I have worked within support teams for half my life, and I’ve experienced many changes over the years. In essence support remains the same: helping someone who needs technical assistance. However, the way we go about it has become both easier and more challenging in equal measures. Expectations have gone up, (unfortunately I no longer receive a bunch of flowers just for helping someone to clear up their hard disk!), but technology improvements have also enabled us to use our time much more efficiently.
In the past, I have worked for support organizations where it has felt so busy that we had no time for anything other than working through “the backlog.” I now realize that we were so focused on reactive support that we didn’t realize quite how much we could benefit from stepping away from this to put some of our efforts into proactively creating a knowledge repository.
At LANDesk, we make sure that our support organization looks at success as being not just fixing issues or answering questions once, but also effectively making use of what we’ve learned during that process. We do this by working closely with the Development teams to highlight areas where we feel we should focus on improving product quality and the user experience. Another area in which we put extra emphasis is on creating and improving knowledge content which enables our customers, partners, and support teams to find their own solutions. This is where my role comes in.
The knowledge sharing methodology which we have invested in is called Knowledge Centered Support (KCS). It made sense to us that every problem we solve is potentially some new information that should be easily captured so that it can be reused again. Over the years I have seen first-hand that the shift has gone from being asked the same questions repeatedly to receiving less volume but each question of a greater complexity. This brings its own challenges, but I feel a sense of relief that the experience I had when starting in support of picking up the phone to repeat the same set of steps multiple times a day has now gone.
With KCS it has been a learning process about what works and what doesn’t. Most of all what we have learned is that KCS isn’t something you can implement and then leave alone. It’s something which needs constantly tweaking, emphasizing, and learning from.
We’ve also learned that KCS is more about having the right people than it is about having the right processes. That starts with employing people who care about not just solving the customer’s issue but taking the time to capture it. It also extends right up to the management team knowing that who they should value within their organization are not just the heroes who can rescue a bad situation but those who can explain the steps that they took so that they can be understood and followed again.
Here are tips of things that have worked for us:
- Be as transparent as you dare. If people know who wrote a piece of knowledge content they can thank them or ask them to clarify something. The author can also feel some pride in what they’ve written. People love seeing that an article they’ve written has helped someone else to be successful. It spurs them on to write some more.
- Team-based targets rather than individual targets. At LANDesk Support we can all see what individual contribution our colleagues have made and this helps to encourage some competitive streaks. However the targets we set are all team-based. This means that close colleagues will all work to improve the content together rather than trying to keep the best information for themselves.
- Some knowledge is better than no knowledge. Yes, you should set some guidelines and you should have some processes to maintain the quality level. Ensure that you don’t have too many rules and they aren’t too strict. If it’s an unpleasant or lengthy experience for the knowledge author they won’t want to go through it again, and there’s always plenty of other things they could be doing instead.
- Make recognition both fun and official. By following KCS, we recognize only when a piece of knowledge has been successfully used to solve a problem, not just that it was created. Fun bobble-head trophies, competitions, and scoreboards all work well to give recognition to people who have made extra efforts with knowledge sharing. What works even better is if top knowledge contributors are also more likely candidates for official employee recognition and are often the first to be considered for promotion.
- Keep training and coaching. Don’t just send an email or update a document when your processes change, people don’t always read them or remember what they’ve read. Invest some time in meeting with individuals as often as you can to talk about how things work, how they are working, and what steps can be taken to be even better. Meet with new starters as a part of their induction process but don’t forget the people who have been in the team a long time who may need to rethink the way they work.
- Mindset is important. People need to understand that in order to write a great knowledge article you don’t need to be an expert. You just need to identify a knowledge gap and know enough to be able to fill it. A well-written knowledge article from a new member of staff can sometimes be of equal value as a whitepaper written by an expert on that topic.
We are still learning and can identify many places where we still want to improve. What we do feel now is that we truly have the commitment and recognition for knowledge sharing as an important part of what we do as a department. We believe that with this in place the rest will come one step at a time.