Knowledge Management / article

What is knowledge centered support (KCS) and why it matters?

My dad is being ridiculous. He still won’t use a navigation system or Google Maps to get directions. Instead, he just takes an educated guess at where he thinks an address is located, points his car in the general direction, and wanders. The result? He arrives 15 minutes later than everyone else, without fail.

Sounds crazy, right? With GPS, you can find the fastest route instantly, see how long it will take to arrive, and even get tips to avoid traffic. Other users can report inaccurate routes, construction obstacles, and even police speed traps to ensure the maps get continually better. But Dad is having none of it.

See where this is going? He’s a bit like technical and customer support organizations that aren’t embracing Knowledge Centered Support. He treats every new address like he is the first person to ever drive there, instead of harnessing the collective knowledge of millions of other drivers (and map makers and technologists) before him.

Dad, you’ve been sufficiently shamed for now. We’ll leave you to your crosswords and really strange lawn aerator shoes. For the rest of us, let’s take a deeper dive into Knowledge Centered Support, starting with exactly what it means.

What in the world is Knowledge Centered Support?

Simply put, Knowledge Centered Support (KCS) is about treating the collective knowledge of your organization as a valuable part of how you solve problems (and prevent future ones). By adopting Knowledge Centered Support, you encourage your support team to:

Create content to document how they solve problems

Update and evolve that content based on demand and usage

Publish the content in a knowledge base to make it easily available

Reward each other for learning, collaborating, sharing, and improving

Basically, each time an agent handles an issue, they consult the knowledge base first to see if a fix is already documented. If so, they follow the article (and update it if any steps have changed). If not, the agent uses the proper process to troubleshoot and resolve the issue, then creates a new knowledge base article to properly document the fix.

Ultimately, you build a culture that puts sharing and collaboration at the center — and enjoy a huge heap of benefits to your organization and your business.

Really big, successful companies like 3Com, Oracle, Novell, and HP spent a giant wad of cash to develop and test the ideas and processes behind knowledge centered support, and it’s widely endorsed by HDI (the Help Desk Institute). We’re huge fans and practitioners of KCS here at Atlassian, too.

Why adopt Knowledge Centered Support?

So glad you asked. The benefits are extensive. In no particular order, teams that embrace Knowledge Centered Support are able to:

Work faster, from responding sooner to resolving complex issues quicker. If your analysts can easily find the answers to most issues, and keep them up to date with their own suggestions and experiences, you seldom need to solve from scratch. The time it takes to write or update an article is a one-time investment that yields an enormous ROI, particularly as you on-board or cross-train team members, handle increasing workloads, and encounter issues that recur after enough time has passed that your team may have forgotten how they originally solved them.

Be more consistent, arriving at uniform answers to repeat questions. By making sure your analysts each handle issues in the same fashion, you not only provide a more consistent customer experience, but you’re also able to more easily identify key areas for improvement.

Improve the customer experience, and learn and share from each interaction. Customers like faster resolutions, consistent experiences, and confident, knowledgeable employees that can put them at ease – not on guard.

Enable true self-service that actually works, by sharing the knowledge that end users need to serve themselves. Many companies publish key knowledge base articles publicly, so end users can resolve their own issues, which reduces the cost of support dramatically.

Work happier and more confidently. Just in case #1 - #4 aren’t reason enough to embrace KCS, consider the benefits to employee satisfaction and retention. We’ll get hard, statistical evidence in the next section, but Knowledge Centered Support is proven to reduce employee turnover and increase job satisfaction – both of which are carefully scrutinized metrics in today’s enterprises that can directly impact the bottom line.

Why wouldn’t teams adopt Knowledge Centered Support?

David Kay nailed it in his post, “What Does a Bad Knowledge-Sharing Culture Look Like?” It’s seldom a matter of whether knowledge sharing makes sense or not. (I’m yet to run into a gaggle of KCS naysayers.) Instead, teams often experience cultural challenges that make it hard to shift out of what David calls an “obsession with the urgent and tactical.”

Basically, IT managers get too busy fighting fires using current processes (ineffective as they may be) to focus on doing something more strategic. It sounds difficult and time consuming to create all of this content, particularly when IT managers and analysts already feel bogged down by trying to meet or beat a slew of SLAs and performance goals. Often, their compensation is tied to those numbers, too.

So why should career- (and money-) minded IT professionals add knowledge management to their already long list of priorities? Because the benefits far outweigh the costs. At Atlassian Summit, John Custy shared some pretty powerful numbers to support the case for adopting Knowledge Centered Support:

50 – 60% improved time to resolution

30 – 50% increase in First Contact Resolution

70% faster time-to-proficiency for new analysts

20 – 35% improvement in employee retention

20 – 40% improvement in employee satisfaction 10% issue reduction (due to root cause removal)

In an IT climate where we are looking to shave fractions of seconds off of key performance stats, where else can you get gains like these? Anyone? Anyone? Class? Bueller?

Implementing Knowledge Centered Support effectively takes quite a bit of effort, to be sure. But the heaviest lift isn’t in technology deployment, or even content creation, which can be built gradually from day one. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is simply making the cultural shift from a reactive organization that encourages support teams to “obsess over the urgent and tactical” to one where leaders and analyst alike encourage strategic thinking, collaboration, and action. And adjust how they evaluate their IT teams' performance accordingly.

Next steps

As you plan your own team’s foray into Knowledge Centered Support, it makes particularly good sense to embrace the spirit of KCS and learn from other organizations about their own experiences rolling out this methodology. Start with some of the suggested reading links below, and see where your KCS journey leads.

Also, be sure to check out this great customer case study that shows how KCS can help you prove real value, real quick – which is exactly the type of investment that smart IT managers should look to make as service demand booms and budgets continue to experience only marginal growth.

About the author

Jeremy Largman

Knowledge Guru, Atlassian

Having grown up through the ranks in the support team, I championed their efforts around knowledge base article creation, and invented a robot named Hercules which detects solutions automagically. Now I run the knowledge management initiative within Atlassian, along with their community site, Once, when asked for a fun fact, I told a crowded room that the most abundant animal by weight on planet Earth is the ant, only to find out that's not what's meant by "fun fact." Oh well. Find me on Twitter! @j_large

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