A Thousand Points of Light, Knowledgebase, a Path to Call Center Salvation?

By Colin Taylor

When George H W Bush used this phrase he was referring to diversity. I think that this phase aptly characterizes the plight of many organizations that struggle with managing their knowledge and information.
Knowledge management was fairly straightforward for many years. There was a binder or a manual that was written and developed to assist the user in understanding the system, product, procedure, process, or service. When questions arose in the office or in the call center the binder was the oracle of truth. “If its’ in the book it must be right”. Doing it by the book became cliché.

But as the accessibility to and the generation of information grew through the internet and corporate intranets more and more information became available. Updating the hard copy ‘book’ became viewed as a time consuming and unnecessary task as it could be now provided electronically.

Companies began putting their information and knowledge on internal sites (intranets) and externally on their public internet sites. Ownership of these tasks was migrated to webmasters and IT departments whose primary role was to keep the infrastructure and sites functioning. They would put up whatever they were asked to. There was little concern for the content, or currency of the content as it wasn’t their responsibility. As more content, information and knowledge was created more people within the organization were given the right to post and add content. The increased availability and ease of access to this information was a great boon for business. Information and answers could be found and often found quickly and easily.

However problems soon began to crop up. Too much information, duplicated and/or conflicting information began to clutter the virtual ‘book’. The cause: while companies had become very adept at creating, posting and sharing information and knowledge, they hadn’t developed the corollary skills of maintaining, renewing and retiring this same information.

For call and contact centers this could be specifically problematic. Customers could research their question or query and then phone the call center only to get a different answer. For one of our clients ‘Answer Shopping’ became so rampant that over 20% of all inquiries cited different answers the caller had found on their own. The callers often called back repeatedly until they received the answer they were seeking. This client a well known international charity knew they had a problem with knowledge management. They just didn’t know how significant it was.

Research showed that for many important processes there were up to five answers or descriptions of how to complete the procedure. Digging a little deeper TRG discovered that all five had been accurate at one time, although only one was correct today.

This discovery, combined with the cost impact of fielding multiple calls for ‘answer shopping’ clients and the overall confusion that multiple correct answers created prompted the client to start a program with The Taylor Reach Group, Inc (TRG) to build a knowledgebase to identify and categorize all organizational knowledge.

The first step in the process was to identify what was presently available on the intranet, internet and through all other media (hard copy, electronic, forms etc.). This exercise resulted in more than 100,000 knowledge points being identified. A knowledge point being any identifiable piece of information that provided guidance, instruction, document/forms related to a business process or procedure.

The second step was to identify the individuals within the organization who were best qualified to verify each individual knowledge point. This exercise resulted in identifying more than 100 Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) within the organization. This was then taken up to the management level to find who was the ultimate owner of the knowledge point or Subject Matter Owners (SMO’s).

The knowledge management structure that was developed for this client then included:

  • Knowledge points: any identifiable piece of information that provided guidance, instruction, document/forms related to a business process or procedure.
  • SME: the individual best qualified to confirm, correct and maintain knowledge.
  • SMO’s (Subject Matter Owners): The individual who has primary business ownership for the knowledge points and SME’s related to specific knowledge. And who was therefore responsible to the business and approved any changes, additions or deletions.

A rigorous review of all knowledge points with all SME’s was implemented using this structured approach. Each knowledge point was assessed, validated (confirmed to be correct and appropriate), incorrect (where a new knowledge point needs to be created). A timetable was established to create any required new knowledge points and an approval process was established to require SMO sign off on all new knowledge before it could be loaded into the knowledgebase.

All validated knowledge points required a defined review cycle of between 30 days to annual review. Once the review cycle was established the SME would receive an email requesting that they review a specific knowledge point and confirm if the knowledge was: still accurate or required modification or deletion. The SME was further asked to identify when this would be completed. Thirty days after the original email was sent to the SME, the system escalated the review to the SMO, so that they could follow up and ensure that the knowledge was reviewed and changed if required to be corrected.

The last element of imbedding the knowledge management process within the client organization was to modify the position descriptions for each SME and SMO to specifically identify the knowledge that the position was responsible for. This allowed the ability to manage the staff going forward. Once SMO sign off was achieved ‘approved’ knowledge. Each ‘approved’ knowledge point identified was added to the knowledgebase.

This was a significant process that resulted in a more efficient contact center and less confusion on all sides. The knowledge management structure created then allowed the organization to implement technology to provide access and support the dissemination of organizational knowledge.

With a large undertaking such as this one; 100,000 individual knowledge points, over 100 SME’s and 20+ SMO’s, I am often asked how we did it. My response is always the same…”it is just like eating an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time”.

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