Let me paint you a typical problem in a home office scenario: You are working at home finishing a document you need for your meeting on Monday morning, click on Print – and nothing happens. Try again, still nothing. You go through your standard “repair” techniques: turn the printer off and on, unplug the connecting cable from the printer and the computer, reconnect it, save your work and restart the computer; still nothing.
It’s time to go to your favorite search engine. You type some keywords (printer, printer model, error message if any, words “not working”) and find 1,250,000+ links. You click on some of them, and get pieces of the information you need. Your printer’s web site says you need to reset the printer, your computer’s website talks about upgrading drivers, and the operating system’s support site talks about parameters in the registry.
Who is right? What shall you do?
Welcome to the problem with knowledge: we have too much of it and it is too widely distributed. Finding the right information is not easy, and even when you do it is generally not complete: either you are missing steps that a vendor assumes you know, or there is a link to a third-party web site that is broken so you never find what you need. The level of frustration increases with each passing moment since all you want is to print, or at least to troubleshoot your problem.
According to The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI, run by the University of Michigan) customer satisfaction with personal computers support departments has been in a steady decline for the past 10-15 years. This is when the interconnectivity between components escalated, and self-service knowledge centers came online. As it turns out, the cost for self-service may be in the pennies per transaction for the organization, but the cost to the customer is much higher in wasted time and frustration.
Pushing the customer to support themselves via a self-service center might sound like a good move when you have a simple solution, with no inter-dependent components, but when the problem could have multiple origins, letting the customer try to figure out what is the proper way to troubleshoot and solve the problem does not work.
The problem is even bigger for brands. Beyond upset and frustrated customers taking cheap shots at their products in social networks, they also have to deal with customer service agents and their lack of access to information. The number one reason for churn in a call center is that agents don’t have access to the right systems or information to do their jobs. When the customer cannot find what they want online, they reach for the contact center. Alas, if the agents don’t have any more information than the customer has – there is nothing they can do but sit there and be yelled at.
What is the solution?
There are three models that could solve this problem:
Hybrid Knowledge Bases – To create a hybrid knowledge base combine the content from two or more knowledge bases into a massive knowledge base. The problem with hybrids is that very quickly they become so massive that finding anything is impossible. So end users find the first 2-3 entries and hope that is the answer – similar to doing a search in the open internet – and they are not very easy to manage either.
Knowledge Management Partnerships – Two or more vendors work jointly to create solutions that are later propagated in their respective knowledge bases. In the example above, the operating system vendor would work with the printer vendor to produce specific knowledge in the places where they intersect, and then put that in both knowledge bases. The sheer complexity of coverage for all the possible combinations, and then being able to keep those up-to-date is where the model falls apart.
Federated Knowledge Bases –A federated knowledge base works in a similar model to a federated government: each vendor controls the knowledge specific to their products, and then work together in the areas where they intersect with other vendors. Using the example above, the operating system vendor would create and maintain their own knowledge base for all the issues related to printers, and then jointly create and use knowledge for where they intersect with the specific printer in question. Each vendor can create and manage their own knowledge base, they can maintain it as needed, and need to focus on only very little information in regards to the other vendors. This information does not even have to be the same as the other vendor in the same intersection, just has to be accurate from their perspective (chances are that they will be the same, or very close in nature).
Obviously there are different scenarios that would work for each model, but the federated model is the one that works better when both partners have a similar commitment to the enrichment of their knowledge bases and they rely equally on their Knowledge Bases for service.
How do go about implementing a Federated Knowledge Base? That is our next installment…This is part one of a six-part sponsored research project I am doing with NoHold. Stay tuned for more on federated knowledge, a very cool topic indeed!