Customer Experience, Learning & Training, Technology, Work

How to nail complex query resolution with internal knowledge bases

It’s 2019, and our contact centers are changing fast. The proliferation of new channels over recent years means that now, some 67% of customers prefer using self-service options instead of speaking with an agent.

If you started your career as an agent and remember trying hard to treat every call like it was your first despite having already heard that query ten times that day, this stat will likely have you breathing a sigh of relief. Apart from the decrease in repetition being a good thing, being there for customers on the channels that they choose is a great CX strategy. But a downside of this is that the queries which end up in our contact centers will normally be more complex.

How can we help agents better answer these complex queries? Enter the humble internal knowledge base (KB). A well-designed KB can act as a tool to help employees work better and smarter, drive continuous improvement, improve quality, and increase collaboration. Here’s how.

The right tool for the job

Back when customer queries were solved with single-sentence answers, many of us resorted to memorization, cheat sheets and post-it notes on our computer monitors to remember key pieces of information to help us in our jobs.

But this type of learning doesn’t often work well when we’re aiming to understand and resolve complex query types. The interplay of emotionally-charged interactions and multitudes of gray-area options to choose from can make decision-making a complex exercise, and it’s not always clear what the “right” thing to do is.

In these instances, providing employees with resources they can use in-the-moment to better weigh up each case and strengthen their decision-making is a smart bet. A KB can act as this type of resource, working to lessen the mental information load that employees need to bear and providing this in-the-moment support even for obscure query types.

Having ready resources isn’t just good for quick customer resolutions, but having access to the right tools for the job is central to employee engagement, which impacts productivity, satisfaction, and ultimately, churn.

You might think that a KB is good for only those black-and-white Q&As where there is a set Q and an unambiguous A, but it is possible to set up a KB to support employees in resolving subjective cases through harnessing technological options within KB platforms themselves.

Let tech do the heavy lifting

I didn’t have a KB platform at all when I built my very first internal KB. I took the HTML skills I had learned from building cringe-worthy teenage poetry websites (which, thankfully, died with Geocities), spun up a rudimentary website, got it hosted on our Intranet, embedded a Google search, and launched it with myself as the editor.

About ten years ago that seemed like a reasonable plan, given that our center had repetitive query types and processes which didn’t change much over time. Thankfully, KB platforms have developed to help us run much more robust KBs in more complex environments.

Many KBs are now much easier to maintain, without needing to duplicate information from other sources- for example, by hosting separate customer and agent-facing KBs on the same platform and optionally, updating from each other. They often come with full reporting suites for better visibility into the effectiveness of your KB. It’s even possible to embed AI into your KB so even if a user were to type in a search term that was ambiguous or unclear, the AI could pick up on the intent behind it and deliver the right article regardless.

Importantly, your KB can have multiple editors and methods for adding to it. Your agents can not only draw upon the information in a KB but also add to and comment upon it, whether through inbuilt functionality or integrations with platforms such as Slack . That’s important for complex query resolution for one main reason:

The best customer outcomes are often a collaborative effort

There’s a reason the apprenticeship model of learning has worked beautifully since the dawn of time – we learn well from others in an on-the-job setting, where we can experience and discuss work in context.

But given the nature of much contact center work, it can be difficult to implement collaborative learning processes, which by nature are social. Strictly scheduled environments often don’t allow much employee interaction to occur beyond formalized meetings, scheduled breaks or snatched chats at the water cooler.

That’s a shame, because we can often make the most sense of complex situations at work when we share them with others who have been through similar experiences and can offer different perspectives and ideas. Encouraging employees to discuss complex cases is an exercise ripe for learning, as failures and successes can be shared and learned from without each employee needing to follow the same bumpy path.

The beauty of encouraging collaboration on complex queries through a KB is that employees can interact with it in the course of their everyday work. This allows them to collaborate asynchronously, without a heavy load on agent schedules. Collaboration shouldn’t be limited only to your agent team – other teams can also be set up to view and collaborate upon cross-functional knowledge items.

This kind of process doesn’t need to start off on a formal KB platform, either. On the CX Accelerator community recently, Lauren Volpe shared a great example of collaborative learning via a CX Tracker, where team members share details of tricky cases so others can benefit.

Getting to this point may require some cultural changes to occur too. It’s important to encourage your team to view continuous improvement as a team exercise, which treasures its experts and grows its newbies, and which recognizes that it’s through sharing information (not hoarding it) that we can get our best work done.

Future-proof your contact centre’s knowledge

Let’s go back to those expert staff members for a moment. If your contact center contains a few wise sages who intuitively know the right answer to most queries, you’ll know how valuable they are, and how often they can get called upon to share their knowledge.

But you’ll also know how dangerous this can be. Reliance on a few staff as oracles of knowledge is a dangerous tactic, plunging your team into difficulties if they leave. Not to mention that in a carefully scheduled environment, allowing these seasoned staff members time to walk the floor and be available for answering questions isn’t always ideal, let alone scalable.

Great KBs can become living resources that wean reliance off those wise sages by letting knowledge loose outside of people’s heads. Plus, if you can set up your KB to be added to by everyone as they learn and discuss new queries, the information within them can become greater than anything an individual alone could convey.

KBs are the new training

In the past, most educational models were designed around the fact that information wasn’t easily accessible. To learn something new you needed to go on a training course, consult an expert, or check out a book from the library.

Times have now changed. Mobile devices and internet access mean that we and our employees don’t need to go through an extensive process of information synthesis or training to learn a new thing. Most people are pretty capable of figuring things out for themselves. We just look up information, and get things done.

Despite this, many organizations still rely on formalized training interventions to attempt to help employees to learn. Usually this consists of trainers resorting to information-stuffing strategies – for example taking employees away from their desks, attempting to fill them with as much pure information as possible, and adding in some sort of game or test to help make sure that information isn’t so easily forgotten. We’re now starting to understand how ineffective these types of methods are.

Times are changing and the way we think about contact center learning needs to change too. We need to get better at providing employees with the technology and resources they need to learn from each other and just do their jobs, no information-stuffing required.

Especially given the resource-stretched, turnover-ridden nature of the environments we operate in, many centers could achieve this by better harnessing tools like KBs – providing the conditions to learn better, smarter and quicker, even in increasingly complex environments.

Originally published here.

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