In Praise of Chat & Online Communities

How FireEye Dramatically Improved Customer Support

Over the last few years, there has been a significant move away from how we access help and support for products or services. Traditionally there would be an instruction manual and more recently a website containing the support documentation for an organization. However, in a digital mobile-first world, we are much more likely to turn to a combination of people and technology to obtain instant answers to our questions.

Advances in technology are already responsible for creating new chat and online communities. I recently spoke with John Bauer, Senior Director, Customer Support Technology at FireEye to understand how they are reducing costs and increasing efficiency by implementing a chat solution.

FireEye set out to transform customer service into a profit center by minimizing the time and effort that it takes to resolve a case. Bauer told me how when he first started there was an emphasis on email, phone and web support. Ideally, you want to leverage your web support channel because it provides the most context and is very efficient, but Bauer also advised that its chat and online communities that are the least costly and most effective.

In our conversation, he also highlighted that smaller support teams would find it relatively easy to manage their workload without the need for analytics. But, Bauer warned, as you scale, it will quickly become apparent, just how much time, and money can be saved through by leveraging analytics.

What many fail to realize is that chat allows organizations to exchange information and, direct customers to articles and documentation, and close calls quicker than the phone, web, or email.  Online communities enable customers to help other customers, monitor discussions and input as required. And it requires far less personnel to maintain community interactions than email or phone support.

The value bombs quickly became apparent. Moving away from the phone to online chat provided 30% in cost savings and 30% faster resolutions. After previously investing in around 30 FTEs for knowledge creation purposes to deliver email and phone support at another organization, Bauer only needed 2-3 FTEs to create valuable content for their online communities.

Research by the team at FireEye enabled them to learn that when a customer needed help, approximately 50% of the time they would go to a knowledgebase article, 40% go to the community, and only 10% would ever head towards documentation.

A few years ago, many companies approached the invasion of social media with an element of fear. Equally, FireEye faced the same resistance internally when looking to embrace community features. On the one hand, it’s glaringly obvious that people want to communicate directly with a human to obtain an immediate answer to their questions, but on the other, employees are fearful about negative connotations that could arise from conflict and disputes voiced over social media

Some might argue that the risk of a disgruntled customer broadcasting negative stuff about you or your company would never end on a positive note. Replying to them rather than burying your heads in the sand seems much more progressive.  You should never underestimate the power of your community either. There is something quite beautiful about the moment when your own customers jump in to tackle challenging behavior in their community. Bauer, even stated, “With communities, you will find customers whose seemingly full-time job became being a champion.”

Once again, it was analytics that illustrated the strength of the case to deliver tangible results. 30% faster time to resolve cases, 30% less effort required. Yet, discovering that 90% of visitors to their community only consumed information from their communities also proved to be incredibly valuable to FireEye.

Although a community of any kind needs people to manage and nurture it, the most interesting aspect of their discovery was that is also delivered a much higher ROI. The FireEye community was measured against call avoidance, currently at 25% of support demand; the ultimate goal at FireEye was for customers to find their own answers, through a Self-Service model, and move away from the time-consuming process of logging a case through email or telephone.

However, Bauer also warned that implementing chat can only be successful if your community responds quickly. Failure to engage with a customer within one minute will cause your abandon rate to skyrocket and stop chat adoption in its tracks. For these reasons alone, Bauer needed a platform that he could entrust with FireEye’s reputation.

Bauer told me, “You need to be committed. Starting a community is like having a child. For most enterprises, it will take 12-24 months of commitment to building community before it starts to operate organically.” We often over complicate tech solutions by investing countless hours trying to introduce sophisticated functionality. However, the secret to the successful implementation and adoption of chat technology at FireEye seems to be the use of both chat and communities to solve a problem for the customer. Maybe this is a lesson we can all learn from.

Please share your thoughts and insights by commenting below.

Setting Your Knowledge Free

Lessons from the Front Lines of Knowledge Management for Field Service

Thank you to Bo Wandell, VP Sales and Business Development at Infomill, Inc for this week’s guest post.

One of fastest and most cost-effective ways to improve field service KPIs is to Set Your Knowledge Free by delivering it to your service technicians’ laptops and mobile devices. Knowledge is power in field service operations – but only when your technicians have mobile access to it. Aberdeen Group found that service organizations incur an average of $1.68M each in unnecessary costs due to poor access to knowledge.[1]

Tacit vs. Explicit Corporate Knowledge

The two kinds of corporate knowledge are tacit and explicit. Tacit knowledge resides in the minds of employees, while explicit knowledge already exists in some published form, though it is probably locked up your corporate silos.

While both are highly valued by field service technicians, many organizations focus more on creating tacit knowledge, which can be an arduous and time-consuming task. In a 2015 survey[2] TSIA found that on average it takes 12 days to publish just one new article in a knowledge base. Some companies reported it’s not uncommon for the approval process to take 90 to 120 days.

A more cost effective and less risky approach for organizations to quickly improving KPIs is to focus on the delivery of explicit (existing) knowledge which has already been created and validated by internal departments.

Most corporations have large amounts of valuable explicit knowledge in the form of paper-based documents, PDFs, product and installation manuals, part lists, images, exploded diagrams, databases and more. Setting Your Knowledge Free means re-purposing this knowledge to create a current, searchable and accessible knowledge base for your field service technicians.

Explicit knowledge must be current if it’s going to be useful

So, why is Setting Your Knowledge Free so damn hard?

First and foremost, when your technical writers published the knowledge, they probably didn’t consider how a field service tech would need to access it.

Simply posting a 200-page installation manual PDF on a website is better than a sharp stick in the eye, but just barely. When a technician that shows up at hospital to service a lifesaving medical device, scrolling through a 200-page service manual on his device to find an answer to one question isn’t reasonable. What they need is a mobile application that provides an intuitive and searchable repository of all available explicit knowledge. According to Aberdeen Group, field service technicians spend an average of 14% of their time researching the information they need to do their jobs.[1]

However, it’s critical that explicit knowledge is kept current and continuously optimized. Corporate staff can try to anticipate the knowledge that service organizations will value, the technicians know best what they require to increase first-time fix rates and customer satisfaction while shortening field visits and increasing service-related profits.

There are many misleading or incorrect sources for content out there. For consistency, it is important that the knowledge your company created remains relevant and reliable.

Four lessons from the knowledge management trenches

Setting Your Knowledge Free requires a blend of people, process and technology led by a competent staff member called the Knowledge Czar. Below are four high level steps infused with a lot of lessons from the knowledge management trenches.

1.     Discovery – breaking into departmental silos

Establish team to the define the KPIs you’ll use to measure success. At the same time, identify and gather the sources of explicit knowledge available inside your corporate departments regardless of format. Otherwise you run the risk of your knowledge management project being delayed and the Knowledge Czar becoming frustrated.

2.     Convert – Mobilizing explicit knowledge

Convert explicit knowledge into XML or another industry standard format suitable for delivery to multiple types of mobile devices. This process is challenging, but assistance exists either from software applications or companies that specialize in converting documents to XML.

Next, add intelligence such as hyperlinks, hot spots, images, and links to external databases and videos. Intelligence should anticipate the knowledge needs of a field service tech. For example, if a tech is replacing part #001, he might need to test part #002. Provide a hot link for the instructions to test part #002.

3.     Review and Measure

The Knowledge Czar is responsible for performing a quality audit to ensure consistency and accuracy by manually verifying each piece of content and cleansing the outdated knowledge artifacts.

Measuring the success of the knowledge base can be accomplished by conducting surveys of service technicians. Since techs are on the front lines and deal with customers every day, they will provide valuable input on how to improve the knowledge base.

4.     Continuous Optimization – Keeping knowledge current

As discussed above, keeping content current is where most field service organizations struggle. Ensure that the Knowledge Czar has the responsibility and time to continuously optimize the knowledge base.

A final word of caution: creating and delivering a knowledge base that improves KPIs will result in your Knowledge Czar being hailed as a corporate hero. If they are rewarded with a promotion, make sure they’re replaced with someone equally as enthusiastic and committed to delivering knowledge to your technicians.

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[1] http://www.aberdeen.com/research/12031/12031-rr-knowledge-management-service/content.aspx
[2] https://www.tsia.com/documents/The_State_of_Social_Support_2015/