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  • 03:54:16 pm on June 24, 2009 | 1 | # |

    For what it’s worth

    The way things are these days, it’s more important than ever for companies to retain customers.  But at the same time those same customers are looking to save money and are more likely to go to a competitor who offers them a lower price.   This results in a precipitous ledge that your critical revenue and hard-won customer relationships could slip right over.

    I experienced this situation from the customer’s viewpoint just the other day.  For the first year, the oil changes on my car were covered by the factory so I faithfully brought the vehicle in every 3,000 miles, got the required service and owed nothing.  Then the meter ran out on my free oil changes and they started costing $29.95 at the dealership’s service shop.  One day I went to another dealership, one further away from home but one that, unlike my usual service provider, was open on Saturdays and discovered that I could get the oil changed there for only $9.95.  Wow! What a deal.  I got a few more oil changes there but went back to my original provider when I had a check-engine light because they were closer.  The service advisor asked me if I’d like to get the oil changed while I was in because it was almost due anyway.  I hated to say “no” but told him about the deal I’d been getting at the other shop.

    Now things could have gone several different ways at that point.  I might not have said anything to begin with.  The service advisor might have tried to play the “loyalty card” and tried to make me feel guilty for switching on him.  He might have just let it go without commenting.  Instead he asked me a question: “What brand of filter are they using?”  I told him that they used a well-known brand of filter.   “You know, that model has 30% less filter surface area than the original equipment filter we use and only costs our dealerships a little more than a dollar.”   He went on to add that his shop had recently issued a coupon for a $19.95 oil change using the better OEM filter and offered to set things up so I always got that price from now on even without the coupon.  I took him up on it and I’m sticking with him and his shop for my oil changes.

    Why?  Because he explained to me in a way that made sense and without resorting to slinging mud at the competition what it was worth to me to pay a little more for a superior service and product.  Before our brief conversation I thought all name-brand filters were pretty much the same.  I thought that price was the only variable.  But he educated me (a form of “selling”) and while he gave some concession on the price the shop still made a profit and he avoided losing my business entirely.

    It is possible for businesses to avoid having their customers make purchasing decisions solely on price.  Employees should be knowledgeable – either in the form of training or contextual delivery that offers advice on-the-fly – and should take every available opportunity to remind their customers what their product or service is worth to them.  Don’t take it for granted that customers know this.  The result can be a win for both as the customer gets a better overall value while the business retains more revenue.

  • 02:01:41 am on December 4, 2008 | 0 | # |
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    A Work of Art

    I got to see an artist at work today. He wasn’t a “statue” performer at Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco. He wasn’t a street musician in Central Park in New York City. He wasn’t a mime in Covent Garden in London who offered for sale a CD of his performance. (I’m still trying to figure that one out.) He was a customer service rep for a rental car company at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport.

    Like all the great customer service experiences I’ve had or witnessed, this one caught me totally by surprise. I don’t know how many hundreds of times I’ve boarded the shuttle bus at the terminal, ridden to the rental car site, looked for my name on the board, hunted for my car in its space, (sometimes) found the car and driven away. This time there was an agent in the company uniform greeting customers when the bus arrived at the board.

    He had one, very specific job to do. You see at this site the layout is such that there isn’t room on just one level of the garage for all the spaces serving the premium member customers. So the premium spaces were split between two levels of the garage with two boards listing customers’ names. Not exactly rocket science but a situation quite likely to cause confusion and create problems. So the company had implemented a very elegant solution – they placed this individual there to proactively deal with the potential problem before it could develop into a customer service issue. In effect they provided the canvas on which this artist would work his art.

    And he went to work following three fundamental principles for all great customer service experiences. The first of these is . . .

    Give clear directions up front.

    He met the opening door with a smile on his face, got everyone’s attention and briefly and clearly communicated the situation and our instructions – “This facility has two name boards. The one in front of you is the first one. If your name is on it, please step out of the bus and tell me your number. If your name is not on this board it will be on the second board at the next stop. In less than 15 seconds he told us what the situation was, what to do and what to expect to happen next.

    The second principle is . . .

    Provide assistance based on accurate and timely knowledge.

    As each person stepped from the bus and told him the number next to their name on the board, the agent gave them simple but specific and usable directions to help them find their car. “3rd row that direction.” “Along the back wall.” This was all the more impressive because there were not an easily multiplied number of spaces in each row. He knew his area and had handled about sixteen customers in less time than it took me to write this paragraph.

    So far so good. Impressive? Enough to get my attention when I’m used to encountering similar situations where no help has been provided with the result being a regular stream of customers queuing up to complain to an overworked, stressed out desk clerk that they didn’t find their names on the board. But the icing on the cake and what made me certain of what I was going to write about in this blog entry tonight was that he also followed the third, and I think most important, and I’m certain most difficult fundamental principle of great customer service . . .

    As the last of the first group took their directions and went off to their cars, the agent had one final word for those of us left on the bus waiting for the second stop. “I’ve got another board downstairs with your names on it. Have a great day.” It was such a subtly different way of saying it but it made a huge impression. “I’ve got another board . . .” It was his board. He was taking personal responsibility for me finding my name and being on my way.

    It is often those very subtle – and sometimes inexpensive – touches that add the “wow” factor to great customer service experiences, that turn everyday customer interactions into art. Customers are hungry for a personal touch and will often go out of their way or even spend more to experience it. Great service is so rare that a business that practices these fundamentals can stand out from the crowd and dramatically improve their competitive edge – all the more important in this tough economic environment. My challenge to any readers of this post is to measure any process improvement or technology initiative against whether it better enables your organization to follow these fundamental principles:

    • Give clear directions up front
    • Provide assistance based on accurate and timely knowledge
    • Make it personal

    Consistently great customer service is attainable and it is worth the effort – both for the serving organization and the customer being served.

  • 07:00:37 am on November 4, 2008 | 0 | # |
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    First Things First

    Last week KANA Software, Inc. hosted our 3rd annual Customer Summit where representatives from KANA’s world-wide family of customers come together to hear what’s new, give us feedback and share their experience and expertise with each other.

    I always look forward to these for one particular reason and this year I was not disappointed – I learn stuff from our customers.  And so I thought that, in that spirit of sharing, I would share with the readers of this blog some of the things I learned.
    (For the record, some of our customers have terms in their nondisclosure policies that prohibit us from using their name so no corporate names will be mentioned.)

    • Bill reminded everyone in one of our sessions that even after more than 10 years with a product you can still be excited about what you can do with it enough to share that passion and encourage others with less experience.  It’s not about being the stodgy old “expert” who’s been there, done that and got the T-shirt.  It’s about being the kid with the new toy that’s still figuring out new and interesting ways to enjoy it.
    • Peter spoke to the whole assembly about the importance of consistently going the extra mile and doing things for your customers beyond what they expect.  He encouraged everyone to weave that into the attitude of the brand so that customers notice the difference from just following company policy.
    • Anne reminded everyone to not forget the basics.  It takes a balance between getting the fundamentals right and then adding the right amount “stretch”.  Too often we in  customer service and business in general try to reach for everything at once before we build a solid foundation.  Then it’s all too likely to fall down around us.  But, whether building customer service tools or launching a new product, if we take time to get the basics right, then build on that initial success with something more daring, the combination can amplify success beyond anything we imagined.
    • Amas had an interesting problem: his e-mail support was too successful.  Customers were so pleased with the prompt, accurate and consistent responses they got that they are sending e-mails to his customer support addresses more frequently for less critical issues.  That pointed out to me that it’s just as important to plan for success as it is to plan to avoid failure.  What his company needs is a way for their customers to help themselves to those same solutions on the company’s website.

    So a big “Thank you” to all the people who taught me something and who confirmed something else that I suspected all along – As nice as it is to have prestigious brand names as my customers what’s most important and most valuable are the people behind that brand and the relationships we at KANA have with them and that they have with their own customers.

  • 07:00:06 am on October 9, 2008 | 1 | # |
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    I’ve seen the future

    Well it’s October and that means that Halloween is just around the corner. What better time to pull out the crystal ball (which looks suspiciously like a Lava Lamp in my case), put on my swami turban and do my Karnak the Magnificent impression. That’s right, it’s time to predict . . . the . . . future.

    But seriously – a year ago at a self-service conference in San Diego, someone in the audience asked a panel of industry representatives I sat on, “Where do you see self-service in fifteen years?”Fifteen years!? I can’t predict what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow. I was lucky enough to be the last of four to respond so I had some time to make something up. I didn’t give the distant future much thought after that. That is until last week when I saw the following question on a Request for Proposal (RFP) from a prospective customer: “Where do you see the knowledge management industry in five years?” OK, it’s not fifteen, it’s only five but still that’s a long time in a field so intertwined and interdependent with information technology. Just look at the advances that have been made in computing in general, and search and database technology in particular in the last ten years. Now consider that the rate of advancement is not linear but rather it’s an accelerating curve. There was only one place to turn for insight – science fiction.

    Now understand – I’m a SciFi nut. I have read literally thousands of novels and short stories from every sub-genre and generation of science fiction from H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to David Brin and John Ringo. I just didn’t imagine those fantasy worlds ever intersecting my “real life”. But Verne predicted nuclear submarines and spacecraft landing on the moon. Heinlein predicted both the commercialization and the governmental regulation of space. What do my favorite authors have to say about the use of knowledge in self-service and customer support?

    It didn’t take much searching in my library to find two great examples: William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer (©1984) and Vernor Vinge’s short story Fast Times at Fairmont High (©2001). In Neuromancer, characters have access to knowledge libraries and skill enhancements on a kind of memory stick (called a “microsoft” – no connection to the corporation of the same name) that plugs directly into their brains via a “wetware” implant. Usage of these devices gives the user access to previously unknown facts as if they had been memorized in a more conventional way as well as the ability perform tasks for which they have no previous experience. Maybe that’s a little far-fetched. Maybe that’s what we have to look forward to in the fifteen-year realm.

    Vinge describes capabilities more in the nature of “just around the corner”. His characters, primarily middle-school students, are engaged in the usual day-to-day activities of school, friends, the latest entertainment and interacting with peers all over the world via laser links, broad-band wireless and virtual reality equipment micro-miniaturized right into their clothing. To call up information – text, live or synthetic imagery, anything – or open live interactions with other people, they have merely to make subtle gestures and sub-vocalize commands that are picked up by the wearable computers as input and requests. The visual portion of the output is projected directly into their eyes through special contact lenses. The audio arrives through sub-mini ear-buds. These characters routinely enjoy interactions much more interesting to (and closer to home for) us in the customer support and knowledge management industry. Assigned a programming problem in computer class? Collaborate with a cyber geek in Belarus. Someone uses a word you don’t know in a conversation? A gesture noticeable only by your personal interface calls up a definition with examples and overlays it in your field of view.

    Just imagine a technician servicing a complex medical diagnostic device being able to review a service manual or watch a tutorial video without taking their hands – or their eyes – off the device they’re working on. Imagine an auto service representative being able to hear the noise your car makes only when it’s at least twenty miles from the shop. Imagine your personal system hearing your boss ask you for the latest sales numbers and sensing your request to display them like a queue card so that you appear to have been prepared for the question. Imagine your current checking or credit card balance appearing in your field of vision while your looking at that new gadget at the local electronics store. Imagine . . .

    In a nutshell, that’s the future of support technology and knowledge management. And it could be within that five-year window. It’s the idea that knowledge, information and even transactions are available in real-time, while you’re doing what you need help with, aware of your current context and –most importantly – without you having to leave what your doing to go get it. My twelve year-old daughter told me she saw video contacts just like those in Vinge’s novel on the Discovery Channel last week and she is usually ahead of me on these sorts of things. Now where did I put my Lava Lamp?

  • 07:00:04 am on September 18, 2008 | 0 | # |
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    Once more, with feeling

    How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop(tm)?  One lump, or two?  If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.  We as a intelligent beings are obsessed with numbers.  We always want to know how much, how many  or how few something takes.  I heard once in a course on effective presentation style that a good way to get an audience’s attention was to just list a seemingly random set of numbers on a whiteboard or screen, then fill in the labels to indicate the significance of those numbers as the presentation progresses.

    A number that comes up often in the field of knowledge management is how many clicks it takes to reach a resolution during a knowledge query operation.  There is a well founded concern for efficiency at work here but what is a reasonable number of clicks to find a resolution?  I’ve read requirements for maximums and averages of from five all the way down to one.  I’ve even heard a marketing VP state that their goal for their product was zero clicks which would apparently involve the system answering the query correctly before it’s even asked.

    So while R&D works on precognitive query engines, those of us still on the sunnier side of the Twilight Zone must work with what we have available.  Not that we have to give up the farm but most things worth doing involve compromise and trade-offs.  Give a little in one area to get a little in another and you can end up with a much more robust and valuable solution.  In the case of searching and querying knowledge management repositories the trade-off I propose is to accept the fact that the typical query of knowledge is a two-step process.  (Numbers again.)  It might be difficult to give up on the ideal of jumping straight to the answer but let’s try starting with just finding the question in the knowledgebase first.  A searcher has the following advantages working for him or her when searching for a question:

    • The searcher knows more about the question than anything else.
    • If anything at all is known about the answer that knowledge is likely vague and possibly inaccurate.
    • The searcher is more likely to recognize the question when they see it appear in a list of search results.
    • Even if the initial query results in the best answer being at top of the list, it might as well not exist if the searcher doesn’t recognize it when they see it.
    • Once a matching question has been found, there will likely be a small number of matching answers to consider – the searcher will have to evaluate only those answers matched to the selected question instead of every answer that matches their query in some obscure way.

    Just to be clear, I’m using the term “question” here in a somewhat generic way.  It might be a literal question for which exists a known answer.  It might be a goal the searcher needs to accomplish for which their exists one or more processes that reach that goal.  It might be a symptom or an error message that the searcher might encounter while using some product or service.

    Imagine a scenario where the user inputs their question, goal or symptom as a query to the knowledgebase – the first click.  The available targets and potential search results for that query are in question, goal or symptom form so, with even a nominal degree of natural language processing, there is likely to be a good match.  That match, highly ranked, is presented as a search result and, because its author has been careful to use the voice of the customer, the searcher recognizes it as being relevant to their quest and clicks it – that’s two.  Now, in the special case where there is only one possible answer or resolution for the selected question, the user is done – two clicks total.  There might be more than one possible resolution to consider but it will be a relatively small set to evaluate and the searcher will have more confidence that the correct resolution is findable because of their initial success in finding a match to their question.  There might even be additional assistance in the form of tagging or clarifying questions to help the searcher select the best answer – one or two more clicks.

    So on that trade-off we talked about earlier we’re up to from two to four clicks to get to the answer.   But on the gain side of the equation, there should be much more consistency in those numbers as we avoid the somewhat common scenario where the searcher clicks through several answers trying to find one that addresses their issue or leads toward their goal.  And the worst case scenario is that the searcher’s question is not in the knowledgebase at all.  This isn’t as bad as it sounds though because the best way to fail in a search is to fail quickly and cleanly – confident that there’s nothing hiding in the content.  And we will have captured in the logs the question that’s missing so it will be relatively easy to evaluate what if anything should be added to the knowledgebase.  And there’s still plenty of room for automation to (for example) filter any available solutions according to something known about the searcher or their context – subtract one click.

    I admit it’s a bit of a departure from the typical approach to searching knowledge.  Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve tried it – or if you’re willing to give it a try.

  • 04:22:08 pm on August 26, 2008 | 3 | # |
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    Sometimes it works

    “Don’t panic.  Just breathe.”  That’s what I told myself when the most unthinkable, darkest, most desperate of situations descended on me without warning:  My BlackBerry® died.  One minute I was master of my domain – making and receiving phone calls, handling e-mails from three different accounts – the next I was completely cut off from both my personal and business worlds.  Was the next draft of that whitepaper ready for my review?  Was I supposed to pick up my daughter from her Taekwondo lesson or was it my wife’s turn?  Was the band practicing on Wednesday night or Thursday night this week?

    It was already past 8:00 pm so I huddled into my pre-technology cave, built a fire against the dark and waited for the next morning when I could seek assistance at my provider’s local store just a few blocks from my home.

    Another day dawned and I wasted no time getting down to the store.  I was hoping they could fix the failed device but would have been perfectly happy with a replacement, even if I had to purchase it myself.  I went to the customer service desk, handed the BlackBerry® to the agent there, described the symptoms I was seeing and hoped for the best.  He took my phone number, opened my account on his computer and spent the next few minutes alternating between prodding different parts of the BlackBerry® and typing notes into the open session on the computer.

    “I have some good news and some bad news,” he said about five minutes later.  In that short amount of time he had:

    • executed a series of front-line troubleshooting protocols to rule out problems with my charger or the battery – causes that would have been easily addressed

    • examined the device for signs of abuse – crushing, cracking, chewing or dunking in liquids – and recorded his observations in my account record

    • been given a determination based on the first two steps and the purchase date that the unit was under warranty and eligible for free replacement (part of the good news)

    • checked his own store’s inventory as well as every other location in the city and determined that there were none available in stock (part of the bad news)

    He apologized that there were none available for immediate replacement on the spot but getting this news up-front and in so little time was infinitely better than calling around to the dozens of stores in the metroplex area and checking them myself.  He tore a sheet off a notepad on the service desk and wrote two numbers on it.  The first, he explained, was a direct line to the company’s handheld technical support call center.  The second number was my case identification number.  I accepted the piece of paper with all the care it deserved as my last and only hope to reconnect to my life.

    When I got back home, I dusted off the “land-line” phone on my desk and dialed the toll-free number he had given me.  “Hello, my name is Steven.  How can I help you?”  What was that!?  No IVR, no canned request to press a number for service?  I explained that I was calling about a warranty replacement and gave him my case number.  “I’m sorry to hear that you had trouble.  Please give me just a minute to read the notes on your case . . . I see here that our service agent has already verified that the phone wasn’t damaged and is eligible for free warranty replacement.”  There were really notes on my case!  And he was reading them to brief himself on my situation!  I didn’t have to repeat anything to this phone agent.  I didn’t have to convince him that I hadn’t somehow caused the problem myself.  It took only three or four more minutes to confirm that the physical address on file was where I wanted the replacement sent and to give me instructions on activating the new device and returning the faulty device.  I was to expect the replacement by expedited shipping early the next morning – at no charge.

    I thanked Steven and hung up.  Moments later an e-mail popped into the in-box on my desktop computer’s monitor with a complete record of the transaction and detailed instructions on how to activate the new device when it arrived.  The next morning, a well-known white van pulled up in front of my house and my daughter signed for the package containing my replacement BlackBerry®.  And you know what?  The activation process worked exactly as described in my instructions.

    I’m a little unsure why I had to make the call instead of the store agent triggering the replacement while I was there but given the level of coordination and smoothness of the whole process – spanning and linking an in-person visit, a telephone call and an e-mail follow-up to avoid the need for a second call – I’m more than happy to overlook one possibly extra step in the process.  Visiting the store service desk and giving them the chance to examine the device saved a major delay that would have been experienced had technicians had to determine warranty eligibility after I shipped the inoperative unit.  So I was rewarded for my effort and the seamless connection between the two events in the service experience made it completely painless to me.

    So sometimes, service does work right – even when something breaks or initially goes horribly wrong.  But what made it work in this case was the seamlessness of the process, the obvious connectedness of the steps in the experience from one to the next and the complete lack of need to ever repeat myself or deal with a clueless participant impeding the process and service like this is extremely rare.  You know what I did next?  Within an hour of successfully activating my replacement, I went to their on-line self-service site and ordered the new smart phone my daughter wants for her 16th birthday.  There are natural and direct rewards for outstanding customer service.

  • 07:00:00 am on August 5, 2008 | 6 | # |
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    Not My Job

    One very interesting thing about we few and proud in the customer service and support industry is that we all lead a double life.  Not only are we analysts or directors or designers or engineers or marketers of customer service software solutions; we are also customers, the beneficiaries (or victims as the case may be) of our own efforts to improve customer service.  As such we have an almost limitless supply of experience and anecdotes, based on being a customer, to draw from for inspiration and insight.

    Just yesterday, I was attempting to fill my car with gasoline at a self-service pump.  No matter what I did with the nozzle and its associated pump mechanism the pump refused to dispense fuel.  Instead, the display just kept flashing the message, “Lift Pump Handle to begin Pumping Gas”.  After several attempts to convince the machine that I had already lifted the indicated pump handle it decided that I wasn’t really serious about my intention to get gas and cancelled my transaction.  Time to escalate (using the terminology of our industry) and get assistance from the kind and eager attendant inside.  Noting the number stenciled on the side of the obstinate device, I set off on my quest for help.

    Now I wish I had video of what occurred next because at least as much, if not more, was communicated in facial expression and tone of voice but the brief conversation went something like this:

    attendant: “Yes? May I help you?”

    me: “I just wanted to let you know that pump #9 isn’t working; it seems to be broken.”

    attendant: (rolling eyes and sighing as if explaining something completely obvious) “You could move to a different pump.”

    me: “Well, yes, of course I’ll do that. But I thought you might like to know that it’s broken.”

    attendant:  (Doesn’t say anything but stares back at me, blinking, with a look of bewilderment that clearly says that she thinks this is probably the stupidest thing she’s heard all week.)

    me: “Maybe you could call someone to fix it. Or at least put a sign up so no one else wastes their time on it.”

    attendant:  (Now a look of concern like maybe she should call someone – like 911)  “Ooookay.” (She had decided to humor me and hope I went away.)

    I went away, filled my car at a working pump and left, pondering on what the world was coming to.

    How could the concept of taking some action seem so totally alien to this attendant?  Later I started thinking about the similarities this scenario had to other experiences I’ve had and heard about in other customer service situations.  How much additional aggravation – and cost – could be avoided if agents had the ability and the direction to post a notice when they discover something isn’t working?  The concept is at the core of Knowledge Centered Support’s (KCS) “flag it or fix it” doctrine.  Most agents want to be as helpful as possible or they wouldn’t have sought a job in customer service in the first place.  But too often they’re working under pressure to just get to the next call.  They may have even been trained that it’s someone else’s job to fix unanticipated issues and that they are only to handle items for which they have scripts ready made.  Call guides and scripts have their place but the bottom line is that customer service organizations won’t consistently see customer satisfaction rise and costs of repeatedly fielding the same issues go down until that most basic of KCS methodologies is adopted and agents can take a few seconds to alert their peers when they run into something new and, ideally, what they tried to resolve it.

  • 07:00:43 am on July 22, 2008 | 0 | # |
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    Have we found what we’re looking for?  It’s similar to the well-known question, “Are we there yet?”.  You can’t answer the latter until you know where you’re going and you can’t answer the former until you know what it was you were searching for in the first place.  Of course I’m talking about knowledge management, specifically as it relates to customer support, in this case and not the meaning of life or a lost TV remote (by the way, if anyone has a tip on either of those please let me know).

    What I’ve seen in my 13+ years of experience working with knowledge management tools is that there has been  a lot of attention given to search – the “search engine”, indexing, processing of queries and rendering search results – but very little if any thought to what is being searched for.  At this point you may very well be thinking or even poised over the keyboard to write the comment, “It’s obvious what we’re searching for – the answer to a question, the solution to a problem.”  Really?  That is, I agree, usually the goal of the search but it is not, can not be, literally what we’re searching for, the query that’s entered into the search field.  After all, if we knew the answer or solution well enough to search for it effectively in the first place, we wouldn’t be going to the support site or calling the support center in the first place except for the special case of just needing the details to an already identified solution.

    Now I’m not attacking search or trying to downplay its importance in knowledge management and customer support.  But the best search engine imaginable will be of little use unless it is guided and targeted by consistent structure in the content.  This structure must go beyond “tagging” content with topics.  It’s not enough to say an article is “about Product X” or “about Installation”.  The particular questions that an article answers or the particular problems that a solution addresses must be explicitly listed.  Those lists must be given priority when searching because a match in such a list to a customer’s question or problem description will have the highest value.  Then the features and capabilities of a great search engine – for example, the ability to give a correct match to a query even when an alternate way of stating a concept is used – will have the most positive effect on the outcome of the search.

    Think about how search is usually tested and evaluated.  The tester typically starts with knowledge of the content and has in mind a particular item that they want to try to retrieve.  Then they enter a variety of searches that more or less specificly match that item’s title or some text in its description.  If the item is ranked with a high score when the search is more specific, lower as the queries grow less specific and the item disappears from the search results list when there are no matching terms in the query then search is considered to be working properly.  Instead, think about testing search strictly from the perspective of the customer – What questions are they likely to ask?  What problems are they likely to describe?  Search should be considered successful only if items directly addressing the problem or specifically answering the question are ranked highest or are the only results returned.  Items that merely mention the query terms, even if they do so exactly – but do not specifically address the customer’s issue should be ranked lower if an item that does specifically address the issue is available.

    It’s a higher standard of success and, yes, it takes more effort to markup articles for this approach but it is the only way to get better customer support results from a good search engine.

  • 08:00:43 am on July 1, 2008 | 0 | # |
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    And what’s the difference, anyway, between Content Management and Knowledge Management?

    A little theory and some practical examples are needed to help define and distinguish between Content Management (CM) and Knowledge Management (KM).

    First consider how CM and KM are similar.  Both types of technology . . .

    • Support the creation and maintenance of content of virtually any size
    • Provide some means of controlling who may create or edit content
    • Support routing new and changed content through an approval cycle
    • Provide an interface to search for and find content based on some form of full-text index. (Some or all of various search methodologies may be supported – natural language, keyword, Boolean, etc.)
    • Provide means of controlling who may view content

    Other similarities may exist but those are enough to work with for now.  So what differences are there?

    • CM systems tend to provide more control over not just the content itself but the style of the content – style guides that streamline the creation of standard documents with business rules to enforce adherence to established styles over large quantities of documents and large groups of authors.
    • CM systems typically include the capability to publish content in portable formats, such as PDF, and/or print in professional layouts.  Content in and of itself is something of a product of the system and the content, once produced, can exist and be used apart from the system in which it was created and maintained.

    While perhaps not obvious at first, this last difference holds a clue to the key argument for needing a Knowledge Management system.  Once created, content can be used apart from a Content Management system because the system offers little or no assistance in using that content.  In fact, we expect so little (and are offered so little in this respect) that we don’t even miss it.  When’s the last time you read an owners manual or the safety placard in the seat-back pouch of an airliner and wondered, “What Content Management system was used to produce this document?”

    So what’s missing?  What is needed when “using” content that is not provided by the Content Management system that did such a good job in producing the content in the first place?  One word sums it up – relevancy.  Which document, and which part of that document, is relevant to my situation – and under what circumstances?

    It’s time to take a closer look at some terms that we’ve been using without asking whether we have a good – or at least a full – understanding of their meaning.  Words like “search”, “find” and even “knowledge” get used freely, especially in our industry, but what do we really mean and what expectations do we have when we speak, hear or read them?  Now entire doctoral theses have been written on the meaning of knowledge, technical white papers weighing several pounds have been produced on various search methods.

    There’s no intention to go to that level here.  But all we need do to start is to develop an understanding of some key concepts that explains how a Knowledge Management system offers assistance not provided by Content Management in determining the relevancy of content.  For our purposes, let’s start to think of these key concepts in a certain light and frame their definitions in such a way to draw out the importance of relevance.

    • Search – to look for a piece of content with the intention of answering a specific question or solving a specific problem.
    • Find – what happens when a search engine matches a piece of content to a user’s search and when that user recognizes that piece of content as relevant to their intent or need.
    • Knowledge – what content becomes when it is able to be found when searched given the provided definitions of the terms “search” and “find”.

    The importance of the highlighted terms in these definitions must be understood if we’re to build a compelling case for Knowledge Management providing relevancy and that relevancy being of value.  Of particular importance is the term “specific”.  The need for specificity is where Content Management starts to fall short.  If the user wants to read everything available on the history of credit in commerce, or some similarly general topic, then a Content Management system with a basic search engine will supply the need quite well.  But if that person needs to know what, if any, benefit or penalty there is if they payoff their credit balance early they had better be ready for a research project if all they have is the Content Management system that produced their Cardholder Agreement and a search engine.

    In conclusion (for now) Content Management systems can serve as excellent sources of content for Knowledge Management but they can never deliver the same results and value – the turning of that content into usable knowledge – without the addition of a good Knowledge Management tool and methodology.  They should never be considered as one versus the other but rather as different tools with different needs serving an organization in complimentary ways.