Knowledge lies at the heart of every service desk. It’s how agents respond to problems and learn about the systems they administer. It’s what we pass along to customers when we walk them through a fix. Knowledge has the power to lead service innovation and facilitate continuous improvement across industries.

Yet more than a third of customers find an agent’s lack of knowledge or ability to find a solution to be “the most frustrating aspect of poor customer service” (Microsoft, Global State of Customer Service). 

Customers have questions. Your support team has answers. How do you connect the two in a way that doesn’t overburden either? In 1992, knowledge management experts started making an argument for building knowledge-based creation and maintenance into the customer service and support process, which came to be known as Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS)®*.

In this article, we’ll discuss the KCS methodology in depth — what it is, how to effectively adopt KCS principles, and whether practicing it is good for an organization.

What Is Knowledge-Centered Service?

The Consortium for Service Innovation defines KCS as a methodology for integrating knowledge to help agents and customers answer questions faster, find answers across service channels, and train new service more efficiently. 

The methodology consists of a Solve Loop (the tasks associated with resolving customer issues, also known as the request-response workflow) and an Evolve Loop (a higher level view meant to understand and improve the activities within the Solve Loop). 

A visualization of a KCS practice that integrates both the Solve and Evolve Loops. Image credit: KCS Academy.
A visualization of a KCS practice that integrates both the Solve and Evolve Loops. Image credit: KCS Academy.

At the core of any KCS practice is knowledge management. This is the process of getting existing knowledge out of people’s heads and into a content format that’s accessible to those that need it. But KCS takes this one step further, by building that knowledge sharing process into the service management process itself.

In service request management, each time agents handle a customer issue, they first consult the knowledge base to see if a fix is already documented in a knowledge article. If so, they follow the steps outlined in the article, updating it along the way if needed.

If no such documentation exists, the support agent uses the enterprise’s established process to find a solution while also capturing the issue and its resolution in a new knowledge base article. This might mean collaborating with the knowledge management team, or interacting with a KCS module embedded within the agent view.

Knowledge sharing, another core part of KCS methodology, the self-service success of customers and employees. Rather than exacerbating a culture of knowledge hoarding, information is placed where it can be accessed (a knowledge base, for example) and surfaced in other channels.

But how can KCS help you create an efficient end-to-end customer experience that scales? Let’s dig into the principles of Knowledge-Centered Service.

What are the Principles of Knowledge-Centered Service?

KCS principles uphold the idea that you should solve a problem once and share the solution as often as there is a demand for it. Four KCS principles lie at the center of the methodology: 

  • Abundance: “share more, learn more”
  • Create Value: “work tasks; think big picture”
  • Demand Driven: “knowledge is a by-product of interaction”
  • Trust: “engage, empower, motivate”

This approach allows you to realize huge gains in operational efficiency, employee morale, and customer satisfaction. Medallia increased the number of cases handled by Tier 1 support agents by 34%, while increasing their quarterly NPS score by 5 points. 

Why? Because KCS makes sure that the next agent won’t have to spend as much time on a customer issue. 

Structure of knowledge centered service
Visualization of the KCS structure. Credit to KCS Academy

KCS principles put knowledge creation activities into the hands of the knowledge worker — the one who knows the answer. This way workers can capture the context and intent of the requestor. This improves the success and quality of your company’s collective knowledge. 

Without knowledge centered support methodology, not only does information get lost, but you might create conflicting content that inhibits efficient self-service.

Does Your Organization Need a KCS Practice?

Does Your Organization Need a KCS Practice?

If you’re wondering whether Knowledge-Centered Service is right for your organization, here are some initial questions to ask:

  • Does your business rely on delivering high-quality information or knowledge?
  • Do customers, partners, or employees request information from your support organization? 
  • Do customers expect accurate and timely responses?
  • Are these requests repeated by multiple requestors?
  • Do you have a separate team that is in charge of creating and publishing knowledge internally in the organization or externally to customers?
  • Do you want a solid knowledge-based customer success team in your organization?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, there’s a high probability that KCS is worth exploring for your organization. With it, your organization will be able to focus on creating knowledge content as a by-product of solving problems.

There’s also a good chance that you already have a database of YouTube videos, FAQs, troubleshooting guides, legacy knowledge articles, and more. Each contains valuable information that would enable your customer, partners, and employees to achieve self-service success — the raw material of any KCS practice.

The journey to implementing KCS is different for every service organization. Watch Tammy Willey, from Jacobs Engineering Group, discuss how they implemented KCS to enable sales and improve knowledge-sharing in the organization, with the help of Coveo:

AI-Powered Knowledge Customer Service

But even with a breadth of knowledge content, your customers and agents might not be able to find what they need without help. That’s where AI-powered search comes in. With AI-powered search, you can develop a one-stop-shop for information.

The first thing our customers do is start their web journey with search, and they were very verbal about the bad search experience they were having.

Pattabhi Raman, Global Associate Director, Informatica

Using AI-powered customer service maximizes your KCS implementation. With artificial intelligence, your customer gets the most relevant content for their query — along with personalized recommendations. This boosts the effectiveness of your self-service.

And it helps meet growing demand for AI-powered solutions within the customer service space. Today, 83% of customer service leaders are planning to, or already have, invested in GenAI (Gartner, Top Priorities for Customer Service Leaders in 2024). Sixty-one percent are feeling some — or a significant amount — of pressure from their executive leaders to adopt some form of GenAI (Gartner).

What are the Benefits of Knowledge-Centered Service Powered by AI?

Some benefits of AI-powered customer service search to the KCS process are:

  • “Prophetic” customer support: Using AI search in your knowledge base means that you get to make recommendations that can predict customer needs based on previous interactions and queries.
  • Best-in-class case deflection: Imagine recommending helpful content to a customer before they submit a query, based on what they fill in the case submission form. This is possible with AI-powered search.
  • Intuitive content gap identification: With AI, you can keep track of any event where a customer searches but doesn’t find any helpful content. This would help you see any gaps you need to fill in your organization’s knowledge base.

In an interview with Coveo, Keri Rogers, the Learning Program Manager of Ultimate Software underscored these benefits:

In streamlining our search experience across all of our customer-facing platforms, we really saved them a ton of time, and in general have seen a lot more self service success for our customers.

Why Adopt an AI-Powered KCS Workflow Now?

Did you know that it costs an average of $105 to solve a customer inquiry using traditional support means? In a sector (customer service) so galvanized by burnout and persistent labor shortages, AI-powered KCS can deliver considerable ROI.

Members of the consortium have refined KCS best practices over the last 25 years to continually meet the demands of customers and organizations. Companies that follow consortium guidelines regarding the KCS adoption program benefit from significant improvements, including:

  • 50 – 60% improved time to resolution
  • 50% increase in first call resolution
  • Optimization of resources
  • Efficient self-service with a 25 – 66% success rate
  • Improved content availability, quality, and accuracy

How Can You Implement KCS in Your Organization?

Before you start, you should try to spend some time creating a KCS adoption roadmap. Implementing KCS is a commitment to a journey, not a destination. How you use KCS differs depending on the needs of your company, but these five steps can help guide you:

  1. Set your KCS goals. What do you want to achieve with this process integration? Discuss this with the relevant members of your service team and set attainable expectations.
  2. Determine your process. Which methodology will you use? Which of the KCS best practices would be the right fit for your organization? This is the step where strategy comes into play.
  3. Make it easy for your team. As you think, plan, and pore over strategy, remember to make the process easy for the internal knowledge workers.
  4. Dial in your knowledge base software. Do your research so you know which platform is right for your company, and then set it up.
  5. Invest in KCS training for your team. Teach them how to adopt and adapt to the new system on an ongoing basis.

To see what this problem solving process looks like in practice, check out our athenahealth case study. By adopting AI-powered KCS, athenaHealth significantly improved customer analytics, case deflection rates, and employee engagement.

The crucial component separating good customer support from the bad is the effectiveness and speed of the help that a customer gets. Knowledge-Centered Support and AI-enhanced help improve both, creating a better experience for both customers and the agents that serve them.

Relevant Reading: Case Study | How athenahealth Empowers Agents Through AI Customer Support

Dig Deeper

Looking for ways to improve your hybrid workforce’s access to information? The key might just be connecting your tech stack. And if you’re worried if your knowledge base can support remote work, check out our seven tips for preparing your knowledge base for hybrid work.

Finally, get a holistic view of the digital workplace of tomorrow in our ebook, Build a Connected Workplace for Your Remote Workforce.

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Ebook | Build a Connected Workplace for your Remote Workforce