Why Knowledge Is Your Best Defense Against Angry Customers

A guest post by Tom Brennan, Global Director of Customer Service Transformation at ServiceNow

People working in an open office.

When it comes to customer service, knowledge is power.

We’ve all been there. A product or service issue crops up and, after exhausting your options, you pick up the phone. And so begins the dreaded game of Russian roulette that is a call to customer service. Will your problem be fixed? Or will frustration continue? Will your rep be kind and competent? Or surly and unsuccessful?

But let’s consider the customer service rep’s perspective. For many, the customer call is the only way for them to gain visibility into an issue. This puts them on the defense, reacting as best they can given their knowledge at hand.

But what would it look like if customer service was on the offense?

Knowledge activation is key

We know knowledge is power. And nowhere is that truer than in the quest to deliver proactive customer service.

It starts by creating an environment where knowledge sharing—as opposed to knowledge hoarding—is the norm. Putting a well-run Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS®) program into place that covers the right process, culture, and tools provides the foundation of proactive service.

This includes delivering self-service on a modern portal with access to solutions and other rich content. By moving away from high-cost, high-touch telephony channels to a portal-based, self-help channel, fewer incidents are generated. And fewer incidents means improved experiences for both customers and agents.

For example, I worked at one company whose 400,000+ devices globally generated more than 15 million alarms per month. Through knowledge activation and smart engineering, we were able to filter, correlate, and auto-remediate 99.6% of these alarms.

Incidents can also be nipped in the bud when organizations tap into platform-based digital workflows that deliver:

  • Community “many-to-many” support
  • Automated guided resolution
  • Virtual agent engagement
  • IoT device alarm auto-remediation

Together, these steps create an effective “solve once, fix many” culture where repeat issues are removed from the service operation. This empowers customers and frees up agents to focus their talents and energy on more complex issue diagnosis and resolution.  But none of this is possible without a robust knowledge practice.

Proactive customer-service experience scenarios

Let’s explore a few more possibilities of proactive, knowledge-centric customer service.

Say you’re a software company that discovers a bug in the code. No one has called it in, and it hasn’t affected anyone yet. With a proactive customer service mindset, you could send out a preemptive alert about the issue, its potential impact, expected time to resolve, and notify again when it is resolved. It’s the right thing to do, and avoids needless work for your customers and support personnel.

Or, you’re watching a movie from an on-demand subscription and there’s a short delay in the streaming, interrupting your viewing experience. Unknown to you, while you watched the rest of the movie without incident, an email arrives in your inbox with an apology for the inconvenience, a refund, and a coupon for a free movie of your choice. In this case, the service infrastructure supported a fully automated digital workflow that detected the service anomaly, corrected it in real time, and took steps to compensate the customer.

Proactive customer service can fire up even after a problem has occurred. Imagine the thermostat in your apartment stops working. A notification is automatically sent to the service provider and they immediately contact you to set up a one-hour window of time when someone will stop by and repair it. So, rather than taking the day off work to wait for the repairman—who is supposed to show up between 9 and 2 but inevitably arrives after 4—you negotiate a time between 8am-9am and you’re in the office by 10:30 in the morning, secure in the knowledge that you’ll be warm at home that night.

I could go on with examples of how implementing a knowledge practice with the right platform successfully preempts customer issues. But you can see for yourself how companies are making the move to proactive customer service, and both companies and customers are reaping the benefits.

About the Author

Tom Brennan currently serves as ServiceNow’s Global Director of Customer Service Transformation. Prior to joining ServiceNow, Tom served as VP of Global Support Services for Avaya, and held a variety of executive roles over 23 years at Oracle including North America Support Delivery, Knowledge Management and integration of over 85 acquisitions, unifying the customer and support engineer experience all on a single instance with standard global processes. Tom served on the Board of Directors for the Consortium for Service Innovation, a non-profit industry think tank that pursues innovative ways to improve the customer experience and who owns and maintains the Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS®) methodology.

Versions of this article have appeared on Tom’s LinkedIn page and on Forbes BrandVoice.

One thought on “Why Knowledge Is Your Best Defense Against Angry Customers

  1. Well said Tom. I’m excited to see that you are BOTH KCS and ServiceNow (I am too!… as a SN customer/user/KM Admin).
    It’s great to see your references (and support) of a knowledge-sharing culture, and your examples of proactive customer service were spot on. I wish I could get more of my company to understand this!
    Thank you for participating and sharing.

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