Knowledge Management: Don’t Do Digital Customer Service Without It

Some of you may be familiar with the American Express ad slogan, “Don’t leave home without it.” I was reminded of it when I looked at the findings of various research studies in the realm of digital customer service. Not to violate any copyright law here, I think businesses would be well-served to remember the advice, “Don’t do digital customer service without knowledge management.”

Customer service is going digital

Digitalization of customer experiences was well under way even before COVID hit. The pandemic turbocharged that trend when even older consumers fled to digital to protect themselves from the virus. In fact, in a 2020 consumer survey, conducted by Dimensional Research on our behalf, 80% of respondents said they increased their use of digital channels amid COVID—92% of Gen Z, 87% of millennials, and even 69% of baby boomers.

We are almost at the two-year mark since the initial COVID outbreak but what was supposed to be the post-pandemic era has become the long-tail variant era. This means that digital customer service will continue to see more adoption across all age groups. Many businesses have responded by rushing to add digital touchpoints. However, customer experience (CX), a lot of it digital, has barely budged.

Digital doldrums

A well-regarded CX measure, the Forrester CX Index, which covers digital as well as phone touchpoints, did not show any “meaningful” movement in 2021, compared to the baseline in 2019 among US brands. Canadian brands were no different (Sources: Forrester’s US and Canada Customer Experience Index Reports, 2021.) Per the Dimensional Research survey cited above, chatbots, a much-ballyhooed digital touchpoint, ranked last in customer satisfaction with 57% of consumers getting confused by the answers the bots were giving, which were different from the answers they got at other touchpoints. In the same survey, 65% of respondents said they got different answers across different channels when they contacted healthcare insurance carriers or providers. Imagine the anxiety and confusion it might have created in the thick of COVID when consumers were calling these organizations about coverage and care!

Why bother

Customer experience has been the #1 area for digital transformation and companies can ill-afford to fail here. After all, “digital or danger” has gone to “digital or death” for businesses in the pandemic era. Moreover, Gartner predicts that by 2023, organizations at advanced stages of digital transformation will find that poor customer experience is their biggest barrier to further success. But why wait till then to find out? There is a solution that you can put in place right now to turbocharge your digital transformation success and get ahead of competitors!

The solution

According to a recent research report from Gartner, knowledge management (KM) is the No 1 technology for enhancing the three main customer service perspectives of operational performance, CX, and employee experience, digital or otherwise. We are not surprised. In a survey of 5000 consumers conducted by Forrester Consulting on our behalf, respondents had said as much when picking the barriers to getting good customer service (they were allowed to pick up to two choices.)

  • The reps did not know the answer 34%
  • You get different answers, depending on whom you talk to 41%
  • Can’t find answer on website 31%
  • Other factors 17%

On the other side, when contact center agents were asked in a multinational survey about the hurdles they face in providing good service to customers, here is what they had to say:

  • Finding the right answers to customer questions 26%
  • Different systems/information sources give different answers 25%
  • Hopping from one application/window to another 20%
  • Hard to keep up with all the new information/changes I need to know about 14%
  • Other issues 15%

In other words, 85% of agents pointed to knowledge-related issues as the biggest deterrents to their own experience, which would have been passed on to customers.

These surveys validate Gartner’s knowledge management prescription to improve the customer and employee experiences as well as operating performance. And this is exactly what we have seen among our clients as well.

From dreadful to delightful

Based on what customers, agents, and industry pundits tell us, the answer to fixing CX is to fix the foundation first, which is knowledge. It is important to have a robust knowledge management system, concurrent with the deployment of your very first digital interaction channel so that you can have a flying start with digital customer service and build on it.

It is important to leverage best practices for success in knowledge management. Take a hub approach to conversational context and knowledge management rather than creating dysfunctional silos with point products. Partner with a solution provider, who offers rich functionality out of the box as well as domain expertise for quick business value. Start with what customers are looking for and focus the knowledge scope, using the 80–20 rule. Leverage knowledge analytics to understand what is working and what is not, and to expand the knowledge scope over time. Arm agents with modern knowledge management capabilities that not only include multiple ways to search for answers but also arm them with conversational and process guidance so they can handle more complex queries, while being compliant with regulations.

With the right mix of knowledge management technology, best practices, and a solution partner, you can take digital customer service from dreadful to delightful in a matter of weeks. Your customers won’t leave your website without your products, and they may even use their American Express card for buying them!

Anand Subramaniam, SVP Marketing, eGain

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