Measures in a Customer Support Context:
The Impact of Knowledge Management

Measures are a means of understanding how the organization is progressing toward its objectives. This, of course, requires the existence of defined measurable objective. Simply measuring trends over time against the past doesn't provide much value. All planned accomplishment begins with defined objectives.

This diagram, and the description which follows, does not accommodate customer direct interaction with the database. This will be addressed in an expansion of measures in Knowledge Management Measures on the Web.

The above diagram serves to identify the major components which interact in the Customer Support context.

What the organization should be striving to accomplish is established targets in the area of employee perceived meaningfulness, customer perceived value, and cost of operation. These, taken together, represent a balanced framework which provides a comprehensive picture of the state and health of the environment.

The difficulty with measuring on the above scale is that by the time it is realized that things are not as they should be it's generally already to late to do anything about it. One must measure on a more detailed level over a shorter time period to track leading indicators. Leading indicators provide information as to the trending directions for employee perceived meaningfulness, customer perceived value, and cost of operation.

Before delving into the details of what to measure, and how, a few pearls of wisdom regarding measures are probably in order:

The established targets should be essentially independent of where the organization is at when it starts. The targets are established based on what is essential for the future health and well being of the system. The system being comprised of employees, customers, and the business.

Once the targets are established it is essential to understand where the the system is at present. Understanding the present state in comparison to the desired state provides a definition of the gap that has to be traversed. Then, it must be realized that the gap can not be traversed in a single step. Intermediate targets have to be established, which are essentially stepping stones to get to the end result. These intermediate targets must have associated actions plans which makes their attainment believable. A system will only willingly pursue believes are attainable.

Specific Measures

The following sections provide perspectives on specific measures and how they should be employed in the following areas:

Customer Perceived Value

There is only one way to measure customer perceived value--ask the customer! And, the manner in which the organization interacts with the customer is paramount. It is important to assess perceived value as opposed to satisfaction for the organization must continue to find ways of adding value to the customer's operation. Of what value is it to the organization to have satisfied customers if they go out of business next year?

Many organizations perform customer satisfaction surveys of their entire customer base on an annual basis. This is an example of a great concept poorly executed. Surveys done at this level provide a very broad perspective on how the business is perceived by it customers, yet it presents four main difficulties:

Before one can set out to survey customers there are certain things that need to be done on the part of the group to establish a foundation for expectations to be delivered on and measured against.

Assuming that we're referring to groups of analysts which provide problem resolution support to the organization's customers there are several considerations for the best way to survey a particular group's customers.

The whole idea is to pay very close attention to customer responses so any possible corrections may be effected long before the situation becomes difficult to resolve.

Cost of Operation

The cost of operation encompasses all costs associated with delivering support to customers. This includes:

These costs alone are not of much value, yet knowing them for a daily basis figures prominently in the segments to follow. Without knowing these costs the rest is impossible to figure out.

The aspects of the operation that need to be measured are:

By measuring these values there are a number of very meaningful calculations that can be done to provide added perspectives on the cost of the operation. These are:

One must be very cautious with these numbers as any attempt to drive them will warp the operation of the system. These measures are simply what's on the scoreboard. If one wants to improve the score then one has to improve the way the game is being played, not just rant and rave about the fact that the score isn't what it should be.

Employee Perceived Value

Employee perceived value was not listed third because it is less important. It was listed third because:

Employee productivity is directly linked to employee satisfaction. And, employee satisfaction is directly linked to an employee's perception of the meaningfulness they associate with what they are involved in doing. The major considerations in this area are:

In many organizations there is far more nonsense than sense, and it is the portion of the operation that makes sense that enables individuals to tolerate the portion of the operation that doesn't make very much sense. The ongoing question is how to replace nonsense with activities and operations that make far more sense.

To create a culture of mutual support and knowledge sharing requires that individuals believe they are to a great extent responsible for the definition and operation of the environment in which they work. To accomplish this it is essential to provide analysts with an opportunity to participate in the definition of the way the group operates and how they are recognized and rewarded for their performance.

Allowing this level of involvement is often seen as inefficient because of the time it requires. The fundamental question is whether it is desired for the group to develop to its potential or not. Without involvement on the part of the analysts the group will never realize its potential.

This level of involvement is also often viewed as threatening to supervisors and middle managers. It is primarily viewed as a threat because it represents a change from the mode of operation they are used to, and may be viewed as a loss of control. In fact, it isn't really a loss of control, it's a trade-off. One must give up control over people to get more control over results. This mode of operation simply represents a change from a directing command and control mode of operation to a facilitation mode of operation. It ends up being an investment of time to achieve higher levels of commitment from those involved. A tradeoff which has repeatedly proven to be worth the return on investment.

From this foundation a couple comments are in order regarding rewards and recognition.

Involving analysts in the determination of group satisfaction measures is a relatively simple procedure. Get the group together and present them with an awareness that in conjunction with customer satisfaction and operational effectiveness, it is important to assess, on an ongoing fashion, the level of employee satisfaction with the working environment and the way they work together. Then lead them through a facilitated session for creating the instrument that will be used to determine satisfaction levels, and what will be done with the results.

As part of the the survey it is important to have analysts and management assess the following:

Analysts should develop responses in these areas and the collective responses reviewed by a subgroup within the team and a way to address the most major items should be found. If you ask for feedback and don't act on it you will tend to get far less of it in the future.

In addition to this individual analyst closure rates need to be compared with the group average closure rate and though interaction with the analyst determine ways to improve the analysts operating performance. This is best done between members of the team facilitated by management.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management is the leverage point in the system, it is not the objective. Knowledge Management is what the organization does to have a major impact on the Employee Meaningfulness, Customer Perceived Value, and Cost of Operation.

Some of the immediate returns from knowledge management are:

From this list it should be evident that Knowledge Management has a direct impact on the three critical dimensions of the operation:

The question now is what should be measured within the Knowledge Management arena to ensure these benefits are realized.

As the % of calls being resolved using the knowledge management technology increases, the basis for reuse also increases. As the reuse rate begins to increase, there should be a marked decrease in the call closure time. The improvements in customer perceived value will lag behind the % reuse rate as it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to improve customer perceptions of the operation.

Top of Page

theWay of Systems * Feedback * Musings
Copyright © 2004 Gene Bellinger