Transforming business through knowledge automation
Modern business is global, multilingual, scaled, outsourced and diffused. Where – or if – it has its centre can be difficult to see. Yet business’ essential relationship remains that between the organization and its customer, a relationship that must convey immediacy and even intimacy regardless of the distances involved. How do organizations reconcile the often decentralized nature of their operations with responsive customer service?
The key is knowledge. Knowledge – the curated store of an organization’s collective data and experience – can be distributed digitally across any organizational structure, and provides quick, reliable answers to both customers and agents wherever they are located. Knowledge gives modern business its centre. Properly managed, knowledge can transform a large-scale business by seamlessly joining scattered operations.
The Contact Centre Landscape
Remote customer service happens in the contact centre. Contact centres are big business in their own right. While their numbers fluctuate with trends in offshoring and onshoring, by a recent count there were over 6000 in the UK alone, employing around 4% of the nation’s workforce.1They represent significant investment in personnel and infrastructure, in addition to their impact on an organization’s wider profitability.
The structure of contact centres is diverse. Size varies from a few agents to thousands of agents. Some contact centres are directly owned and operated by the organizations whose customers they serve. Others are operated by organizations that provide outsourced business services (BPOs), and might serve the customers of several different companies under one roof. Of the fifty largest contact centres in the UK, around one in five is operated by a BPO.2
While all contact centres need effective knowledge to fulfil their objectives, that need is especially acute for larger operations serving multiple regions or clients. The larger or more diverse the operation, the more facts need to be at agents’ fingertips and the less individual memories suffice. An agent employed by a BPO might need to solve an issue for one client’s customer and then switch seamlessly to the customer of a different client. An agent in an offshore contact centre might need to be familiar with operating procedures in many countries other than their own. Knowledge managers need to keep information accurate and up to date across multiple sites or regions, to ensure customers get consistent answers regardless of their point of contact.
For any global, scaling, multilingual or multi-location business, knowledge is the most important factor in success.
AI-enhanced Knowledge Automation
As a knowledge company, we know why enterprises and BPOs ask Transversal to help transform their business. It’s because knowledge is the foundation of a successful, large-scale service operation. Centralized knowledge enables a business to provide information to distributed operations without replicating information sources. Transversal’s clients include BPOs that manage customer service for multiple businesses, multinational corporations whose bases are scattered over the globe, and merged companies that need to consolidate legacy knowledgebases and business systems. We work both with organizations that provide business services and directly with end businesses. We help each client to devise a knowledge strategy that meets its individual goals.
Centralized knowledge automation is based on the principle of “write once, publish everywhere”. The collective knowledge of the organization is curated in a central repository, removing the need to maintain information in multiple places or to search through multiple sources to find answers. This reduces the effort of maintenance and improves the consistency of responses. It also enables knowledge to be made available directly where it is useful. Knowledge can be retrieved through customer searches on web or mobile sites. Knowledge can be retrieved through agents’ searches on contact centre desktops. Knowledge can be pushed to CRM screens based on the content of customer communications, surfaced on web pages at which a user might need help, and integrated with a plethora of applications through APIs. Wherever it’s needed, and whether that need is explicit in a user’s request or implicit in their observed behaviour, content can be output with little effort from the central knowledgebase and repurposed indefinitely.
AI-enhanced systems, like Transversal’s Prescience™, are the most efficient at retrieving knowledge. Through AI language processing, an automated knowledge system can understand the subjects and relationships of content rather than being restricted to literal matching of words. AI-enhanced knowledge can interpret the meaning of a user’s search query to deliver a targeted, intuitive response. It can automatically cluster pieces of content that are thematically related and recommend them to readers investigating that theme. It can suggest content in response to the analysis of unstructured text, such as customer emails. AI also adds intelligence to analytics, for example by identifying “knowledge gaps” based on evaluation of users’ searches and actions.
Because knowledge enhanced with AI is more intuitive than knowledge that isn’t, users can find the information they need with less effort. The likelihood of finding the right answer first time increases, while follow-up enquiries decrease. Customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores improve as customers are able to complete tasks more easily. Agents have more time and attention for higher-value business, including up-selling and cross-selling, as automation takes on the bulk of routine enquiries.
A Global Reach for Knowledge
A major challenge for BPOs and other multinational organizations is managing customer service knowledge across regions. Whether the organization is split across departments, sites, countries or continents (or all of these), diverse focal points increase the complexity of knowledge and, potentially, the multiplication of siloes, versions and errors.
Digital knowledge solves this issue by collapsing physical distance. When knowledge is stored in a centralized digital repository, it can be distributed electronically across the business without having to store and maintain documents in each location. This reduces effort while decreasing the likelihood of error and keeping knowledge consistent across the business.
To maintain the highest quality of knowledge, consistency should not mean uniformity. In a large-scale organization, knowledge might need to be provided in different languages and tailored to regional variations in currency, law or practice. Transversal provides a tiered knowledge management system to facilitate multi-regional operations. In our Prescience™ Central Knowledge platform, multiple regional or local knowledgebases are populated from a master knowledgebase from which content applicable to the whole organization can be centrally controlled. The regional knowledgebases are responsible for translating and localizing this content, and can additionally create knowledge unique to their own operation.
With a global knowledge solution, you can maintain knowledge across the organization without replicating it for each site. New physical locations can easily be added to the digital map. Staff in remote locations are supported by a central information bank, while customers everywhere receive answers that are both consistent in quality and responsive to their location.
Benefits of Knowledge Automation
Improving the delivery of knowledge directly impacts the bottom line. It reduces costs, because knowledge is simpler to maintain and questions are answered more efficiently. It increases revenue opportunities, because customers are less likely to abandon a transaction and agents have more time and energy to pursue sales. It further provides “soft” benefits such as increasing customer satisfaction.
Customers increasingly research products online, whether they ultimately make their purchase online or in a physical store. According to research by Forrester, 45% of customers will abandon an online transaction if they can’t find the information they want. That’s almost half of online sales potentially lost either because the right knowledge isn’t available or because knowledge is too difficult to access. No one can afford that. By transforming knowledge management, organizations can facilitate transactions by:
- Enabling customers to find the information they need, first time, through AI-enhanced search and retrieval;
- Pushing relevant knowledge at points where customers are likely to have difficulty, such as the checkout;
- Identifying and plugging gaps in knowledge with the help of advanced analytics.
Improving knowledge also improves efficiency in the contact centre, first by cutting training times for agents. When the key knowledge for their job is stored in a central repository and is easy to access, new agents can get up to speed more quickly. Plumbing and building supplier, Wolseley, was able to reduce training times by a third after implementing Transversal’s Prescience™ in its contact centres. Not only were agents onboarded faster, but they were able to advise on the full range of products from the beginning, rather than gradually increasing their responsibilities. This gain in efficiency is especially significant given the high employee turnover in contact centres.
While revenue is not the main purpose of contact centres, improving knowledge can increase opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling. The more easily agents can find information to answer customers’ enquiries, the more time and energy they have for higher-value activities. Better knowledge also helps agents target sales by increasing their overall product awareness. Wolseley made several thousand additional sales each month after automating knowledge in its contact centres. Most of these sales were of add-on products and amounted to a monthly £2 million in revenue.
A Transformed Business
Knowledge is the centre of a business world that no longer has a physical centre. Knowledge connects the widespread locations of a multinational enterprise. Knowledge connects outsourced employees to their employer. Knowledge connects the diverse responsibilities of a BPO. Knowledge provides the means to serve customers at multiple touchpoints, and connects questions with answers regardless of time, place or medium. Knowledge is the new lifeblood of large-scale organizations.
Automating knowledge effectively, so a centralized knowledgebase underpins every point of need, can be disruptive. It takes will, strategy and commitment at all levels of the organization. Once achieved, however, it can quickly realize ROI and pay ongoing dividends in efficiency and goodwill.