Customers want service when they want it, the way they want it, and in the channel that works for them. In response, contact centers have been forced to evolve operationally. Recently, it became obvious to me that the definition of knowledge management has also evolved—and in a big way. The question is, have our contact centers kept up with this knowledge evolution? And, if not, are we unnecessarily burning labor dollars?

As leaders in the contact center industry, we tend to “throw bodies” (a.k.a. labor dollars) at a process that isn’t working operationally. I decided to do a deep dive on the contact center organizations that I’ve led over the last 20-plus years and ask myself the questions above. After an honest evaluation, I found my strategies, though very creative, might have missed the mark.

Exploring My Past

I’ve worked for some of the biggest brands in the industry. Most of my experience in the last 20 years has been leading virtual organizations. All the companies I worked for had a way for agents to find information and follow processes. Today, that’s known “knowledge.”

This knowledge can be in a SharePoint site or in a software solution with a depository of articles and a search bar for the agents to put in keywords. Some companies have built their own proprietary knowledge bases. Others utilize notebooks and sticky notes for agents to reference. In all my organizations, I realized that no matter where the knowledge was located, it was always frustrating for agents to find information quickly, read through it, and get the answer or process for a customer without putting the customer on hold, in some cases multiple times. I knew putting a customer on hold could impact CSAT as well as costing more agent time, increasing labor dollars.

Next, I thought about my new agents. New agents struggle to learn a lot of information in a short period of time. In some cases, my trainers wanted to increase the number of new-hire training days. Or, because of struggling staffing levels, new agents were put on the schedule to work with customers before they were ready. This caused new agents to be frustrated and less productive. Some new agents quit in training, while nesting, or within 90 days of getting on the operations floor—all of which increased the pressure on the labor dollars in my budget.

In addition, my organizations were growing rapidly. All had seasonal surges and/or product launches. My recruiting and training departments were struggling to get enough people sourced, recruited, hired, onboarded, and trained so the new agents could move into nesting and then onto the operational floor. It seemed that in these busy times, the training manager would ask if the minimum test scores for new hires could be lowered so that we could get them on the floor more quickly and meet our staffing requirements.

We all know that people learn differently and at different paces. So, with every class of new hires, we were tweaking our nesting process to try to help new agent speed to competency improve more quickly. We were surveying new hires almost daily to see where we could improve. We had special tutors available for our remote agents when they arrived in nesting. These special tutors were top-performing agents on our customer-facing teams. When they were helping in nesting and training, they weren’t interacting with customers, which meant that our CSAT performance was diluted from its normal levels. In the BPO world, that could lead to potential CSAT penalties on our invoices and impact the bottom line. That wasn’t going to happen on my watch.

Creative Strategies

My organizations have set up SME teams utilizing special chat rooms to help both new and veteran agents get the answer faster or help with a process. We’ve set up rotating “supervisor office hours” so that a group of supervisors would be available to help agents. Of course, that takes away from their coaching and mentoring time, which impacts CSAT and NPS.

We’ve set up special teams to help shadow new agents in a remote environment via screen share to guide them to put the right words in the search bar so they could find the answer. We’ve set up video conferencing rooms to communicate with new agents and others so that while they were on a customer call, one of our special SMEs could help them. We’ve set up buddy systems within agent teams. I’ve even set up command centers with SMEs to watch work-at-home agents’ screens in real-time and be ready to jump in and help them find the answer faster. And in most of my organizations, agents were on waiting lists for these types of programs.

All these strategies worked, and we saw huge gains in CSAT. These strategies helped new agents, especially during seasonal surges, product launches, and rapid growth scenarios. They supported agents and let them know we were there to help them be successful. But at what cost? I wish I would have known then what I know now.

The Evolution

I remember when I first heard about WFM solutions. All my employees were full-time back then. They worked either Sunday through Thursday or Tuesday through Saturday. Call volume arrived into the queue like a bell curve. It seemed easy to schedule back then. In today’s progressive contact centers, companies can offer workers full-time, part-time, four ten-hour shifts, micro-shifts, split shifts…even job-sharing. We also have multiple channels to serve customers. This means scheduling is much more complicated than it used to be. In fact, I don’t believe an executive would even think about launching a contact center without a robust WFM solution.

This is where we are with knowledge management. When I was introduced to today’s definition of knowledge management, it blew my mind. Not only was there a systematic way to manage knowledge but there was a way for an agent to find the answer at conversational speed, minimize the hold time for a customer, and not have to memorize all the answers or processes. In a contact center world, everything is in constant flux. I found there was a new way to systematically cultivate the constantly changing knowledge and manage it effectively.

I could have robust reporting at my fingertips, data that could be analyzed and turned into real business intelligence that could help me make operational and business decisions. Suddenly I understood that there was also a way to automatically have an audit trail for any change so that it was easier for highly regulated industries to be in compliance.

Today’s knowledge management isn’t just a database full of articles that agents must search through to find the answer. What’s the best way to evolve an organization and save those labor dollars? First, contact centers need to understand the current maturity level of their knowledge strategy and where the gaps are. Next, are there quick fixes that can help evolve their current processes to save money and alleviate frustration for both agents and customers? Finally, investigate strategic operational options to evolve a contact center to a higher state of knowledge maturity so that the current loss of labor dollars can be reduced.

The way companies manage knowledge is either costing or saving labor dollars. Are companies laying off workers to try to reduce costs while negatively impacting the customer experience? If companies managed their knowledge differently, could their new level of knowledge maturity save labor dollars and headcount and increase customer satisfaction all at the same time?

It’s worth thinking about.

Be part of a growing community of over 25,000 professionals