From “Heroes” To “Zeroes” With Knowledge-Centered Support

Since 1992, Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) has gained momentum as a best-practice to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of customer service. No doubt its growth comes from the report of 60% decreases in resolution time, 50% increases in first contact resolution, and other astounding results claimed by KCS-driven organizations.

Many good articles and presentations discuss these outcomes, so I will not belabor them here. However, the recent 2015 State of Service Report indicates a new wave of KCS implementations is on its way. Of 1900+ service organizations surveyed, one-third plan to implement KCS technology in the next 12-18 months. If this estimate rings true for the industry, the 20-year footprint of KCS will double over the next two years.

As KCS explodes across the service industry, many organizations may find themselves unprepared for the accompanying culture shock. The promise of bottom-line “Zeroes” makes a strong case for adoption, but companies that implement KCS may find unexpected resistance among top performers. This behavior can be confusing and poses a threat to progress in a service organization. Why might top performers feel threatened by KCS? More importantly, how can they become successful champions of the new culture?

To answer these questions, let’s take a look at the principles of Knowledge-Centered Support, why they clash with “Hero” culture, and how you can safely replace “Hero” culture with a revenue-generating “Zero” culture.

A Tale of Two Cultures

Knowledge-Centered Support is a “prescriptive” methodology, recommending specific behaviors for service delivery. This contrasts with more descriptive frameworks, like ITIL, into which KCS is often embedded. The opinionated nature of KCS is what makes it so transformative and disruptive to service organizations.

KCS operates on four concepts, as outlined by the Consortium for Service Innovation:

  1. Integrate the creation and maintenance of knowledge into the problem solving process
  2. Evolve content based on demand and usage
  3. Develop a knowledge base of collective experience to date
  4. Reward learning, collaboration, sharing, and improving

Note the wording chosen, words like “collective experience” and “collaboration.” These “value” words give insight into a primary difference between KCS-driven culture and “Hero” cultures.

Allow me to describe a “Hero” culture. In service cultures where knowledge is siloed, those with knowledge are prized for what they know. Their recognition and compensation correlate directly to the size of their personal knowledge. Such individuals are often carried up the corporate ladder into higher tiers of support, so they can work on more challenging issues. Unfortunately, this trajectory creates a self-reinforcing divide between first-level support and those “in the know”. The knowledgeable ones become irreplaceable (read “expensive”), revered sages while first-level support is tossed menial requests. These high-level workers may document solutions as time arises. But due to how irreplaceable and busy they become, workarounds will likely have been created before they can document a solution, wasting the effort of publication.

Now compare “Hero” culture with what I will call “Zero” culture, the culture promoted by KCS. Documentation of issues and resolutions “in the moment” immediately turns individual experience into shared knowledge. As this information matures, it is made accessible to customers, allowing support personnel to focus time and energy on more meaningful issues. With basic issues deflected by self-service and the team’s collective knowledge at their disposal, front-line personnel can develop more rapidly and work on more challenging issues. As team capacity increases, the need for a tiered hierarchy disappears, giving way to a more organic “swarming” of support resources. Traditional metrics of call volume diminish in favor of talk time, since 2-minute solutions are now documented and accessible to customers. Support personnel become more valuable as their work now requires a higher skill level.

“Zero” culture is a fitting label on KCS-driven service for several reasons (all of which are admittedly cheesy, but should help the concepts stick): – Zero time between issue and capture – Zero agents between customers and knowledge – Zero support tiers to climb – Zeroes added to the bottom-line

If these mnemonics were unhelpful, the table below may do a better job highlighting the differences:

“Hero” Culture“Zero” Culture (KCS)
Focuses OnIndividualsTeams
ValuesWhat you knowHow you learn and help others learn
Measures ByStack RankingsTeam Scorecards
Structures WithTiersNetworks
Creates Articles“Just in Case”“Just in Time”

Turning “Heroes” into “Zeroes”

The comparisons above make it easier to understand why a KCS-driven culture can threaten top performers in “Hero” cultures. When metrics for success are based on personal knowledge as a competitive advantage, top performers will have a vested interest in not collaborating. Thankfully, since this behavior is a reaction based on culture, it can be addressed by successful change management. The following are a few high-level tips to keep in mind when leading a change to Knowledge-Centered Support:

1. Communicate Change

I would be remiss to not mention this first. Casting vision is vital to any cultural transformation. Those who want to change a culture must be able to articulate how a KCS culture benefits everyone, including top performers. The Consortium for Service Innovation provides a great list of resources to help articulate a compelling vision.

2. Use New Metrics

Change often fails when culture moves but metrics don’t. Without rewarding the new behaviors of “learning, collaboration, sharing, and improving,” employees will stick to what they know is safe and recognized, ultimately returning the culture to its original state.

The 2015 State of Service Report indicates the service industry prioritizes efficiency metrics like “Average Handle Time” and “Number of Cases Handled”, but top performers give higher priority to metrics like “talk time” and “content creation”. These differences make sense since KCS-enabled top performers deflect basic issues to self-service portals, provide support agents with more challenging issues, and capture solutions in the moment. Traditional efficiency metrics become less meaningful, and new metrics begin to surface, such as “Call Deflection” and “Known vs. New Issues”.

The transformation required by KCS is more of a journey than a destination, and companies seeking to implement KCS should explore metrics that reflect this journey. How will you reward those who create knowledge? How will you measure teams in ways that reward collaboration? The Consortium for Service Innovation again provides some helpful resources to evaluate how your metrics should evolve as your KCS implementation deepens.

3. Implement The Right Tools

KCS is a technology-enabled transformation of culture and processes. Along with new vision and reward systems, a big factor in cultural adoption is whether the process will be intuitive and supported. Picking a technology that supports the KCS process goes a long way in making the process adoptable. In 2012, Salesforce became the first KCS verified platform, and provides a strong option, enabling users to create and curate Knowledge both inside and outside the organization through Communities.

Taking the Plunge

Knowledge-Centered Support does not seek to remove top performers, just the culture that keeps them siloed. With some intentionality, a KCS culture can cultivate a willingness to share knowledge, allowing your top performers to become top contributors to team success.

The challenges of communicating change, setting new goals, and implementing new technologies are certainly formidable. If your company is making the switch to KCS, Statêra can help. As a leading business and technology consulting firm, our team is uniquely equipped to support your team with business transformation, change enablement, and technical implementation services.

About The Author

Isaac Lewis is a CRM consultant with Statêra’s Business Applications practice. He is a 7x-certified enthusiast with implementation experience across marketing, sales, and service organizations. Outside the office, he can be found hiking, hacking, and watching re-runs of Chuck with his wife Kate.