Tag Archives: ideation

Using Web 2.0 to manage IFAQs (Interactive FAQs) for help desks

Why are FAQs applicable to the enterprise?

A lot of people think FAQs (especially if you pronounce this | faks |) are only for online digerati (i.e., online techies). However, at their root, FAQs are the best answers to the most common questions asked by your customers or staff. This is applied knowledge management for customer care and internal support—albeit at a manually intensive, low efficiency level. If you could make this knowledge easily accessible by your customers or staff, you would have far fewer calls to your contact center or help desk (saving you lots of money).

Why are FAQs better than other forms of knowledge management?

So we established that FAQs are nascent forms of knowledge management…so what? Why is this better than other forms of knowledge management (KM), such as inferential case management systems, expert artificial intelligence system, Bayesian knowledge trees or recommendation engines?

Every year, customer support organizations pour millions of dollars into systems and approaches to automate knowledge management to achieve the triple goal of reducing contact center calls, call time and callback rate. Most of these programs do their job of managing knowledge but rarely achieve these reduction calls for a simple reason: they manage knowledge in a way that is optimal for IT, not in a way that is optimal for how human beings obtain knowledge. (If you don’t believe me, contact me to discuss over $200-million USD of real-world examples using ALL of the alternate KM techniques listed above.)

When people call you for help, they start by asking a question. Once they ask this question, they do not want to proceed down a tree of 19 other questions (they case-based version of “Twenty Questions”), they simply want an answer. If you have ever studied contact center traffic, you will find that on a given day or week, the large people are calling about limited set of items. If you can pull together the answers to the questions and make them easily to access, you can address the large majority of your customers’ (or staff members’) needs. Basically, this is management and provision of FAQs for your staff and customers.

If FAQs are better, why are enterprises not widely using them?

If you ever managed a FAQ list, you know this it is intensely manual process:

  • First, you need to look at all your submitted questions
  • Next, you need to categorize them and combine similar questions into one
  • Then you need to write answers
  • Finally, you need to post all of this in an easy-to-use format

This is hard enough in a static world. It is next-to-impossible in a dynamic world where the question of the day or week is always changing—and at high volume. This is why few enterprises use FAQs for knowledge management and support.

Why IFAQs (a.k.a. FAQs 2.0) is the answer

Interactive FAQs allow enterprises to manage and scale use of FAQs to manage customer care and support knowledge. To see why, we first need to define what an IFAQ is:

I•FAQ |ˈī fak| (noun)

Abbreviation for: Interactive Frequently Asked Question(s)

Definition: Content organization in the form of questions and answers about the use or operation of a particular product or service that is managed using a two-way flow of information between those asking the questions and those providing the answers.

  1. Open IFAQs enable anyone to ask questions or provide answers. These fully leverage open network behaviors, both for maximum flow of information and maximum exposure to redirection
  2. Hybrid IFAQs enable anyone to ask questions but limit who is able to provide answers (usually to approved experts). Hybrid IFAQs respond more slowly but add the benefit of providing enterprise-certified answers

Both types of IFAQs are social networks. Managers of these networks can moderate their content to ensure user generated content remains focused on the core topics of the IFAQ

Alternate terminology: FAQ 2.0 |ˈfak toō pɔint ō|

With non-interactive knowledge management systems, the enterprise has to “guess” what knowledge it staff or customer needs. Enterprises typically do this by analyzing past requests then providing knowledge to their support staff – after the fact.
IFAQs turn this around entirely:

  • First and foremost, customers drive the process. They submit questions directly to the enterprise. (The enterprise responds by answering these questions.)
  • This dynamic builds the true list of most frequently asked questions. As this occurs, customers can look at the answers to these common questions (instead of asking new questions)
  • It is adaptive in real-time. When customers have a new concern, they immediate ask these questions. As soon as the enterprise answers the new question all other customers can see it. This can prevent call volume by detecting and publicly address of new issues as soon as they emerge

What makes a good IFAQ service?

To be effective an IFAQ service must have the following features and characteristics:

  1. Have an easy-to-use, intuitive interface. If you do not provide this, your customers will not want to use it
  2. Support multimedia content. A picture can be more useful than a thousand words; a video contains thousands of pictures (i.e., frames). Allowing both questions and answers to contain pictures, videos, audio and documents will make them much more compelling (compelling enough to get someone to use these vs. picking up the phone).
  3. Be able to organize questions around topics and calls-to-action. If you do not provide this you will get the “big pile of questions and answers” that makes it impossible for people to find what they need. I call social calls-to-action “social campaigns”
  4. Enable customers to submit, rate, and comment upon content. If you do not do this, you will not know if your answers are like, helpful or even correct. By letting users vote on your content, you can drive the best content to the top. But letting them expand upon it, you can learn better ways to present your answers to make them more effective.
  5. Provide rich moderation controls. You need to be able to manage what who can ask questions and who can answer them. You also need to be able to edit and remove duplicate or incorrect content. You also need to enable your users to report inappropriate content (and automatically remove content when a set number of people report this). If you do not provide this, you will lose control of your network
  6. Support enterprise integration. You will want to add this onto your enterprise. That means you will want to be able to integrate with employee directories and your CRM or ITIL Management systems. This is the difference between making an amateur or proof-of-concept IFAQ and an enterprise one.
  7. Integrate business intelligence. If you cannot analyze and report on how the IFAQ is used, you cannot measure its enterprise value.

Essentially, these are all principles of delivering a robust, purpose-driven social network focused on ideation.

How close are we to this?

To quote the old “Six Million Dollar Man” show, “we have the technology; we can build [it].” However, it is not a question of having the technology, it is more of positioning it use. Positioned correctly, you not only can use this for customer care but also to drive revenue: Imagine answering a question with a description, instructional video and hyperlink to purchasing a product or service to perform this. That turns a cost of support into a sales lead. (If this sounds unreal, a quick demonstration example can be found here).

Evolving ideation into social collaboration

Note: This post was written before this concept evolved into what is now known as crowdsourcing (or crowdsourced software for content development). It was also written before the evolution of private social production platforms like HipChat and Slack

What Web 2.0 brings to the table

Often I am asked, “What the heck is Web 2.0?” by my non-technology friends (most of my friends are not technologists).

Here is the answer I give:

Web 1.0 let organizations publish information that could be accessed easily by all of us when we needed it, at our convenience. This changed entirely how we read the news, looked up movie times and checked stock quotes or the weather. The problem with Web 1.0 was that it was biased towards making it easy for large organizations to share information. CNN could easily setup a web site to share news and opinion. However, if *I* wanted to share information with many other people in this fashion, I had to setup my own web site, publish content, figure out how to control access to it, etc. This was too hard for the everyday person (who had “more important” things to worry about in his or her life).

Web 2.0 changed this by making it easy to share my views and information–and to control how I share it. Now I can use Facebook to share my vacation pictures with my friends (but limit my contact information to my professional colleagues). I do not have to build a web site, administer it, share the URL with my friends and get them to bookmark and visit it. Instead, I can rely on the fact they will visit facebook as part of their normal life and see my updates there (the network effect). It makes it much easier for me.

Enterprise 2.0 and Government 2.0 do the same — but directly in support of the missions of public and private enterprises. They let stakeholders share information and views regarding how industry and government should work (instead of simply proclaiming, “I feel blue today.”)

I have had pretty good success with this definition. It is short and relevant enough not to bore them and detailed enough to not insult their intelligence.

If you keep this in mind, it does not take a large leap in logic to see that the Web 2.0 communications medium can be used to create new services to help manage businesses and public organizations. These types of services will be ones that leverage the network effect, i.e., interaction with members of the community to find information, measure opinions, foster collaboration or share ideas…

How Web 2.0 an evolve ideation into social collaboration

Ideation is a defined as the process of forming or creating ideas (hence the terrible portmanteau). People have been using various ideation techniques for years to design more compelling products, processes and campaigns. The problem is that ideation has been limited by how much input you could manage in a collaborative efficient manner. This typically limits you to working face-to-face (ideation over conference phones — even tele-presence units — is not efficient) in groups no larger than 8-12 people. To get the input of many, you have to incur travel costs and hold many workshops or focus groups. This is slow and expensive. Here is where Web 2.0 comes to play.

Using Web 2.0 technologies and communications practices you can manage ideation in a way to lets people from all over the world participate in the ideation process — with far more speed efficiency:

  • People can participate when they the are ready
  • They can do so remotely, looking at content you have made accessible on line
  • They can interact with each asynchronously, e.g., I can make an idea at 2pm in Florida and someone else can comment on it twelve hours later in during normal business hours in Tokyo

About five months ago I began using the name “Social Collaboration” for a social networking business service to manage this:

Social Collaboration |ˈsō sh əl kəˌlabəˈrā sh ən| (noun)
A Business Service that enables—

  1. Enterprises (business and public sector) to call their stakeholders (customers, employees, and citizens) to action to solicit their input and ideas
  2. Stakeholders to respond collaborate with each other to build on each others ideas and drive preferred ideas to high level visibility
  3. Enterprises to gain understanding and insight into their stakeholders’ ideas and demonstrate that these ideas have been heard and acted upon

Abbreviation: So•Co |ˈ’sō kō |

SoCo can be used in many arenas to improve product research, service delivery, customer loyalty, business change management and public policy outreach.

What makes a good social collaboration business service

Several companies are working on building ideation-related SoCo services. The ideal SoCo service will have the following characteristics:

  • Be easy to use — from anywhere, by anyone
  • Support multimedia-based ideation (so people can collaborate using videos, pod casts, documents and pictures)
  • Enforce structured ideation, i.e., automatically organizes collaborative input, content and preference (without this you will not be able to manage large-scale collaboration)
  • Based on the network effect: if it does not work in a manner that leverages the power of the network you will gain no benefit from going beyond small working groups
  • Require attribution (to reinforce the natural process of person-to-person collaboration and enable direct follow-up)
  • Enable multiple levels of moderation (to make the ideation safe and ensure it remains focused on the problem or challenge on hand)
  • Readily support analysis (to enable you to find the most popular, most unpopular and most controversial input so you can take informed action and ultimately realize your business benefit)

Two-thousand-nine, the year of Change (political, economic, business and technology) may ideal time and place for Social Collaboration. Using it, we can figure out how best to be more efficient, develop our infrastructure, work globally and recover from our current recession.

Follow-on Note (January 2010):

By the end of 2010 this line products coalesced around the category name of crowdsourcing. At Neighborhood America we combined both our ideation (e.g., Microsoft Public Sector On-Demand) and YouTube-like UGC contest products (e.g., Kodak Idea Center–now ShutterFly) into a category set of crowdsourcing products.