When Samantha Forbes started her job as Quality Assurance & Training Manager - Customer Services at Energy Australia, one of her first and most important insights came when “double-jacking,” the contact center industry's term for listening in while a customer service representative conducts a live call with a customer.
“We had a system called 'Online help' but which I very un-affectionately called 'The Black Hole .'”
Forbes gave the Notes-based application this label after her double-jacking session saw an agent search for information on “meter tests.”
“She was getting really frustrated,” Forbes recalled. “She turned to me and said: 'Fix this.'”
“This” was a screen showing 4000 articles on meter tests, a volume of information that made it all-but impossible for the contact center agent to assist customers.
Forbes' further investigation discovered that agents had no way to feed back on the practicality of the systems they used. Multiple authors were allowed to update the 10,000 articles in the knowledge base, which was written with inconsistent language and typography, further complications to agents' lives.
“This resulted the team being completely stressed, completely frazzled and having no idea what to tell our customers.”
To complicate matters further, Forbes says Energy Australia's customers are becoming increasingly complex, but the company had not responded well to its new complications. Products and processes had become so convoluted that an eight-week training course was required for new hires and, Forbes said literally reduced inductees to tears.
Energy Australia's has been far-reaching, with a program that aimed to re-engage employees, create feedback mechanisms and rebuild the knowledge management database to support those efforts.
The company made these changes with “DARTs” – Design and Review teams – comprised of team leaders and customer service agents from within the call center. These teams researched the organisation’s shortcomings and devised alternative processes, with help from a manager designated to lead the team.
“These people became our change agents,” Forbes says.
In the knowledge management workstream, DART members work-shopped the knowledge management requirements and determined a need for accurate, accessible information with clear processes to have it changed when necessary. The DART team even selected the software to power the new systems, settling on a RightNow solution after Notes was deemed irretrievable. The chance to build the new knowledge base on a platform that has the potential for re-use as a customer-facing tool also appealed, as the company hopes to eventually introduce web-based self-service tools.
Workers on the knowledge management team also re-wrote many knowledge base articles, developing and implementing standards and reducing the number of articles to 2,000 by removing inaccurate or duplicate articles.
The new tool, dubbed “ARC” (ask, realise and confirm) went live in mid 2008.
Forbes says the project has made a very significant difference to the organisation. Staff feedback has been generally positive and the new knowledge base is held to be an authoritative source of information, as indicated by staff accessing 30,000 articles a month – up from 8,000 at the time of the knowledge base’s introduction.
Another benefit has been reduced induction costs, as Energy Australia no longer has to train new hires as extensively as they can find information they need in the knowledge base.
The organisation’s culture has also changed. Forbes says 25 to 40 pieces of feedback are received each week on how to improve articles or other processes.
The company is now planning to introduce its knowledge base to its back office teams, replacing ad hoc repositories of process information. E-learning is also on the agenda, with internal social networks under consideration as a training tool.
Simon Sharwood travelled to RightNow's APAC Summit '09 as a guest of the company.