By Sara Feldman
Your company knowledge isn’t yours. Let that sink in for a minute: your company knowledge does not belong to you. It doesn’t belong to you any more than your company-issued laptop belongs to you.
You are, however, responsible for making the best use of your knowledge, just as you are responsible to make use of any company asset under your care. Unlike more tangible assets, it can be tricky to gauge the use and shared value of something as nebulous as knowledge.
Fortunately, we can derive measurable knowledge benefits with the help of Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS®), a knowledge management (KM) methodology focused on knowledge as an organization’s key asset. KCS is based on nearly 30 years of iterations by a collaborative community and is owned by members of the Consortium for Service Innovation.
Imagine gaining efficacy from content that you already have as well as increasing efficiency with uncaptured knowledge that you already know. Even better, the improvements apply to both internal users and your customers.
While the details are quite robust and meant to scale across organizations with hundreds or thousands of employees, we can understand the foundation of KCS fairly quickly. Let’s review the basics and principles of KCS and then explore how KCS provides guidance to boost the value of your technical content.
KCS guides service and support teams to operationalize KM through collaborative efforts to achieve the following:
- Integrate the reuse, improvement, and creation of knowledge into the problem-solving process
- Evolve content based on demand and use
- Develop a knowledge base of collective experience to date
- Reward learning, collaboration, sharing, and improving
Anyone who participates in KCS activities is a Knowledge Worker. The most common KCS programs focus on Customer Service or Support Agents, but anyone involved in interactions where information is exchanged is a Knowledge Worker.
Based on a double-loop process, the KCS methodology outlines practices to efficiently solve issues in the first loop and evolve knowledge in the second loop. Practicing KCS creates continuous improvement through the double loop, and KCS becomes the way people solve problems and create knowledge as a by-product of problem solving.
Knowledge Workers capture demand-driven knowledge during their problem-solving workflow. The Solve Loop activities occur through a practice often summarized by the acronym UFFA, which stands for Use it, Flag it, Fix it, Add it. The “it” is knowledge, of course, which exists in the form of knowledge base articles, embedded help, documentation, and other technical content.
Consider an example of a good, old-fashioned phone call from a customer who needs help. A Support Agent who takes the call does their best to help the customer. A Knowledge Worker who takes the call does their best to help the customer in a way that also helps their peers and any potential future customers who encounter a similar issue.
To follow the UFFA model, the Knowledge Worker does the following:
- Searches the knowledge base, or any relevant resources, to Use the most current, captured knowledge
- Notices if there is a content gap for the customer’s issue and Flags existing, relevant content for revision
- Takes the time, if they are able, to immediately Fix existing, relevant content for the customer’s issue
- Captures new knowledge and the customer’s context to Add knowledge to a shared repository
Instead of recording information into case notes or just sharing directly with the customer, Knowledge Workers capture and improve shared knowledge as part of their issue resolution workflow. When many Knowledge Workers participate, the captured knowledge continually evolves in the context of customer issues. Solve Loop techniques ensure that knowledge is captured in such a way that it can be efficiently reused by others.
The Knowledge Worker perspective applies to many different roles beyond Support. Any Service interaction—internal or external—where knowledge is exchanged becomes applicable for KCS. Customer Success, Human Resources, Information Technology, and Field Services are other common examples. With KCS, one-to-one interactions become opportunities for one-to-many knowledge exchange.
Practicing KCS can be a dramatic shift within an organization, and effective change management is essential. Evolve Loop activities address higher-level process changes and guide reflective analysis of Solve Loop activities to ensure that KCS leads to positive outcomes. An important aspect of driving toward positive outcomes is to ensure KCS principles are upheld at all times.
The KCS principles are as follows:
- Abundance: Share more, learn more.
- Create Value: Work tasks; think big picture.
- Demand Driven: Knowledge is a by-product of interaction.
- Trust: Engage, empower, motivate.
Techniques within the Evolve Loop focus on content health, process integration, performance assessment, leadership, and communication. Evolve Loop techniques ensure that we effectively measure content use and reinforce KCS principles by connecting KCS activity to wider organizational benefits.
People are excited about KCS because knowledge is a valuable, yet underused, asset within organizations. By integrating knowledge capture and continuous improvement into existing processes, we make relevant knowledge reusable and self-correcting.
KM strives to make best use of knowledge to achieve organizational objectives. As a methodology based on KM, KCS enables three types of organizational benefits:
- Operational efficiency: More robust captured knowledge in the context of demand increases capacity and reduces time to proficiency for new Knowledge Workers.
- Self-service success: Published knowledge becomes accessible by customers, within their context, for the highest audience reach and lowest effort.
- Organizational learning: Reflective analysis of knowledge interactions leads to product, process, and service improvements.
Applying KCS to Technical Content
Two high-level possibilities exist for how to explore KCS:
- If teams in your organization are already practicing KCS, seek to align with their processes and techniques.
- If teams in your organization are not already practicing KCS, identify how you can more directly incorporate KCS principles.
Incorporating KCS Principles in Technical Communication
Are you unintentionally hindering an abundance mindset or missing opportunities to achieve big-picture value? Incorporate KCS techniques to gain insight for content optimization and to improve business outcomes. The most important outcomes are typically tied to revenue (such as acquisition, retention, upsells, cross-sells), and these outcomes are a reflection of helping customers experience value from our products and services.
Demand-driven knowledge activity helps prioritize efforts around customer needs. Measure internal and external interactions with captured knowledge to systematically connect technical content with customer demand.
Relevant knowledge is a key to meeting your customers’ needs. How can you author and publish your technical content in a way that more closely aligns to customer interactions? Consider relevance for both human-assisted and unassisted self-service interactions. Is your content designed to help your customers experience the highest possible value? Their perspective includes context and effort that likely goes beyond the scope of your product or service. Could you help them even more if you incorporated their wider context?
Consider all knowledge interactions across functions in your organization, both internal and external. Are your insights and measurement capabilities siloed? What opportunities do you have to cross-functionally measure knowledge interactions to truly prioritize the most important areas for improvement? KCS looks different in every organization. What do your Solve Loop and Evolve Loop look like?
For your Solve Loop, how can you incorporate collective knowledge capture into existing processes? Knowledge can include relevant product information and metadata. For example, you could work toward more blended knowledge delivery so that users can find and interact with diverse knowledge sources wherever they’re looking. Truly blended knowledge means users can find any content from where they are and that all your content has a shared data schema for effective analysis.
For your Evolve Loop, how can you reinforce collaborative effort to drive toward the same outcomes across your organization? To create the most value for your customer, you may be required to revisit old assumptions, compromise on established methods, or get creative. For example, perhaps particular technical content is relevant to include a lead or upsell call to action (CTA). Or perhaps a popular troubleshooting article highlights an opportunity for automated issue resolution.
Think about how technical content powers your business outcomes and how every content interaction gives insight into what your users are trying to do. Then use those insights to prevent your customer from expending effort to interact with that content in the first place.
Your Next Move
Change is hard but necessary, especially in the subscription economy, where customers can move on in an instant.
- Settle for vanity metrics (analytics that do not connect to meaningful outcomes). Instead, use metrics to find connections to value or to identify high-friction interactions that you can mitigate.
- Make excuses not to change. Instead, identify how you should compromise so that your customers don’t have to. Consumer behavior has changed, and so should your methods.
- Take a tools-first approach. Instead, obsess over your customer context to figure out what customers need, and ideate solutions from there. Vendors will try to convince you that you have a problem that fits their solution.
- Get the right people together. Effective KM is cross-functional and constantly evolving. Form a knowledge council and work toward shared goals.
- Assume there are assumptions. Take the time to define terms and call out how disparate goals could be hindering collective wins.
- Think big picture. Ideally, products are perfect, and there’s no need for supplemental technical content at all! While that’s highly unlikely, we should do everything we can to move products toward that ideal.
A best next step is to define your internal and external users and what each needs to be successful within their context. Even if you think you know, revisit the idea with cross-functional representation.
Then, enable knowledge insights to successively do the next best step to reduce effort and increase value for your customers.
KCS is a registered trademark of the Consortium for Service Innovation.
Sara Feldman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is experienced with customer-centric functions in the software industry. She specializes in customer self-service, Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS), customer success enablement, and cross-functional technical content strategy.