In our last post, we explored on a high level, that digitalization and knowledge management are the key ingredients for turning service departments into modern business units. In this post, we are digging a little bit deeper to understand how we can approach this.
Digital technology is indeed revolutionizing the provision of services. Much of the technology necessary to turn the vision of the “ideal support case” into reality already exist, but too few companies in the service industries have reached an advanced level of automation and interactivity that makes it possible. And, when we talk “service industries” we are not only considering service intensive industries like telecommunication but also product companies as services provision is becoming more and more important for their businesses too. “Service 4.0” as a term is starting to gain traction as service is undergoing a transformation from a standardised semi-automated self-service and representative supported experience backed by documents, videos and simple decisions support systems to embracing advances in software and hardware. Advances that allow for a customized and proactive approach to solving issues that takes customer information, preferences and history into account when making suggestions in service situations. Furthermore, with the IoT on the rise, insights from sensors deployed in many products and networks, the precision, efficiency and effectiveness increases significantly as the systems become able to automatically analyse the situation and provide informed decisions improved by introducing self-configuration, self-optimization and intelligent support of workers and customers in a world of increasingly complex products.
Internet of Services
Where the Internet of Things helps us gain insight into devices and machines the “Internet of Services” is an opportunity to build systems that rely on an interconnected pool of individual services that, when combined, turns into very powerful applications capable of powering the next generation service and support products.
Here at Dezide we have seen companies taking their entire portfolio of applications, used in the call centre, totally apart and start from scratch. They build on the core services needed to support the customers and then gradually adding more and more services as the old legacy applications with horrible user interfaces are converted into services each with constrained responsibilities and nice programming interfaces to other services. This allows service companies to build one unified user experience that presents only the absolutely necessary information to the user and abstracts away all the tedious details and takes away manual evaluation of complex data which is instead handled by the application – such an approach has a huge effect on the effectiveness of call centre agents as they are much easier trained and up and running in no time as they only have to learn one easy user interface and not learn a plethora of old systems or learn how to look at and make sense from complex data.
This one example from the telecommunication industry, which is one of the most ineffective service industries, has taken them to the front of service and customer satisfaction as the use of new digital technologies has enabled them to provide service levels that exceed the customers’ expectations -even with new and less skilled agents in the call centres. Customers’ expectations are increasing as they demand increasingly easy, intuitive and personalized support experiences and off course availability through multiple channels around the clock.
The system now delegates all manual work to services operating behind the scenes which ensures that all tasks are handled in the same way every time. This leads to decreased average handling time, increased first time right, increased precision in escalations to field technicians – and greatly reduced waste in terms of employees idling while awaiting work items.
Off course building an application like the one described here can be a massive undertaking and it requires a mature company with the organizational strength to invest the necessary time and resources to break things apart and build new services leveraging new and dynamic technologies.
However, in our experience, Service 4.0 is indeed for everyone as the right tools can help even the smallest organizations get started by providing easy means for capturing expert knowledge and making it available through multiple channels in a proactive fashion and allow for utilising i.e. sensor data. The goal should be to start capturing knowledge in a knowledge management system sooner than later. And, its imperative to start organizing knowledge in a way that will give value on the short term while providing the opportunities to grow with the company and scale the usage of the captured knowledge in new ways that can turn to revenue in the long term.
Here are some results from a telecom company in Switzerland who has achieved amazing results just by making captured knowledge available for all call centre agents using a standard tool like Dezide out of the box. They have not even started utilising the IoT yet which will definitely improve the results further. These results verify that it’s really about getting started – automation can be added later.
Number one provider in First Call Resolution and lowest Average Handling Time in all of Switzerland.
- Average Handling Time
- Down from 10.30 to 6.3 minutes = 39% reduction
- First Call Resolution
- Up from 75% to 93% = 24% increase
These results were achieved mainly by structuring and optimizing the call centre processes.
Build vs. Buy
It’s enticing to start building a knowledge management system internally in the organization, and many companies indeed has internal development resources and strong traditions for “doing it yourself”, but the risk of building the wrong software is high. Someone already spent 1000’s of hours building a commercial product and it will remain commercially backed for years to come. If the required software is critical to your business operations and it would be used throughout the organization and interact with other applications then a commercial solution is definitely the best choice.
We have seen various attempts at building custom knowledge base solutions throughout the years. From Word documents and Excel spreadsheets to home-grown static HTML pages and even real efforts to build something driven by probabilities and AI – but they always fail in the long term. Often due the developers not fully understanding the depth of the area of knowledge management and also a lack of resources to maintain such a product.
Off course we see some very good internally built solutions out there too but the best are the ones that focuses on the core tasks of the business and then integrate relevant commercial technologies where applicable.
But what does that mean? Let’s talk about that part next.
Build doesn’t have to mean from scratch
It’s really about making sure that the software is properly utilized by all the users in the organization and building a software product internally that will potentially be used by 1000’s of people every day is not an easy task. The goal is to provide all service workers with easy interfaces.
So, how do we make sure that we give our users the best interfaces?
Consolidating different user interfaces from various systems into a few systems is of considerable value as it saves a lot of time for the users. The integration approach taken by individual companies is often dictated by existing processes, workflows, systems and tools and systems integrators needs to always work closely with the clients to determine the best approach in each case. Building on top of existing and planned IT platforms can lead to amazing results by connecting back-end systems including the case management system, the knowledge management systems and the component CMS through Web Services. Leveraging modern API’s in one unified application for Service Desk agents and Field Service Engineers can easily abstract away handfuls of back-end systems and greatly reduced the amount of training required for new employees while streamlining the support process and ultimately increasing customer satisfaction significantly.
The widespread use of API’s (Application Programming Interfaces) in a service oriented architecture makes it easier than ever to build very capable software solutions by aggregating components that enable different applications to connect and share data.
APIs are valuable for business models and strategies that can streamline selling and remove obstacles to growth.
Change the World
In construction, manufacturing and many other service intensive industries we see that digitalisation can be quite a mouthful – getting to a point where data can be collected from the products is in itself a major undertaking. New products are being fitted with an array of sensors from the factory and old products are being retrofitted with equipment for collecting and transmitting data to HQ.
Getting the data is one thing, using it for something meaningful is something else and it requires new roles and responsibilities to manage all that data, it requires new IT infrastructures to maintain the data and it requires new software to process the data and make it available to users and customers. Turning the data into commercial products and services is yet another mountain to climb.
The availability of cloud based knowledge management systems makes it easy for all companies regardless of size and maturity to get started quickly. Even large corporations are embracing cloud based technologies to avoid hardware heavy on-premise IT solutions that can and most likely will delay a knowledge management project.
All organizations need to formalise and structure their knowledge to start the digital transformation, but if there is nothing to tie everything together, then it’s all just individual Lego blocks. And, while it can feel like you’er about to climb the Sinai when you’er about to undertake a knowledge management project, it doesn’t require that your organization is at a very high maturity level or that you’er using SalesForce, SAP, SDL or whatever – everybody can get started and the sooner the better! Off course you cannot conjure up a great knowledge base from nothing. There are no silver bullets – there is only dedicated structured work and we need the right tools, the right way of capturing knowledge in a sound model and we need people keen on sharing!
Every single client we have worked with over the years are worried about the effort required to undertake a knowledge management project and with good reason – we can only say that it really is a daunting task! And, this is true regardless of the knowledge base software system that is chosen to support the task. We have seen multiple customers opting for solutions that promise to automatically link to all your existing content and somehow magically make it available in a structured form to all who needs it. Common for all of those projects are, that they have failed.
Start out small
What really works is to start out small and scale with time. Because, where most people think that companies that are already doing great in knowledge management are very structured companies with everything ready to just put into a knowledge management system, the truth is, that they all come from exactly the same place. A reality of unstructured and scattered information on how to best troubleshoot their equipment. Field service technicians spending large amounts of time on calling each other when they need help and even worse – calling HQ to speak to R&D. They had nothing but manuals and diagrams and their experience and know-how about some very complex machines and they all started out with focusing on one product and then building a knowledge base for that single machine type to start with. One of the companies that we have worked with actually had an engineering student as the only person on the project for a long time and it’s one of the most successful cases we have today. In many cases, it has taken af few years before the knowledge management project moved out of R&D and into Operations to ensure proper traction and user acceptance.
So, while it does take a fair amount of resources and dedication to build and maintain a knowledge base that will transform the service business into Service 4.0 levels, the result will offer a new degree of resiliency and responsiveness enabling companies that get there first to beat the competition on every level in the service business by providing employees, partners and customers with the most effective and transparent service offerings.
No, it won’t be easy and I will guarantee you, that you’ll want to quit at some point, but never stop believing that this is the right thing to do!
It’s a transformation of the entire service organization and the results we have seen are amazing.
You just have to get started – right now!