Knowledge is power, the hive mind, killer apps, managing fear and resistance, winning over hearts and minds… We all know these well-worn phrases. They sound vaguely positive—but examined more closely, they prove to be little more than clichés and empty phrases. Whoever came up with them surely had the best intentions. But do they really add anything to the conversation when we’re talking about knowledge management for customer service? SABIO consultant Stefanie Blicke offers her take on the matter.
Knowledge is power. A knowledge management project will elicit the most resistance from those who do not wish to share their knowledge.
In other words, colleagues with lots of experience supposedly keep knowledge to themselves and leverage the power it gives them when confronted with impending changes.
What I wonder is, where do these great hoarders of knowledge hide? Because they’re never anywhere to be found when I show up. Most chronic foot draggers I’ve encountered in fact find it a huge relief when given the opportunity to convey their knowledge across channels that others can access. But this process takes time. People who have seen it all have a lot to share. Often, they need help structuring and processing that information. And not all implicit knowledge is easy to transform into explicit content. It just goes to show you that there’s simply no substitute for expertise. And that’s a good thing!
Skepticism is always about fear of change.
So if the entire staff doesn’t fully cooperate with the planned changes, this assumes the problem must lie with the employees themselves.
This manifests itself in new tools getting left hung out to dry, ignored by the customer care teams who were intended to use them. Or people take a wait-and-see approach, hunkering down until the latest change initiative blows over like a tropical storm. And yes, fear does play a role whenever changes are on the agenda. But honestly, if you’ve ever worked in customer care, then you know that things are forever shifting. Representatives are constantly forced to adapt to new products, telephone systems, scripts, and more. Regular training is a fact of life. So is learning. Change simply comes with the territory.
Of course, not every change is immediately accepted or taken seriously. Some people need more time to get used to a new tool than others. But if you show people a way to get to the right information faster and easier, they’ll normally be happy about that. Of course you can also mess things up if you try hard enough. But that doesn’t have anything to do with employees fearing change. It’s just a sign of a knowledge management project that wasn’t developed according to the organization’s true requirements.
That’s why it’s important to listen and take any doubts people have seriously, instead of simply attributing them to irrational fears. Where do you find these true requirements? In project management or steering committee meetings? Nope. In my projects, I listen to the “word on the street.” That means telephone calls, chat logs, support tickets, social media conversations, email, and written correspondence.
Hive mind vs. multi-level approval procedures.
We’re talking about democracy vs. oligarchy here.
My opinion is that the hive mind can only get you so far. It’s great, but it’s not the be-all, end-all that people make it out to be when they start singing the praises of the Sharing Economy. But I also don’t believe in top-down supervision that attempts to completely eliminate any and all mistakes. If I want to deploy a knowledge management system at a company, I have to first find out what kind of corporate culture I’m dealing with. Which hierarchies exist already, and which ones need to be created? How much time does the staff have to spend on knowledge management? How much knowledge is contributed by experts such as in-house legal counsel, human resources specialists, or simply based on management decisions? That’s one side to the question.
The other side takes a look at what’s possible. How much collaboration can be expected? Which channels are needed to accomplish that? How can I encourage as much collaboration on knowledge management as possible without asking for too much? How can I make knowledge from many different people available without creating conflicting statements and confusion? There is no one-size-fits-all solution here. That’s why these questions will always come up and are always important.
The perfect tool is one that has been custom tailored for the particular organization. Or is in fact the opposite true?
It’s like the phrase, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” Taken to the extreme, both positions are bunk. Most of us would rather take a walk when it’s 20°C and sunny outside than in sweltering 40°C heat or during an electrical storm. But it’s still good to have an umbrella or protection from the sun if we are outside during less-than-ideal conditions. What does this mean for knowledge management deployments? If you google, you’ll find 70 million websites that tell you all about perfect tools. But I’m convinced that there is no such thing as a perfect tool. Even if a system is custom-tailored to meet the specific requirements of a company, who is to say that the processes behind those requirements are perfect? How can anyone even claim to know which process is perfect for a given situation? Not to mention all the changes that are always taking place at the same time.
In most cases, it’s best to keep things simple. With a practical approach and a bit of imagination, an umbrella can be a perfectly good parasol.
To sum up, here are a few practical suggestions for people looking to use knowledge management for their customer support activities.
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