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When COVID-19 sent agents fleeing from call centers to the safety of working from their own homes, they lost an important resource: the ability to bounce questions off their co-workers.
"A lot of customer service teams got really slammed -- both with the challenge of working from home and not having your peers to be able to just turn and ask questions to," said Erica Clayton, director of artist support at TuneCore, a music distributor based in New York. "That's hard for a lot of people."
With this resource off the table, many businesses turned to internal knowledge bases to provide employees the information they needed to efficiently do their jobs -- either creating them from scratch or adding to existing repositories, said Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst for CRM and customer service at Forrester Research.
Knowledge bases are libraries of articles about a specific subject, designed to answer common questions. They contain short articles that are easily scannable -- unlike content management systems, which house longer-form content.
But customer service knowledge bases benefit more than just employees. A customer-facing knowledge base provides self-service content for customers, enabling them to find answers to their questions without the help of another human. This reduces the amount of time spent on hold and call volume in the call center queue.
"What's happening during this pandemic is that contact centers are getting flooded with inquiries. Anytime there's a change in government policy and regulation -- and as states close and reopen -- it can [affect] the customer," Leggett said.
Internal knowledge base helps with training
Home warranty company Frontdoor Inc. in Memphis, Tenn., had both internal and external customer service knowledge bases in place before the pandemic began but has added a significant amount of information into the system since call center agents began working at home, said Ben Moore, director of business intelligence and analytics at Frontdoor. Moore is responsible for all telephony, self-service, big data and analytics in the contact center.
Frontdoor added FAQ content to its employee knowledge base, such as information about the company's COVID-19 response -- an important subject that call center agents needed to quickly learn about. The company added information about safety; security; coronavirus screening; how to handle customers asking to cancel their service; discounting; and putting contracts on pause.
When everyone began working at home at the same time, the company was in the process of migrating to Amazon Connect, a cloud-based contact center. The shift to new software and home offices introduced a number of challenges, including team members needing new links to log into the system to take calls and training on how to use Amazon Connect, Moore said.
Because Frontdoor was under such a time crunch, they couldn't train employees to use Amazon Connect via their usual training method, a learning management system called VenU. Frontdoor's knowledge base -- built on the Bloomfire software -- was the next best option, providing easy access to training materials for their more-than 2,000 employees and outsourced contractors in the Philippines and Trinidad.
"Coaching and development for a lot of these associates in an in-home setting is very different than with traditional brick-and-mortar calls," Moore said.
Due to an increased demand for customer support representatives, TuneCore needed to create training materials for new hires in its call center, Clayton said. TuneCore uses Zendesk for its customer service software and internal and customer-facing knowledge bases.
"We need more comprehensive training materials, and we need information that's centralized in one location," Clayton said.
In the past, TuneCore performed a crash-course training, where call center agents would work with a manager in person for a week and then jump in. But that changed when COVID-19 took hold.
"Now, there's a more formalized process, and part of that is our internal knowledge base that other departments are screaming for," Clayton said. "They want a copy of it because it's been so helpful for us as we onboard new people."
TuneCore launched a customer support team in Nashville in January and plans to launch another team in Paris.
"These internal tools are going to be paramount to the success of those teams," Clayton said.
External knowledge base answers customer questions
TuneCore's revamped internal knowledge base could help contact center agents when they did receive calls, but it also needed to overhaul its customer-facing knowledge base to curb the amount of calls altogether.
Erica ClaytonDirector of artist support, TuneCore
Three team leads on TuneCore's customer support team reviewed hundreds of articles in the knowledge base, Clayton said.
"Many of them were out of date at the time or needed a content refresh. It was a project that we had been working on prior to work from home but became so important once we got here," Clayton said.
At the onset of the pandemic, music artists realized they couldn't go on tour and get their music in front of people live, Clayton said. Instead, they wanted to get recordings out on Spotify, iTunes and Amazon and turned to TuneCore for help.
"Suddenly, we had this influx of artists, and we had these great new FAQs that were organized [in chronological order] so you could read them in the order in which you had to do things," Clayton said. "They were written in a language that our artists talk to us in, so they were accessible and understandable."
In addition to Zendesk, TuneCore also uses an artificial intelligence product called Solvvy, which integrates with Zendesk. Solvvy uses machine learning to better understand what kinds of questions customers ask in order to help get them to the right knowledge base articles in the help center.
Benefits of a customer service knowledge base
Knowledge base articles contain descriptive titles that answer specific questions -- usually, company information or common problems. They are also tagged with keywords that clearly explain the content, enabling employees and customer to find them in a search.
Knowledge bases provide four benefits to businesses, Leggett said, including:
- Improved efficiency. Agents have answers to customer questions at their fingertips, enabling a shorter response time.
- Increased customer satisfaction. Users can get quick access to accurate information, sometimes without a live agent, which can increase customer loyalty and improve customer experience.
- Improves regulatory compliance. Businesses can provide sanctioned answers to customers and agents, so they are not hit with noncompliance penalties and fines. This is especially helpful in the financial services and insurance industries.
- Increased revenue. The more content businesses give their customers, the more they will want to engage with a business and make repeat purchases.
Eighty percent of incoming customer inquiries can be answered through a knowledge management system because they tend to be questions that are asked over and over again, Leggett said.