Joost Wapenaar is a Technical Product Consultant at TOPdesk, as well as the Project Manager for the implementation of KCS within the Support department. This is his take on using the shift left principle to empower others.
Our Support department receives around 5,000 calls every month. Our 40-strong group, who catch and resolve these calls as efficiently as they can, were given a rating of 8 out of 10 by our customers. That’s not too bad – still, we’re always looking into how we can make our services smarter, quicker and more scalable. And we think we found an answer.
We asked ourselves how we could improve the availability of existing information to our customers. Every day we find that we’re discussing a solution with a customer that was discussed with a different customer just the day before. Or we’ve spent time researching a problem that a colleague’s already figured out. There had to be a better way. In the search for a smarter way to share our knowledge, we discovered the principles of ‘Shift Left’ and ‘Shift Left Left’. Behind these two principles is the idea that you can give customers answers to their questions more actively. ‘Shift Left’ means that skilled technicians make their answers more available to less experienced colleagues, so they in turn can help customers using already posted solutions. ‘Shift Left Left’ is the next logical step: provide your customers with access to these solutions, and they’re able to find the answer to their question themselves.
Shift Left at TOPdesk Support
We didn’t have to change our methods much in order to start exchanging information between colleagues: being helpful to others is integral to our ideology. And the more knowledge you have, the better you can help someone; for example, we hold knowledge days to facilitate knowledge sharing from the second line to the first line. These days include sessions organised by specialists in which they might share knowledge about authentication, performance or a specific module.
With Shift Left getting under control, we wanted to take a step towards Shift Left Left: making our knowledge available to our customers.
Shift Left Left at TOPdesk Support
We answer many of our requests over the phone or by email. Customer satisfaction reports show that this method works well, but it’s not going to be scalable when we’re only sharing knowledge one-on- one. We also have a website with manuals: help.topdesk.com. Although this platform can be used to enable service for many customers at the same time, it mostly contains generic information about TOPdesk and less about customer-specific situations such as error messages, workarounds, etc. In order to start implementing Shift Left Left, we had to figure out a way to share this type of knowledge with our customers as well.
Knowledge Centred Support
We soon encountered the concept of Knowledge Centred Support (KCS)*. This is a best practice for publishing and managing knowledge – a sort of ITIL for knowledge management – and assumes that the support department fills and manages a knowledge base with items that can be shared with end users. This changes knowledge management from a task done by specific people to a task for every person in the Support department – as a part of solving calls.
Getting started with KCS at TOPdesk
We first created a project plan for the implementation of the KCS method at TOPdesk. We set up a pilot in which we examined whether the KCS method would help the Support department work more efficiently. Ten of our forty support employees took part in this pilot. The introduction of the KCS method changed the way the pilot group worked. We had weekly evaluations to make sure the change was successful, discussing the challenges of KCS and how we could overcome them. The method was continuously adjusted and optimised. By working as a group and taking on individual challenges together, we successfully managed to go through this change. We also discussed the successes during our evaluations: what is the added value for us as the Support department? What gives us satisfaction and makes us happy? Because we were experiencing the challenges and successes as a team, the pilot was a success not only in numbers but also in process change. We were also giving weekly updates to our department about the changes within the pilot group and the effect on our work. Sharing the success of KCS with the entire department was essential to give KCS a positive image – and for it to remain so. These weekly updates made the people who were not taking part in the pilot very enthusiastic, and many wanted to join in with the implementation.
How does TOPdesk work with KCS?
When applying the KCS method, we used TOPdesk’s Knowledge Base module. We made a separate branch in the knowledge base to save items that were created for KCS in a fixed and recognisable place. The knowledge base at TOPdesk Extranet features hundreds of KCS items. The moment a customer asks our Support department a question, a call is logged. Based on this call a Support employee can search for relevant items in the knowledge base. When we find an item that answers the question, we add this to the call. When the item from the knowledge base is added, TOPdesk creates a link between the call and the knowledge item. This makes it possible to create selections and reports that provide insight into the way the item are used. Which items are used to resolve calls and which ones are used more frequently? If the item describes the answer for the most part, but perhaps is still missing some essential information, we can add this before we share it with the customer; thus the items are continuously updated. Are there not any items in the knowledge base that can answer the question? Then a new item can be created immediately when processing the customer’s question.
Since the introduction of the KCS method at TOPdesk Support, we’ve written thousands of items with answers to customer questions. A large number of these items have been re-used many times to answer the same question. Using KCS has also shown us that we are getting more to grips with the Shift Left principle. Knowledge is now centrally stored in our knowledge base, making it available to both first and second line operators. Operators with less experience are now able to find answers to the more difficult questions in no time, helping them develop their knowledge more quickly. We have also seen that the average lead time of a calls has reduced and fewer calls are escalated to the second line. What’s more, the operators working with the method – in our case support staff – enjoy higher job satisfaction. When they answer a question, they’re not only helping the customer in one go, but they’re also sharing their knowledge with colleagues.
Writing a large number of items shouldn’t be a goal in itself. The final goal is being able to process calls more quickly and give end users the opportunity to find their own answers. During this pilot we saw that the number of new items decreased and the number of calls with links to current items increased. The availability of our department’s knowledge is now better than ever before. The pilot results were very positive. Using existing items helped operators process calls more easily and quickly. At the start of the pilot we were resolving 10-15% of the calls with information from an existing knowledge source; at the end of the pilot this came closer to 40-50%. Because of the success of the KCS method during the pilot, we decided to get the entire Support department to start working with it. But if you then want to start working according to Shift Left Left, you need to give your end users access to your knowledge. You want to give them the ability to search the knowledge base. In this way, customers will increasingly be able to find answers to their questions, and will no longer always have to contact the Support department.
* Knowledge Centred Support is a methodology developed by the Consortium for Service Innovation. Everything in this article is an interpretation of this methodology and in no way suggests the correct one. All rights and interpretations belong to the Consortium for Service Innovation and can be found on www.serviceinnovation.org.