All posts by Esteban Kolsky

ICYMM: Knowledge Management Questions for 2015+

ICYMM: In case you missed me.

I often write in other blogs and properties and I am sure you don’t have the same Google Alerts I do – which means you can occasionally miss my writings.  In an effort to keep you always alert to what matters (you’re welcome – its my privilege to help) I will bring the links to those posts with a brief summary here.

At the end of last year I wrote a series of blog posts on Knowledge Management.  I am very fortunate to have excellent clients with no ego problems who sponsor me to do research.  In the topic of Knowledge Management last year I was lucky enough to have IntelliResponse (since acquired by 24/7), Parature, and Transversal do that.  In exchange for their support they received different deliverables – including the series of blog posts I am including here.

Knowledge Management should be changing.  It is, unfortunately, lost in thought instead.

The world has changed, and how knowledge is created, used, and maintained has changed: communities and reachable subject matter experts make it impossible to claim ignorance or ownership.  I began to cover that two years ago when I did my then Knowledge Management series talking about new models (you can find the series I published for Stone Cobra in my downloads section) – most notably the knowledge-in use versus knowledge-in-storage concept.

This year I wanted to explore more of what’s going on and how we need to change it and I covered it in four blog posts (with relevant quotes beneath each):

Does KM Even Matter Anymore? Starting the series with the right question in most of my clients’ minds: why bother? Is there a useful purpose to Knowledge Management? Well, read to find out… but as a spoiler: yes, more than ever.

The story for the demise of Knowledge Management has been told many ways.

The Most Important Job for KM in Customer Service.  I had this conversation so many times this past 15-20 years I’d been doing and researching KM that is becoming obsolete – except that people keep asking and few are doing it.  Maintenance.  Killer stats in this post, definitely must read to get justification for your program.

Just 34% of companies have proper maintenance processes for KM.

Why Aren’t KM Budgets Sufficiently Funded in 2015? Asking the question that always has been in my mind: do we set aside special money to support KM or do we just make it happen with hope and prayer? I got tons of good data in here as well.

Thus, KM becomes a “necessary evil” for customer service. Instead of being a discipline that can alter the way customer service is done, it is a cost item that results in a technology being implemented.

Finding the Right Place for KM in the Organization. I have long maintained that KM in customer service only is a waste of time and money (and if you read the previous entries on funding and purpose I think you’d agree).  Can you place KM somewhere else and leverage it in customer service? Read on.

Outside of the necessary knowledge sharing necessary to collaborate, virtually every function inside of the organization also needs access to the right information at the right time to succeed.

There were other things I did last year about it, webinars and research reports, infographics produced, writings and more.  I will continue to post those here as time allows – but I just like this series a ton since it outlines the potential for KM as we enter a new age in business: communities.

You will read more about that here this year and going forward as communities is the catalyst for the business transformation we are experiencing.  And one of the key tenets for my forthcoming book on business transformation.

What do you think? Missed much? Would love to hear what you have to say…

disclaimer: as always, being a client means you are generous beyond need and you recognize that I am bored beyond belief.  being a client means you sponsor my work and benefit by having pieces of it to use as you see fit.  being a client means i get to keep my editorial integrity and research that which furthers my agenda.  being a client has never meant and never will mean you can tell me what to research, write or say.  and IntelliResponse, Parature, and Transversal (as well as the many others over the years) know and appreciate that.

The Operationalization of Customer Service

Continuing on the delivery of the early insights into the third version of the customer service adoption and usage study we are conducting with our friends at KANA, A Verint Company (the summary of early findings is here, and the findings on social can be found here, and mobile here) I’d like to explore a little bit more the operationalization of customer service.

From the beginning of this study we have been asking respondents to tell us who controls the customer service budget and where in the organizational chart they report.  The original intent of the questions was for cross tabbing and demographics (which we continue to do to understand all issues better), but along the way we found a very intriguing reality.  Starting last year we saw a rise in how many customer service organizations are reporting into operations (19% in 2013 and 24% in 2014).

Intrigued by this shift, and during follow-up interviews, we established a line of question to understand the change.  After all, traditionally customer service had either been an independent organization within the company or usually reporting into marketing or sales (depending on the organization’s processes and budgets).  Seldom did we see customer service report into more “internal” roles like operations or even IT.

We found three common topics among the many answers:

  1. Time for Operations. One of the most recurring answers was that during the past few years, with reduced or eliminated budgets due to the global recession, it was a great time to talk and think about strategies on how to support customers better and how to optimize customer service. Now that budgets are returning (and my inquiry load definitely supports that) we are going back to operations and implementing a lot of those strategies.
  2. End-to-End-Experiences. The trends dictating the transformation of the business (social networks, big data, customers in charge of conversations among others) are calling for organizations to deliver better infrastructure to let their customers build better end-to-end experiences – which customers are demanding and expecting. To do this, operations in customer service must match operations in the rest of the enterprise.
  3. Optimized Processes. Continuing on the trend of business transformation highlighted by the two previous insights, this is the element that was the most often cited (albeit, I may be biased due to my research in this area). As transformation takes over the business and processes are changed, operationalization of customer service to deliver on those new promises is essential.  More and more businesses moving to transform and optimize their processes are taking this operationalization of customer service as the start of the solution.

Indeed, the evolution of business matched by the availability of budget is making customer service focus on operations once more.  This is a good trend and will be explored in further detail in the detailed report to be published 2015.

Are you finding your customer service organization moving in the same direction? Are you operationalizing and optimizing customer service?

Let me know in the comments, would love to chat about it.

Disclaimer: KANA, A Verint Company, is a client and the sole sponsor of this research report.  While they get input into the topics to survey, and provide feedback on the thesis before we start, the final decisions on content, questions, and analysis remain mine.  There is no input from anyone else other than thinkJar and its employees (which, as you know, it’s just me) in making content and editorial decisions on the study, findings, and reports. All data is propriety of thinkJar and not shared or distributed.

Your Chance To Say It: Customer Service Experience Conference Call for Speakers


As you likely don’t know, based on attendance and submissions, I am again chairing the Customer Service Experiences conference in NYC in August.

I would like to hear fresh voices and opinions this year, something that has not been said or shown.  I invite you to submit a proposal (link here).  If you cannot make it by the deadline of 1/23, please contact me and we can talk.

What am I looking for?

  • New and interesting implementations
  • Research you have conducted (primary) or collected (secondary) into lessons learned, best practices, or any data to help frame the conversations around Customer Experience
  • Case studies
  • Case studies (cannot be said enough)
  • Anything you want to add that will expand the conversation on Customer Experience

(notice I did not mention customer service or customer care, I want to go beyond that)

The story I am trying to present on stage is far more than Customer Service only.  I want to show that #CX is not a technology or product implementation, that is far more than Customer Journey Mapping (yuck), and that there are proven ways to make it happen.  And document that with the information exchanged on stage and shared among the participants.

Sessions are short (total 45 minutes, presentations are 25-30 minutes at most to leave time for discussions) and the goal is to share and learn from others in the room.

Sounds interesting? Submit a proposal here or contact me.

Will see you in NYC in 08/2015!!!!

The Emergence of Mobile Customer Service

Continuing the series of blog posts examining the early results of the customer service channels adoption and usage study generously sponsored by KANA, A Verint Company (read the summary here, the previous entry on social here, and watch this blog for the next entry in a week) I want to address some of the findings around mobile customer service.

One of the questions that we began asking two years ago was in reference to mobile customer service.  Just like social customer service before, it took the enterprise by storm (and surprise) with a very fast pace.

Although it is not properly defined yet (meaning if you ask most customer service organizations what they are doing about it – as we have in past interview follow-ups – they are not sure and bundle mobile web sites with mobile apps with mobile agent interfaces as one big “solution”) there is a lot of investment being diverted towards it.

In reply to the question of who is doing mobile customer service for the past two studies we found that 59% (2013) and 67% (2014) of the respondents are doing something with mobile.  This is not surprising given the current hype in the market about it and how it can “change customer service,” but three items are slightly surprising:

  1. The value that organizations place on doing mobile customer service. When asked whether they thought it was valuable to them or their customers, 31% (2013) and 78% (2014) replied that it was valuable to them and 35% (2013) and 74% (2014) replied it was valuable to their customers.  This shows that they see some value, and follow up conversations with those that replied affirmative to value confirmed that money will continue to be invested in it.
  2. The definition of mobile customer service. This is an issue that emerged this time around more than last year – but the improper classification of “anything mobile” is a problem for funding.  We identified three areas for mobile customer service (web, apps, agents) and will explore in further interviews what is the allocation of funds and budgets.
  3. How long they’ve been using mobile. This was the most surprising set of answers.  We had 10% (2013) and 28% (2014) answer that they had been using mobile for over two years and 18% (2013) and 24% (2014) say they have been doing it for at least one year.  Considering that the massive amounts of hype had not been built until this year (maybe last year if being generous) it is surprising to see so many companies doing it for so long – and brings also back the issue of what is defined as mobile customer service.

Indeed, this talks to a very immature, rogue market with ill-defined boundaries that bring two problems: vendors cannot easily identify what to deliver to their customers, and customers cannot easily budget for what they need to do.  We are starting to see a differentiation in offerings from vendors that have targeted cloud as their preferred delivery model (and who can easily focus on building and delivering agent-facing apps as well as customer-focused self-service tools) and for those that are more agent-focused who have brought their interfaces to tablets and smartphones – but we are not ready to detail yet who has done what – or what are some of the lessons learned.

The recommendation for now is to determine your needs (use the three categories above as a guide) and to read the full report that will be available in the early part of 2015 for more details on what is being done (and how) to be collected via follow-up interviews of respondents.

Is mobile customer service an initiative in your organization? What are you doing about it? Are you differentiating between projects using the categories above?

Let me know in the comments what you are seeing and doing, would love to chat about it.

Disclaimer: KANA, A Verint Company, is a client and the sole sponsor of this research report.  While they get input into the topics to survey, and provide feedback on the thesis before we start, the final decisions on content, questions, and analysis remain mine.  There is no input from anyone else other than thinkJar and its employees (which, as you know, it’s just me) in making content and editorial decisions on the study, findings, and reports. All data is propriety of thinkJar and not shared or distributed.


The Baffling Advances of Social Customer Service

I shared with you last week the first of four top-level insights gathered via the research I conduct every year (thanks to the sponsorship of my friends at KANA, a Verint company).  If you have not read them, you can read the high level entry here.

I am today going to start sharing the first of four blog posts to deal with the questions that are in most users mind these days (based on inquiries I get): mobile, social, operations and adoption.  After we post these four I will then publish the final report with all insights and data (likely end of January or beginning of February).  Stay tuned.

As you likely know, I am not the largest and most ardent proponent of Social Customer Service.  I have written plenty against it – all substantiated with data and case studies; I won’t start again…

OK, just a summary:

  • Twitter acknowledges that virtually all tools miss tweets from the “fire hose.”  The volume is just too much for most solutions to capture, analyze, and categorize in real time (it is possible, just not done well is the point)
  • Facebook continues improving their platform (not including privacy and ownerships rules, which are a topic by themselves) but they fail to notify developers that depend on existing APIs – thus rendering entire applications unable to connect without due notice or warning
  • Over 80% of contacts via social channels end up being escalated / diverted to a different channel for resolution
  • Over 50% of incoming tweets and Facebook messages (and this was before the switch to Facebooks messenger – which will bring another slew of problems) are not addressed, ignored, or abandoned before resolution by the brands
  • Integration between social solutions and the rest of the customer service channels and processes is ill-fitted (if done at all) and unsuitable to manage the expected loads as usage increases

In spite of these challenging statistics, and the lack of a significant number of successful case studies to refer to beyond the simple “anecdotes” that show it can be done Social adoption continues to be adopted at a fast pace.

In the first version of this study, carried out in 2012 during the height of the “craze” of social, we saw small and early adoption rates (Twitter was 25%, Facebook was 26%).  The following year, when we had already made some inroads into understanding the numbers above, and the lack of an integrated solution made it hard to justify to management, adoption continues strong – albeit at a slower pace.

This year? Still being adopted in large numbers.

When asked about latest channel implemented, 11% said that Twitter was the one and 18% said Facebook was the one.  When asked about channels that are implemented 59% said they had implemented Twitter and 58% said they had Facebook implemented.

When asked about the most used channel (a new question we incorporated this year) we noticed reality set in: neither one of them scored even a single vote.  And while we don’t have historical information to contrast with – it is important to notice that it is still early and we have not yet figured out how to use them properly.

Why is this happening?

Follow up interviews and existing inquiry data yield an answer: virtually all practitioners that have implemented and continue to implement social customer service say that it is because their customers demand it.  When pressed further for details on how they know what their customer demands are, their answer is what troubles me.

They did not ask their customer, or did not ask properly – but that is fodder for a different post.   Whether being served via social was something they needed or wanted, instead they assumed that since their customers were using those channels they wanted to be served via those channels.

This is the most dangerous assumption to make: you need to be where your customer is.  Customer enjoy using social channels for different reasons – but it does not necessarily mean they want to be served there.  As Facebook and Twitter have shown when attempting to conduct commerce directly via those channels, there is no demand just because they are there.

I wrote sometime ago an editorial advocating for single-channel excellence over multi-channel cacophonies.  It is still true today.  The main concept was that offering more channels, poorly, is not the approach to customer service.

Offering social, just because it is possible or because customers use social channels, is not a good idea until we can master the essential elements of how to do it well:

  • Resolving issues without escalation
  • Automating standard inquiries and responses
  • Integrating into existing components (like KM) and other systems of record
  • Deliveing consistent solutions and answers via all channels equally well

If you want to deliver social customer service find out how you can tend to those four elements before you get too far.  Else, you will be simply adding a layer of complexity, an element of cost, and a broken customer promise to your customer service implementation.

There is another element of social customer service that is somewhat disconcerting: when asked if they saw value to the organization and to the customers when delivering social customer service almost one out of four organizations said they did not see value to the customer (and in line with the last two years’ findings).  The question begs to be asked: considering the issues above, and the lack of ROI and / or value experienced – why would anyone think that social customer service must be deployed?

What are you doing with social customer service? Have you implemented yet? Have you found the answers to the above?

Would love to hear what you are doing, and your comments on this as, well.

Disclaimer: KANA, A Verint Company, is a client and the sole sponsor of this research report.  While they get input into the topics to survey, and provide feedback on the thesis before we start, the final decisions on content, questions, and analysis remain mine.  There is no input from anyone else other than thinkJar and its employees (which, as you know, it’s just me) in making content and editorial decisions on the study, findings, and reports. All data is propriety of thinkJar and not shared or distributed.

Channel Adoption and Usage Study in Customer Service: Third Year

As I promised earlier this year, I conducted the third run of the channel adoption and usage study (focused on customer service) that my friends at KANA, a Verint Company,  continue to generously sponsor.

Truth be told, it took a little longer than expected to get to the right number of answers, but we did quite well by collecting over 590 responses (and counting) from well-qualified customer service practitioners.

The collection happened between September and October and was done exclusively via an online survey.

I am still analyzing the data (and began the follow up conversations with some of the more than 180 people who offered to help beyond their answers) so there is some time left before I can publish the final report – but I have enough data points to begin to tell you the high level insights and remarkable data points.

There are four trends I want to highlight in this post (with early analysis).  More will come in future installments as I get more detailed information and better analysis underway.

  1. Social Advances. This one continues to baffle me, but – in spite of all studies and research pointing to diminishing or no returns in exchange for investment in social, the investment and adoption of social continue to grow.  That is both Facebook and Twitter.  Not online communities – almost like living in an alternate universe.
  2. Mobile is Making Inroads.  Either the rise of mobile was far more surreptitious that expected, or more than 2/3 of organizations have embraced mobile as a “channel” for customer service.  I suspect that most of the respondents think of mobile web as a separate channel, but more of this will be found during the follow-ups.
  3. Operationalization of Customer Service Continues.  This was something we began to notice 2 years ago: operations was in charge of customer service and customer experience initiatives, taking over from marketing and other departments.  Data shows the trend continuing, but slowing down.
  4. Chat is the Silent Winner.  From the beginning of this study we have seen a study increase in use of Chat in contact centers. This latest release puts Chat adoption at mainstream levels (over 30%, counting all modalities, 27% for straight chat).  Slowly but steadily Chat has become the silent winner in the channel wars.

The four topics above will be discussed in more detail in the next installments of these blogs.  The detailed analysis, including cross-tabs and follow-up interviews, will be released in first quarter of 2015 in the complete report.  In the interim, if there is anything else you would’ like to know – just ask,

Is this aligned with your initiatives and strategies?

Should it be? The answer to this, and some other questions, will be coming in the next few installments in this series.

Stay tuned.

(Of course, if you have a burning question you’d like answered or have a comment – by all means, let me know in the comments below)

Disclaimer: KANA, a Verint Company, is a client and the sole sponsor of this research report.  While they get input into the topics to survey, and provide feedback on the thesis before we start, the final decisions on content, questions, and analysis remain mine.  There is no input from anyone else other than thinkJar and its employees (which, as you know, it’s just me) in making content and editorial decisions on the study, findings, and reports. All data is propriety of thinkJar and not shared or distributed to anyone or anything else.

Platforms: What FinancialForce, Xactly, and Hubspot Understand

Platforms – can’t live with them… pass the potatoes.

I know, we all hate platforms.

The crux of the problem is explaining what a platform is and how it works, I can write for ages about the details and go into nitpicking details – and never publish.  The closest I got to it was the post I did when SFDC announced Salesforce1 (the platform, not the message of a mobile client attempt at confusing users).

But the issue remains: how to explain platforms easy and simple?

Then, it hit me as I was sitting at conference after conference these past weeks: use examples.  I collected some of the most obvious ones these past months and I want to share them with you to try to elucidate on what platforms are and how they work.

Defining a Platform

If there was ever a fool’s errand it is to try to get y’all to agree on what a platform is.  I know better than that.

However, before we start I want to give you a short version of  what I call platforms (and what you should also, if you want to be right… ok, ok, just messing with you…).

First a proper definition, but not from Webster’s (who misses the point by simply stating it is an OS – which is a very basic form or platform, but not related to cloud computing), but form Wikipedia (after disambiguation, ended up in computing platform) that says:

A computing platform is, in the most general sense, whatever pre-existing environment a piece of software is designed to run within, obeying its constraints, and making use of its facilities. Typical platforms include a hardware architecture, an operating system (OS), and runtime libraries

Some of the critical pars of this definition are: environment, self-contained, and with specific resources to leverage the environment at least as I read it, but I may be biased. Also, by “hardware architecture” I interpret Cloud Computing in the context of this post and my future writings.

In cloud computing, a hardware / software architecture combination, the platform is the middle layer that provides essential, secure, scalable, and repeatable services that are then leveraged by the SaaS and IaaS layers to run operations.  Think of it as a “traffic cop” that ensures that the right element (data, function, integration point, more) goes where it is supposed and ends up in the right place, after providing it with the right resources to get there.

The easiest way to think about a platform (PaaS) in cloud computing is to look at the requirements:

  • A component of a three tier open cloud architecture (entails being able to communicate with any IaaS or PaaS or SaaS component directly without point-to-point integration) – see figure below


  • A collection of functions delivered like a service (see some of the examples in the picture above); if you want to call them APIs, do so – but make sure they are open, discoverable, and secure as services at the very least (there is lot more about this coming in future posts).

I am in awe of the many versions and approaches I am finding (as well as failed attempts).  I will highlight a few, but know that I’m merely pointing you to some of the most mature I found; there are many, many others not included here (I cannot cover everything in one post, sorry).

The Platform-to-Platform Play a very interesting play on platforms, as they are both an application leveraging (Salesforce1) as a platform and a platform on their own.  Depending on what solutions you implement you are either using a service that is delivered on top of (Salesforce1) or their own platform that also connects to Salesforce1 ( to provide additional services.

As you see in the chart above, there is an inherent element to cloud-based platforms that is to connect to other platforms and FinancialForce has done this quite well.  By establishing these connections between platforms they both deliver a value add via  new platform that can easily integrate into exiting ones as well as leverage previous investments the customer may have made.

This is the way organizations will leverage the solutions and power provided them by vendors in the cloud: through an aggregation of multiple services delivered by a myriad of platforms providers.

The traditional role of the vendor as a seller of software that does everything end-to-end is coming to an end and being replaced by vendors that connect platforms and offer services on top of them.

The Leveraged Outcome Play

The second example is something that Xactly showcased earlier this year: a new service based on the outcomes generated by the established service they provide.

If you don’t follow Xactly they have a service that helps organizations manage their compensation strategies and tactics.  They do this by delivering data points showing  what others are doing (anonymously) and use that information, together with real-time performance data, to manage compensation for sales people.

In a world that is dramatically changing the value and purpose of the salesperson, Xactly offers organizations an easy way to manage their performance and to reward the right behaviors with proper compensation dynamically and flexibly.

One of the things that Xactly noticed was that they had access to reams of data about more than compensation: who the people were, how they acted, what they did and didn’t do, what worked and didn’t, etc.  All that data started to show insights that were too useful to be abandoned.  Xactly at first used them to share with their clients, in a non-methodic manner, as casual insights.

Along the way they figured two things: one, the insights could be a  product once they figured a method to share them consistently with customers who wanted to know not only how they compared to others, but also what worked and didn’t for others.

Second, it was not only that specific data that made sense-  but the model.  The model of collecting data, any data, from transactions and operations as part of cloud-provided services.  This model, together with the data and the insights, became the basis for a new service they provided via their existing platform by simply leveraging the outcomes and the results of the other services.

This is what platforms do divinely well and easy: extend what has been done into many different new directions with minimal effort.

The Extending Functionality Play

Another platform example that I noticed recently was Hubspot.  At their recent user conference they announced that in addition to the Marketing Automation functionality they were already offering they would begin to offer more basic CRM functionality (related to Sales and Pipeline management as well as contact management).

This was partly led by requests from their clients and partly by them noticing that the data was the same and if they could add a few more reporting and operations functions to the cadre of services their platform offered they could extend the functionality of their platform – but more importantly do so in a way that delivered what customers wanted to see.

Hubspot focus was not only on the data they could add to their existing database, but more on the functions that their customers could not complete with other offerings as well as extending the functionality of their functional and reporting services.

By extending the functionality of their platform (adding new services) they were able to deliver more value to their customers and also showed them how easy it was to do so, enabling future requests for added functionality to come in to them and they can fulfill them – continuing the cycle.

Other Examples

One more place where I am seeing the rise of platforms play is in the CRM Idol competition.  Now on its fourth year, we are used to seeing the contest showcase the main technical challenges, and solutions, offered by new and starting CRM vendors.

During the previous years we saw plenty of focus on social, analytics, big data, marketing automation, and small medium businesses – but this year we are seeing a lot more focus on delivering all these solutions as platforms or even as services for other platforms.

While I cannot name names yet (as the contest is still underway and I cannot show favoritism) you can see the list of participants and draw your own conclusions.  However, know that I am more impressed by the technology deployment approach via platforms this year than at any other time.

Please keep in mind that these are just a few examples of what I am seeing as there are many other plays I didn’t highlight (but will going forward).

OK, your turn – flame on (I feel so old saying that)… Troll on… whichever you prefer.  Tell me what I missed and what you noticed.  Caveat: if you are vendor touting your own solution, likely that your comment will be “spamatized”.

What do you say?

disclaimer: as with any post mentioning vendors, I want you to know that FinancialForce and Hubspot were never (or are not now) clients.  They either paid expenses for conferences and events, or invited me to dinners and such.  Xactly is a current client.  Some of the CRM Idol vendors are or were clients also.  As always client status is not indication of inclusion, nor is inclusion in this post something I do for them to hire.  I’d be very surprised if they were to hire me because of this short mention in a blog post – but stranger things have happened and if this does I will update this post.