The Power of Information

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For the rest of the August 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

[Editors' Note: An earlier chapter in this case study recently appeared online at our blog — www.destinationCRMblog.com.] 

When the product you’re selling is support, then the support you provide is vital. OSIsoft is a 29-year-old company that made its name—and still makes its livelihood—delivering data-gathering systems that help record and track the health of software. If its product goes down, the customer’s lights may go off—literally. With more than 14,000 installations across manufacturing, energy, utilities, life sciences, data centers, and process industries, OSIsoft needed to be able to home in on potential issues before they had a chance to derail business.

“The real-time recording of manufacturing information captured in the system—that’s our gift,” says Don Smith, vice president of customer support for OSIsoft. “That’s big for our customers that need to learn how efficient they are and how effectively they’re complying with government requirements.”

Smith says that, while customer-retention rates were holding steady in the “high 90s percentile,” there was still room for improvement in the support his staff delivered. “We believe that we provide premium support for critical infrastructure items,” he says. “Our customers pay well for that support, and expect us to consistently provide it.”

Consequently, OSIsoft decided the time had finally come to fix a long-standing problem—its knowledge base. Smith says the company had one in various forms for the past 20 to 25 years, but the innate problem was there was no easy way to allow an already-overtaxed staff—answering approximately 34,000 calls per year—to constantly monitor the assorted content and keep it all up-to-date. “We would do a post-survey with customers, and we found they thought support was excellent—but they only found the right answers on the knowledge base articles 40 percent of the time,” he says.

Relying on the intelligence of his support crew—most of whom have degrees in engineering or an engineering discipline—Smith decided to develop an internal wiki to make it easier to create content and get the best minds involved in making sure articles had the proper information. “We wanted to share knowledge and be able to answer support cases more rapidly,” he says. “We needed to ensure the best knowledge was in each answer.”

OSIsoft selected Socialtext, a provider of enterprise 2.0 solutions, to deliver a wiki that Smith says he hoped would enable all OSIsoft staffers to add their two cents when applicable. (In some ways, Socialtext’s offering is a second-generation descendant of OSIsoft itself—each had as its goal the delivery of living, breathing, real-time information to its user base.)

The wiki’s ease of use allows not only for better articles to be shared internally, but for a higher number of them to exist in the first place. According to statistics pulled together by Smith, 160 employees have contributed to the wiki, 390 have used it, and approximately 130 support articles are created per month. Before Socialtext, only 10 articles were trickling into the internal system each month to help with customer support. “The key deliverable for us is that we have participation by a large percentage of our users,” he says, referring to the surge in articles.

Customer support agents can access the knowledge right away, even if the articles are still in the process of being finished. The entire company can contribute, which means other departments can add their expertise to the living-and-breathing documents. The up-to-the-second change log also included in the Socialtext wiki enables all employees to see who is changing or altering which articles—allowing for companywide transparency. “I’ve been here almost 30 years now,” Smith says. “I’ve never seen any system picked up and adopted as quickly as this one.”

Old content with incorrect information could infuriate users, but Socialtext pushes the newest, most-pertinent articles to the top—an essential trait, Smith says. “The wiki has been able to push down old articles and even flag a few that are obsolete,” he says.

The next step for OSIsoft is to take all of the information collected in the wiki for internal use and share the wealth with another group—perhaps the most important one: the end customers. “We think this will be a way to further endear our customers to us,” Smith says.

Since utilizing Socialtext to bolster service, OSIsoft has:

  • increased from 29 percent to 80 percent the share of new employees opting for a service role;
  • expanded the creation of support articles from 10 per month to 130 per month;
  • reduced from five to one the number of people needed to update a knowledge base article;
  • seen 160 employees, more than a third of the company’s workforce, contribute to the wiki; and
  • reenergized a support staff that had previously felt it was making little impact.

[Editors' Note: The results appearing in this online version of the case study include one substantive alteration from the printed edition. The original text noted that the "retention" rate among support employees rose from 29 percent to 85 percent; in fact, "retention" mischaracterized the nature of this statistic, which has been amended here as follows: OSIsoft increased from 29 percent to 80 percent the share of new employees opting for a service role.]

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