If there’s a no-brainer idea within the realm of knowledge management, it’s to focus on customer service. You want business value? It’s available in spades, with the prospect of more customer inquiries served with substantially fewer humans. Seeking engaged users? There’s no more knowledge-hungry employee than a service rep with a customer on the line and a perplexing problem. The Marconi situation described in this case is a great illustration of the logic behind applying knowledge management to the service process.
It’s also a great picture of some of the difficulties involved. If you’re compiling an internal repository of best practices or lessons learned, you can assemble it in a slapdash fashion, and few will be the wiser. But a knowledge repository for customer service is the knowledge equivalent of an online-transaction processing system. Service representatives have to find the right piece of knowledge in real-time, while the customer waits. Asking the customer to hold while you browse 3,462 documents in a typical intranet search won’t do. The key to success with these systems is a good architecture and strong content-management discipline. These factors are even more critical when a company allows customers direct access to parts of the system, as Marconi does.
Marconi appears to have the necessary processes in place. The company realizes, for example, that you have to structure the knowledge in a way that may be harder to put in but much easier to get out (for example, in the form of a decision tree, where answering a few questions quickly gets you to the right answer). A lot of companies blanch at the effort required to build such a knowledge base, but Marconi appears to be biting the bullet. The company has also realized that maintaining the knowledge base in a high-quality form requires much care. It’s not allowing just anyone to add redundant (or even incorrect) knowledge to the system?you’ve got to be a Level 3 expert to add a new solution. Building and maintaining the customer service knowledge repository are not democratic processes.
Marconi has also done the right thing in terms of rewarding its people. With both monetary and symbolic rewards, it’s changed the culture around knowledge from hoarding to sharing. Not surprisingly, things are going well for both the individuals who share and for Marconi in general. Virtue isn’t always rewarded to this degree.