About KNOVA Software