Continuing on this series of posts related to knowledge management that Coveo is helping me promote (the first one is here), I want to talk about efficiency versus effectiveness.

If your organization is like most out there, you have spent the better part of the past 20 years making sure your customer service organization runs like clockwork.

You have invested in a multi-channel solution to be able to respond to customers across all channels, and a workforce optimization system to ensure that your employees are always available when needed. You keep track of the great job they are doing, and you continuously focus on getting all metrics to be the same as other organizations. In other words, you are running a streamlined, hyper-efficient customer service organization. Right?

That is great. Your timing is perfect, as you are now ready to focus on how to run not only an efficient but an effective customer service organization.

What is the difference? Let me take you back in time to set the stage.

Back in the 1970s when the first call centers began to emerge, they were considered a cost center. No organization provided customer service because they wanted to – they did it because they had to. Thus, they aimed at the cheapest, lowest cost solution they could provide. As the economy shifted to a service economy in the 1980s, call centers became more pervasive – and also more used (and therefore more expensive for organizations to operate, especially since now they had toll free numbers to pay for as well). The shift to make the call center the most efficient possible (read, the lowest cost per transaction possible) carried right into the 1990s and early 2000s as contact centers began to emerge (we can cover why this was so wrong and a bad idea in a later post).

Most organizations are still stuck in the old model of making their customer service operations ultra-efficient. This was not a major problem until about five years ago.  When the “age of the customer” started in the late 2000s with the advent of social networks and customers reclaiming their voice and control of the conversation, they also demanded that organizations become more customer-centric. That was the tipping point; that was when efficient contact centers needed to become effective contact centers.

Efficiency is about running the leanest organization at a low-cost. However, this is not necessarily what customers want.  Effectiveness is about delivering the “Three Rs” of effective customer service and this is what customers want and need: Right information. Right Channel. Right Time.

An effective customer service solution centers on always finding the right information, the right knowledge, at the right time, every time regardless of channel (or at least the ones that make sense). This is why the most important aspect of an effective contact center is the access to this data and knowledge in a timely manner – not merely being able to “be there where customers are.”

I have been writing about the shift in knowledge management for some time as I pointed out in my last entry, but I have not mentioned, until now, why this shift was necessary.  Becoming hyper-effective at customer service requires access to the right knowledge.  As the world becomes more complicated and the necessary knowledge is no longer stored in knowledge-bases it is becoming imperative to be able to find the people with the information in real time, tap into their knowledge, and provide that back to the customer on time to solve their problem.

This is the new model of knowledge management, and the absolutely only thing you need to make sure you have if you want to deliver the “Three Rs” of effective customer service.

Knowledge, when needed and as needed.

Are you finding this is your newest challenge in customer service? Are you delivering against it?

Would love to hear what you are doing about becoming an effective customer service operation – but more so, what you are doing about ensuring the right knowledge is in the right place, at the right time.

TSIA report