Before we begin talking about the adapting and implementing Knowledge-Centered Support, let us consider one of the key concept the methodology deals with. Namely, what is “Knowledge”? We do not think twice before uttering the word in professional communication, but chances are, being asked to define it will give you pause.
The concept of “Knowledge” is most easily explained in the context of such entities as “Data” and “Information”. My favorite definitions are “information is data, processed and presented in a human-readable format” and “knowledge is information, processed by a human”. It is extremely hard to borrow knowledge from someone. You can borrow information, but it will only become knowledge once you have internalized it and made certain conclusions based on personal experience.
The KCS methodology defines knowledge slightly differently - namely, as “information that enables one to take action”. KCS seeks to gather and record the collective experience within an organization - primarily, the kind of experience that can be re-used. The methodology, in general, is big on “reuse” and “enabling”. KCS is primarily interested on the kind of knowledge that enables action, and it is this kind of knowledge that we will be working with during implementation.
KCS elevates teamwork to the next level, and it makes the organization adopting it radically change its attitude towards collecting and creating knowledge. The standard paradigm assuming that the creation of new information and knowledge is the sole responsibility of an individual or a group of individuals whose purpose is education and training will not work here. The core idea of KCS is that all employees of the adopting organization are equally responsible for and engaged in the creation of knowledge. Thus, the team members have to not only perform the usual daily tasks required to serve the customers, but also to improve the quality of education within the organization and to improve the collective body of knowledge. The implementation of collective knowledge management in the organization lays the groundwork for the adoption of KCS.
Processes, practices, techniques, and the double loop
The KCS processes involve three main components: KCS articles, the Solve loop, and the Evolve loop. KCS articles are the methodology’s heart and soul, and have to be up-to-date, easily searchable, and written in such a way as to be accessible to the target audience. The practices and techniques described in the solve and evolve loops are focused on creating knowledge base articles and keeping them up-to-date with the help of certain procedures.
In KCS, the combination of the solve and evolve loops is also called “the double loop”. Let us take a look at this loop and its internal structure.
The solve loop involves finding the solution to an issue experienced by a customer. All known issues must have a corresponding knowledge base article. An article must contain the list of actions to be taken to resolve the corresponding issue. The goal of an employee within this loop is to document the solution for a specific issue, so that his or her colleagues could use it in the future. Having an established, but not rigid structure to integrate the articles into is a big plus.
The solve loop involves four practices:
Capture - knowledge is gathered in parallel with solving the issue affecting the customer, using the customer’s words. The sooner an issue is documented, the greater the chance that the details will be recorded correctly and using the terminology of the customer. According to KCS, it is recommended to document even those issues that do not yet have a solution, because it increases the chances of a solution being found based on the collective knowledge, or an employee who may have already encountered the issue recalling the steps taken to resolve it in the past. KCS best practices recommend that an employee who has just finished resolving an issue should check his or her department’s knowledge base to a) verify that the corresponding article is up-to-date and b) see if their recent experience can be used to improve it.
Structure - consistent, logical structure and simple templates make knowledge base articles easy to read and improve the retention of information contained within. Employees must have the ability to easily tell which parts of an article contain the description of the issue, the solution, and the customer-specific details that may be helpful during the troubleshooting. Well-structured and consistently formatted articles will save the employees a lot of time and make searching for the required information much easier.
Reuse - search strings used to look for information in the knowledge base must be recorded and analyzed. Specific words and phrases typed into the search field must be treated as valuable information and used to optimize the existing knowledge base articles to improve the chance of users finding the relevant article. If, at the time a specific issue arises, there is not yet a corresponding knowledge base article, one must be created using the words in the corresponding search query. To put it plainly, the methodology recommends employees in customer service positions to regularly search the knowledge base using their customers’ words and phrases, and ensure that the articles containing corresponding solutions can be found using the customers’ terminology.
Improve - a knowledge base is a collection of shared, communal experience. It is important that all members of a collective take responsibility for the articles they create and maintain. Obsolete, incorrect, or unclear articles should be flagged for review and improvement, and if an employee believes that he or she has the necessary expertise, they should have the ability to make corrections to a faulty or outdated article. Make an effort to instill a sense of responsibility for keeping the knowledge base up-to-date in your employees to create a feeling of attachment and promote making the necessary changes to keep the articles actual.
The evolve loop involves developing and maintaining existing knowledge. Knowledge base articles are checked to see if they meet the quality requirements, are up-to-date, have no duplicates, and correspond to the established format.
The evolve loop involves four practices:
Content health - a KCS term indicating whether the knowledge base articles are of high enough quality, as determined by meeting certain criteria specified by the Article Quality Index (AQI).
To see whether an article meets the AQI requirements, the following aspects are checked:
The title of the article clearly reflects the content.
The article uses the terms featured in a glossary listing all terms used in the knowledge base. The KCS methodology requires all team members to use consistent terminology.
The article conforms to the common, pre-defined structure and uses only approved styles, templates, etc. to look uniform with other articles in the knowledge base. If keeping knowledge base articles uniform presents a challenge, it is recommended to create a few article templates to be used as the basis for all new articles.
The article has no duplicates. Whenever an employee sets out to create a new knowledge base article, he or she must first make sure that there are no existing articles covering the issue at hand.
The article is accompanied by the required metadata: the article's type, status, corresponding keywords, etc.
Process integration - to speed up the adoption of KCS in an organization and maximize the chances of success, in is necessary to integrate the KCS knowledge base with all main organizational platforms used within the organization. The utmost priority is integration with the CRM and helpdesk/ticket-based issue tracking systems being used - that is, all systems meant to facilitate contact with customers (and other employees as well, if you plan to adopt the methodology outside the support department). This ensures that the employees have immediate access to the necessary content immediately after a ticket is created, and do not need to waste time looking for the knowledge base or searching for the relevant article. It is also recommended to have the ability to link tickets to the knowledge base article (or articles) containing the solution.
Performance assessment - this practice is, in many regards, similar to the “content health” one, but besides rating the quality of the knowledge base articles in compliance with AQI, performance assessment also deals with rating the efficiency of the employees. KCS includes supplementary practices for building the relationships within the team and improving the team’s efficiency. For example, KCS roles help to distribute the responsibilities between all members of the team, making individual group members responsible for specific aspects of the system.
All roles are meant to promote collaboration, knowledge sharing, and the progress from individual to communal knowledge within the organization. When assessing the employees’ efficiency, it is important to focus not on the individual knowledge, but on the contribution made to the development of the communal knowledge within the organization, and the effort made to cooperate with other team members.
Leadership and communication - the previous item in the list probably tipped you off about the importance of keeping the employees talking to each other. It is equally important to have leaders able to accept the responsibility for improving the system and motivating other employees to do their share. Leaders are key to the establishment of KCS-compliant processes within an organization, and must perform two important duties:
Set the goals for the team, and
Ensure that the tools and the infrastructure of the organization are integrated with the KCS knowledge base and help support business processes.
There are a lot of KCS practices and media helping to establish interaction and cooperation within the organization - you can read about some of them here. Gamification can help you to motivate your employees and increase their engagement by introducing goals and levels, and financial incentives are always effective, but this is a topic for the next time.