Are Support Systems Way Off-Base?

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Contact center agents have to handle a lot of data—and have to funnel it fast to handle customer requests. A knowledge base (KB) can act as a crystal ball to solve issues, but one industry analyst says it’s not enough in the developing space of knowledge management (KM).

In a recent Service & Support Professionals Association (SSPA) survey, 30 percent of respondents claimed to have an internally developed agent KB system, while an additional 19 percent reported using the KB capabilities in an existing CRM system. John Ragsdale, vice president of research for the SSPA, says these results are shocking. “The conclusions are a huge ‘a-ha!’ moment for me,” he admits. “People were responding that they couldn’t find the content they need. Now I understand why everyone is having this issue: So many are still storing knowledge bases on CRM systems.”

Ragsdale argues that companies are far too reliant on CRM knowledge bases. KBs included for free with CRM software, he says, are not an ideal solution for large amounts of data because they do not support complex data categorization, search and retrieval, automated maintenance options, or concept-level analysis. Ragsdale says that the CRM knowledge bases are a good start, but a poor long-term strategy: After one to two years, companies should invest in a more specialized system. Vendors offering agent-facing KB solutions include ATG, Helpstream, InQuira, Kaidara, Kana, Knova, RightNow Technologies, and Talisma (now an nGenera company).

Ragsdale says that many companies are building new search technology atop an old knowledge base to better find content in the system. “That’s a good workaround for the problem,” he says. “However, it doesn’t solve higher-level issues...including maintenance, duplication of information, unused content, and patterns of usage. You won’t have it if you’re using a knowledge base in your CRM system.”

These higher-level issues are an indication of the new age of KM, according to Michael Tarbet, vice president of Americas sales for Consona CRM (which includes the Knova knowledge base solution). “[You can call] the systems offered by most CRM companies a KM system if you want to use the definition that was invoked back in the ’90s,” he says. “When we think of it today, it’s not [the] static library of data [that] most of these old KM systems are.” New KM systems, he says, incorporate Web 2.0 technologies such as communities, forums, and self-service capabilities that keep consumers from picking up the phone and calling service agents. (Ragsdale’s study confirms this: The adoption of communities among SSPA members rose from 36 percent in 2007 to 49 percent this year.)

But why are so many still relying on old capabilities in legacy CRM systems? Tarbet says it’s from a lack of education regarding what KM can truly deliver—despite vendors’ best efforts.

Education aside, Ragsdale says that, as companies start to move away from legacy CRM implementations, the next two to five years will be about cost. “Companies don’t have to necessarily cut another $2 million check for CRM thanks to on-demand and a lot of new smaller, flexible products,” he says. “As part of this, companies will have to reevaluate content and decide what the new ‘home fort’ should be...and that will finally force people to take some action.”

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