Stop chasing KPIs to power proactive customer service

Contact centers focused heavily on key performance indicators may improve only short-term results, an expert cautions. Find out how a knowledge management system can help.

While contact centers have traditionally been held to a series of standard metrics for success, the conventional approach may have to change. New tools have emerged that make traditional key performance indicators flat, one dimensional and poor gauges of agent potential.

Today, agents shouldn't be measured by just key performance indicators (KPIs) such as first-call resolution -- the percentage of calls resolved without requiring escalation to the next agent level -- and average time a call waits in the call queue. While these KPIs are useful, new tools like knowledge management systems now enable agents to move toward proactive customer service. They can self-educate about products, services and customer problems through these article libraries. Knowledge management systems enable agents to look up a customer's problem on the fly, access product documentation and specs or other information relevant to a customer service call, and service a customer through quality-based means rather than churn or volume-based tactics. Knowledge management systems may also allow customers to self-serve by troubleshooting products and so forth with a knowledge base.

While KPI-motivated service reps tend to be capable frontline agents, committed to solving each customer issue, they're often not looking far beyond their current case. They tend to think, "How quickly can I solve this problem now?" They should be thinking, "How can I learn from this case so I can better solve a similar case in the future?" Thus, while KPIs can present short-term goals, knowledge management technologies can be part of the arsenal in creating long-term strategies for better contact center management.

This isn't the fault of our agents; if they're being measured on only traditional KPIs, such as call resolution and average handle time, what incentive do they have to focus on future outcomes? To realize agents' full value, the best businesses look beyond immediate outcome measurements and invest in future resolutions by committing to knowledge management.

Enlisting knowledge management systems

In traditional case-management systems, knowledge is typically located in a different tab or application. For example, the Salesforce Service Console pulls knowledge forward, learning which articles are relevant as agents click through case information and prioritizing knowledge presented within the console.

Bringing knowledge into a single user interface is the first step; beyond that, the simplest and most easily adopted knowledge management systems focus on where employees are already collaborating to solve customer issues. Among organizations that use Salesforce, we often see agents collaborate via Chatter -- the enterprise social networking and collaboration tool in the Salesforce platform -- so in many cases, the knowledge creation process begins there.

To realize agents' full value, the best businesses look beyond immediate outcome measurements and invest in future resolutions.

Knowledge objectives may function differently from traditional KPIs, but creating consistent internal metrics to rate knowledge quality is equally important. Companies should consider instituting an article quality index (AQI) to establish an organizational structure for knowledge articles.

This AQI should include a structure for knowledge articles, a ranking system for article effectiveness and guidelines to improve future article quality. An appointed data steward should be able to view metrics on article usage, such as who authored an article, and answer high-level questions such as:

  • "Has this article been read?"
  • "Does it clearly define the problem and the resolution?"
  • "How useful is it?"

Asking these questions not only improves the quality of the knowledge, but also brings visibility to service holes and can directly indicate product or service issues that can be improved. Applying a ranking system to a knowledge base also enables internal visibility and lets managers and employees know which articles are performing -- and who's responsible for good content.

Encouraging employee collaboration

One of the benefits of a well-defined knowledge management system is that it rewards agents by making their efforts visible. If their work is valued by managers and peers, it gives agents ownership in solving the problems of the business and encourages job satisfaction beyond meeting established benchmarks.

Rather than implementing the new initiative as a top-down mandate, consider gamification, which applies the principles of games to the process of knowledge creation by implementing a points economy. Deployment methods vary, but the key aspect is rewarding collaboration in a visible way, whether with accolades, perks or intangibles such as access to company events.

The most successful programs offer numerous types of rewards that give employees satisfaction and encourage action, making knowledge contribution valuable and not just another metric. Strong knowledge management differentiates good customer service organizations from the best -- all can benefit from looking beyond traditional KPIs and determining how to turn agents from reactive and neutral to proactive and involved.

With a well-established architecture for knowledge management, agents can deliver more value by providing pre-emptive and predictive service. Agents are more motivated to document their own internal processes and keep an eye out for emerging self-service opportunities. Case management will evolve from reactive and unstructured to proactive and streamlined. We'll also have a clearer understanding of customer service data -- from customer patterns to new solutions -- and can make this available across the entire organization.

Next Steps

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