Tag Archives: social collaboration

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).

Web 2.0 business service to enhance service delivery

Why social networking (a.k.a. Web 2.0) is well-positioned to proactively improve service delivery

Since 1997, I have held customer service adviser or leadership roles at four companies. A common complaint I have heard (literally hundreds of times as I “…monitored calls for quality assurance purposes”) was that customers wished the company who was providing service to them would simply listen to what they had to say and make improvements in responses. This is simple with a local service (as you can call the owner or drop by). It is hard in a large enterprise as it hard to make it convenient for customers to provide feedback and for the enterprise to determine the feedback with the most relevance or greatest consensus.

Social networking — when designed and positioned correctly — is well structured to make it–

  • Easy for customers to individually give you feedback and advice for improvement
  • Natural for customers to collectively reveal what opinions are highest impacting or most ubiquitous
  • Cost-effective for the enterprise to understand what changes will provide the highest ROI and act accordingly

Social networking solution position for service delivery improvement

(Again, I am following the Problem Statement-Solution Position model to ensure a focus on providing true enterprise value. See my last post for more on this approach)

For enterprises who deliver recurring services (e.g., plans, subscriptions, support) — especially those in markets with a high churn and high costs of customer acquisition

Who want to enhance service delivery, increase customer satisfaction and reduce churn

Service Delivery Improvement Social Collaboration is a transformational social networking business service

That prioritizes unmet customer needs and communicates back the company’s response and resolution

Providing faster, pro-active detection and resolution of high priority problems in service delivery, ultimately leading to higher customer loyalty and reduced churn. (For each one point drop in customer churn the company can realize $x million dollars in increased earnings)

Unlike traditional customer care solutions that respond to customer cancellations (instead of eliciting unmet needs upstream of cancellation) or technology-centric social network widgets that do not focus on efficiently achieving business value

Social networking solution perspective for service delivery improvement

The best way to explain how this Service Delivery Improvement Social Collaboration Business Service would work to outline a sample perspective of how it would fit into a real-world scenario. I like to use mobile phone coverage as it is a problem that has plagued me in many places and caused me to terminate service with many companies:

XYZ is a mobile provider for millions of customers worldwide. Mobile number portability laws have significantly increased churn in a competitive market. Even with service contracts, the cost to acquire each new subscriber is over several hundred dollars.

XYZ uses Social Collaboration to setup the “Tell Us How We Can Serve You” site that enable customers to report service problems and unmet needs. The site will leverage network effects to raise prioritization on issues with the most pervasive concern. This will enable XYZ to prioritize resources and response for the greatest ROI (important in its highly competitive market)

When customers sign up for new mobile contracts with XYZ they are provided literature highlighting how this site provides them a voice to obtain a higher level of support. XYZ can also highlight this competitive advantage in all marketing points of contact (storefronts, web site, commercials, and advertisements).
When customers enter this site they can provide feedback into two areas: 1) what geographic areas need coverage and 2) what geographic areas are having problems. Each of these areas has a similar interaction experience.

Users can view site information without logging in. To add information or comment upon or rate another user’s input the customer would be asked to “log in” using his or her mobile number and voice mail PIN. This is possible by linking site sign-on with voice mail sign-on from XYZ’s database.

When customers enter the “need coverage” area they are invited to enter locations where XYZ needs to provide or improve coverage. Other consumers can use a “me too” comment for this to raise the importance of geographic areas of interest. This will exploit network effects to automatically highlight those geographic areas with the greatest demand for improved coverage—letting XYZ focus its resources on places with the greatest customer need. Linking sign-in to mobile numbers will prevent gaming and assure accurate insight into customer need. A very similar site area can enable customers to report areas where they are experiencing poor coverage (e.g., outages or dropped calls).

Finally, the site contains a section where the CEO or Head of Customer Service can share what he has learned from his customer. This closes the loop by actively demonstrating to customers that they have been heard.

This use of social networking improves overall service in a highly efficient manner. XYZ focuses service attention on those areas that have been reinforced with converging site feedback. XYZ also shows its customers how it is listening to their feedback to improve their experience. Ultimately this increases the ROI of mobile network investments and reduces customer churn.

This type of service can benefit any that company delivers recurring services and is trying to avoid churn. In the private sector, a similar approach could be applied to banks trying to retain checking, savings, or investment accounts. In the public sector, this could applied to help cost-effectively scale services ranging from unemployment assistance to child protection

How far away is this?

This is not very far away. Companies like Dell have take the first steps of reaching out to listen to customers through services like “Idea Storm.” What is needed is more structure around this interaction and collaboration and stronger enterprise integration. I know of a few different technologies (from several companies) that could be coupled together in short order (8-12 weeks) to provide this service.