Knowledge Management Plays a Key Role in CRM Success

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CRM and knowledge management (KM) were once considered entirely different disciplines, with the two sharing little but perhaps the same data warehouse hardware and a vague understanding that both efforts were meant to improve business efficiency and customer satisfaction. It has become clear, however, that the two disciplines were really working toward the same goal, and that to deliver continuous improvement to business clients, they would have to start speaking the same language. "Clearly, harnessing knowledge is important in a CRM environment," says Mary Wardley, lead CRM analyst at IDC. Thus CRM, KM, and data search-and-retrieval solutions are converging--out of necessity and out of customer demand. "These three markets are in concert, evolving next to each other, and sort of contingent on each other," she says. Knowledge-centered CRM firms like RightNow Technologies have brought greater attention to the crossover, as have such mergers as ATG/Primus. Wardley credits the focus that comes from applied business initiatives like CRM projects with giving KM greater focus. "Knowledge management, I would propose, suffers from [the lack of clarity around] 'What do you do with it? Is this corporate knowledge, or is it product, people, and customer knowledge?'" KM focuses largely on finding the right solution to a problem that requires detailed insight, be it locating the right expert at the right time, or ensuring that the solution to a complex problem can be written once but reused many times. It is not difficult to understand why that capability is of great interest to CRM strategists. Industry estimates suggest that upwards of three quarters of variable support costs come from the time and energy put into the resolution of customer support inquiries, rather than routing and post-call management. "The [routing and management] processes have already been automated by robust systems from Genesys and Aspect, and from Siebel, PeopleSoft, and Clarify," says Ben Kaplan, vice president of marketing and products for knowledge systems developer Kanisa. "The resolution process remains largely unautomated, because [KM] technologies are tools and not solutions, devoid of business process support or any deep integration with the customer service business process," Kaplan says. "The way you make knowledge management successful, making it move customer service metrics, is to integrate it very deeply into the CRM system and very deeply with business process support." Better KM/CRM integration can help companies navigate complex support problems more easily. Many manufacturers, such as computer companies, sell a single product that may incorporate dozens or even hundreds of other components. Being able to cross-reference the entire collected library for technical support and conflict resolution can make the difference between first-call resolution and a lingering headache. Many companies still have not attained the level of deep integration that ties knowledge base activity (particularly at the self-service level) to a CRM-facing customer record, but companies like computer peripheral manufacturer Adaptec use the intersection of CRM and KM to guide product and service decisions and attempt to waylay customer service overloads before they begin. "The goal is obviously to answer as many questions as we possibly can on the knowledge base, rather than having them come in through the phones or Web mail," says Michael Thomsen, Adaptec service planning and development manager. Thomsen's team coordinates with marketing to prepare the company's RightNow knowledge base with adequate content for new product launches, and to update the business on forgotten products that still receive interest from end users. IDC's Wardley says that building those bridges between sales, marketing, service, and the internal content masters is the real challenge. "The biggest problem encountered is getting the internal cooperation from the organizations responsible for maintaining the data," she says. "It's a business process issue." Conquering their own individual demons will not mean the end of the road for CRM and knowledge management leaders, as they must join forces to realize even more value from the spheres of customer and product knowledge. "The technology is not the biggest hurdle, it is having the business structure," Wardley says. "[The problem is] not silos of information, it's silos of jurisdiction."
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