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Understanding the Voice of the Customer (VoC)

VoCSpecializing in Knowledge Management provides an excellent opportunity for ongoing improvements with internal and external customers. Knowledge Bases are typically associated with Support Organizations. These Call Centers have evolved to accommodate a variety of mediums including phone, chat and email. Some Call Centers use video conferencing, encouraging users to employ cameras to “show” the situation to the support agent.
I’ve been in situations where knowledge base (KB) content was initially available exclusively to customer support agents. However, upon recognizing how this troubleshooting content could benefit others within the organization, KB access was expanded. Eventually everyone from product management to training relied on the KB solutions. Then, in an effort to promote self-service, Call Centers took the KB one step further, by developing specific criteria and publishing KB solutions for direct customer consumption. None of these improvements would be possible without hearing and responding to customer feedback. Regardless of your industry, product or service, employing various methods to better understand your customer’s concerns, priorities and preferences is a investment that will reap great rewards if you are willing to listen. Consider your customer feedback methods by reading this article, Listening to the Voice of the Customer, written by Leonard Klie and published in the July 2012 issue of CRM magazine.

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Why Knowledge Management Matters

KMbrainKnowledge management (KM) is more than the sexy word for training. Don’t get me wrong, learning development is intrinsic to knowledge management. However, KM is about every company’s greatest intellectual assets – the people! Knowledge management is about capturing what individuals know and making it an available resource for the benefit of an entire organization. The NASA definition of KM is found within Jeanne Holm’s paper, Capturing the Spirit of Knowledge Management which is “Getting the right information to the right people at the right time, and helping people create knowledge and share and act upon information that will measurably improve the performance of an organization and its partners.” While some people view KM as a threat, fearing that sharing their knowledge will move them from an indispensable to throwaway status, it actually has the opposite effect. Sharing your knowledge makes you a respected guru throughout the realm of your professional kingdom instead of just a remote departmental village or two. Do you want innovation? Do you want fame? Do you want to be a hero to your internal and external customers? Then become a Knowledge Management champion and revolutionize your organization from the inside out. Collaborate. Create. Innovate. Make decisions and solve problems through the collective expertise of the entire organization. This eye-opening article by Lisa Quast explains Why Knowledge Management is Important to the Success of Your Company

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Five Search Query Operators Every SEO Should Know

Enterprise Search places more power at your fingertips.

Enterprise Search places more power at your fingertips.

As I delve more into search engine optimization and begin to execute my education and awareness plan about the powerful and versatile Coveo enterprise search engine in my current KM role, I thought you might be interested in an article that was rated one of the Best of 2013 by the Search Engine Journal. Thanks to Jayson DeMers for sharing his wisdom and helping to start others on the path to more effective search techniques. The April STC Atlanta meeting will also focus on Search Engine Optimization. Chris Everett, Principal of Captivate Search Marketing, address Optimization and Getting Your Work Found on Google.

I hope you enjoy Jayson’s article and continue to consider your user first in all that you do: http://www.searchenginejournal.com/5-search-query-operators-every-seo-know/67989/

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Exposing Yourself!

PIEblogRenowned author Helen Keller (who was hearing and visually impaired) once said “Security is mostly a superstition…Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” It is my observation that the Technical Communication industry inherently attracts introverts. The detailed, complex, methodical, analytical work that can be produced in relative isolation once we complete our research is well suited for such people. However, there is also a risk of underexposure. Depending on a variety of factors including organizational behavior, management structure, and individual personalities the tremendous value of your local Technical Communicator can be grossly underrepresented.

Although she transitioned from this world in 2011, I’ll never forget the wisdom of STC past-president, Suzanna Laurent, who passionately explained that we are much more than just technical writers: “we are business people with writing skills”. Our ability to make information more useable and accessible to those who need that information, and in doing so, advance the goals of the companies or organizations that employ them is a tremendous asset. Yet, we seem more willing to advocate for our users than ourselves. The time has come for us to expose ourselves and fantastic value that we offer. We must make this case to our peers, our colleagues, and our superiors to advance our individual careers as well as the overall TCOM profession.

PIEFor some, the very thought of such self-promotion task is daunting. Many of us work faithfully for years, putting forth our maximum effort, producing fantastic deliverables despite impossible obstacles and wonder why others in the organization take us for granted. The reason is simple – lack of exposure. In his book, Empowering Yourself, Harvey J. Coleman explains that career success is based on more than excellent performance. Success is comprised of three factors: Performance, Image, and Exposure. All too often, Technical Communicators are perform exceptionally, but do not advance in their careers as far or as quickly as they could because of neglecting the I and E slices of the PIE formula.

dancingladyImage

Business is all about managing relationships. Exhibiting a professional image is essentially about trust and respect. Professionalism is adhering to a set of values which include meeting professional obligations, conducting oneself according to formal and informal codes of conduct, and meeting the expectations of everyone with whom we come into contact as part of our business role.  Technical communicators often extend a great deal of consideration to SMEs, customers, developers, engineers, product managers, support personnel, but that consideration may not be reciprocated. If mutual respect seems nonexistent, you are overdue for an image makeover! It is never to late to turn over a new leaf. Learn more about your colleagues, share more about yourself, seek ways to insert yourself into new situations and apply your considerable expertise to address others’ pain points. Your image may suffer if colleagues lack information regarding your role, background, and how you can make improve the quality of their daily work life. You must also be willing to extend yourself socially. That means having lunch somewhere other than your desk every day and using corporate-sponsored activities to connect with your coworkers at a different level.

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Exposure

We must promote ourselves and our unique set of skills. Keeping abreast of the latest trends in content design and delivery, becoming the voice of reason when people are in a quandary about the best approach for communicating a message, and connecting with others across your organization, expands your knowledge base, fosters productive relationships, and increases the level of awareness for everyone. Be willing to take on special projects, test a new tool or process, or conduct a lunch-and-learn about one of the many topics that you can address as an expert.

Applying the PIE formula requires some effort, but is well worth the reward. You need only decide whether you want a daring adventure, or nothing.

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Addressing Pain Points

painpointAn intense analysis process is the first step of Business Process Management (BPM). You must understand the current state before you can make recommendations for improvement. Following the analysis phase, recommendations are categorized any number of ways: short-term vs. long-term, inexpensive vs. costly, and so on. Depending on the corporate culture, business analysts often try to identify “low-hanging fruit” or minor, relatively inexpensive changes that can be quickly implemented. I agree that if an organization identifies something quick and easy that boosts productivity that the improvement should be strongly considered. However, the quick and dirty low-hanging fruit should NOT be the focus of a BPM program. Instead, analysts need to identify and provide recommendations around the major pain points within a given system.

Experts: Your Ally in Analysis

When analyzing a system, pay close attention to people, processes, and technology. It is important to identify your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Your SMEs are the key to understanding key areas to improve. Your SME can vary. Although it’s helpful to interview someone who has a long-standing history and expertise with specific subject matter, it is also beneficial to speak with someone who is relatively new to the area. The two perspectives provide a comprehensive snapshot about the way the system currently works. Your seasoned SME can provide historical information about specific decisions and the business overall. Your novice SME can provide fresh perspective about the training and messaging associated with the current system. Both SMEs need to advise you of their pain points – those complex situations that are urgent and difficult to address. Pain points go by many names – dilemma, conundrum, hassle, etc. Yet that place in the process where your target audience – SMEs, users, or customers express frustration, confusion, or crisis, is a golden opportunity to drastically improve the quality of their work lives.

Slaying Dragons

Ultimately, we are in business to make money and there is a direct correlation between addressing pain points and impacting revenue. It often takes a lot of investigation, collaboration, and justification to slay these huge dragons that drain resources, disrupt process, and increase costs. However, energy invested in addressing pain points is never wasted. Whether it is automating a manual process, improving communication channels, or introducing a new workflow for faster turnaround – financial impacts in terms of reduced employee turnover, increased customer retention, improved cycle times, and so on make the quest well worth it. The most successful corporate cultures are increasingly open to ideas and innovation from employees and customers. If you identify a pain point and recommendation to decrease or eliminate the existing pain, chances are, someone is your organization is very willing to listen. A couple of years ago, one Harvard Business Review blog encouraged workers to collaborate to grow the pie, not just split it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Where to Begin

mountain man

The journey of a thousand miles…

Whether it’s a family reunion or a work-related project, the very task of planning can seem overwhelming. Yet, our success is often directly tied to our ability to manage projects and accomplish goals despite changing tools, processes, and people. So what do you do when there are so many factors to consider? When faced with daunting circumstances where some factors are within your control, but many are not – how do you cope? More importantly, where do you begin? Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said it best: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Whether you are planning a new process or attempting to improve an existing one, the place to begin is with your people. Once you consider the needs and experience of your primary audience, you develop a point of reference that makes it easier to make subsequent decisions. Conversely, if you start at a different point, with tools or processes, you run a risk having to retroactively retool certain aspects of your project to meet the needs of your audience. Let’s use a family reunion planning scenario as an example.

Your Family Reunion – Scenario #1 – Starting with Tools

You and most of your cousins are on Facebook so as next year’s reunion host, you decide to create a group page for your family. You set up the family reunion as an event. You set up a GoogleDocs area for the planning committee. You post pictures and link to online reservations. You are on a roll, until…you receive a phone call from your elderly Aunt Jo, who plans to boycott the reunion because she felt excluded from the planning conversations that usually occur. She only learned about it because her granddaughter mentioned it to her. Yikes, you failed to consider multiple avenues of communication since not everyone is “on the Spacebook” as Aunt Jo so eloquently stated. You start calling around and find that many of your older relatives are equally offended.

Your Family Reunion – Scenario #2 – Starting with Processes

Based on previous reunions, you believe logistics are the biggest thing to tackle with the reunion. You research various venues and options and decide that a beach weekend is the way to go.  You get a great deal on several adjacent beach properties and arrange charter bus transportation to the beach homes.  Everything seems set. Then, after a couple of weeks, the questions start rolling in – Are there accommodations for Uncle Pete who is in a wheelchair? Will all of the families with young children be housed together? What about Margo’s special diet? Who wants to cook for the entire vacation weekend? All of a sudden everyone seems to have some sort of special concern that must be accommodated. You implode and are on the verge of cancelling the reunion altogether. Once you factor in costs for catered meals and additional support, the reunion price almost doubles.

Your Family Reunion – Scenario #3 – Starting with People

First, you recruit a diverse reunion committee. This accomplishes two goals. First, it allows you to have representation from a variety of age groups and interests. Second, it provides a support team for logistics, finance, communication, and execution. You set up standing conference calls and discuss volunteer needs. You disseminate a list of questions and ask the planning committee to poll different relatives regarding preferences, special needs, willingness to help with specific tasks, and acceptable budgets. Armed with their feedback, you and the committee research reunion venue options and decide to take a family cruise. Everyone is informed and feels involved in the reunion. You are a hero!

Closing Thoughts

When considering any project, start with the needs of your people. Ultimately, every occupation in the world is based on improving the lives of people. When you start by considering the needs of the people and envisioning the experience you want them to have, you are already well on your way. Your tools and processes can then be driven by the needs of your customer audience. In some cases, you will have the leverage to switch or change tools or processes. In any case, you can examine your constant and variable factors. Which aspects are feasible to change? Which positive aspects are so entrenched in the culture that you want to be certain to preserve them? How can you incorporate feedback from previous efforts into your strategy? Ask yourself questions that make your customer audience your highest priority. Then, enjoy the journey as you incorporate change!

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Take It To the MAX!

Why minimalize when you can maximize?

Why minimalize when you can maximize?

During a recent job interview, I was asked to describe my work approach. Reflecting on my desire to always do everything within my power to ensure success, I described myself as being “maximalistic”. In my mind, it was the opposite of a minimalistic approach to tasks. While minimalism is a fine principle of technical writing, it is not an effective work philosophy. Some people (I’m sure no one you know) are satisfied to complete only the bare minimum to call a task complete. In addition, such people often see challenges in every opportunity instead of opportunity in every challenge. These same people have a low locus of control meaning that they believe outcomes are based on primarily on external factors.

By contrast, someone with a high locus of control believes that outcomes are based primarily on their own actions. For me, it boils down to a matter of examination and action – when we know better, we do better. I’m talking about work, but this approach relates to every endeavor in life. If you’re only going to put forth the minimum effort, why do it at all? To me, minimizing your effort or settling for less than your personal best is downright disrespectful. Although we aren’t strong in every area, but we can always put forth a Herculean effort. For me, it takes far more effort to avoid issues rather than acknowledging them and identifying a strategy for success.

During the interview, I thought I was being clever, inventing my own term. As it turns out, the root word of my intuitive Maximalist term has been around since the early 1900s. Often used in association with radical theological or political philosophies, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a Maximalist as “one who advocates immediate and direct action to secure the whole of a program or set of goals”. I smiled to myself in reading the definition because it summarizes my Knowledge Management adventures in a single sentence. Knowledge Management requires short-range and long-term strategic planning. The “program” is to ensure information is available to the right people at the right time in the right place. There are a myriad of case studies that show productivity gains, greater customer retention, improved employee morale, and a host of other benefits simply based on one’s ability to quickly find the information that they need and can trust.

Knowledge Managers are investigators, identifying information gaps, process flaws, incorrect assumptions, and duplicated efforts. Then, Knowledge Managers become salespersons, pitching solutions by proposing processes, methods, and tools to help others find the information that they need. Next, Knowledge Managers are collaborators, reviewing metadata, taxonomy, search, and content review techniques to ensure that stakeholders are appropriately involved. After that, Knowledge Managers are negotiators, establishing agreement about new processes and methods. Finally, Knowledge Managers are evangelists, excited to share the benefits of a new system and seeking feedback about ways to improve. Enthusiasm is contagious. It takes a Maximalistic sort of person – one who is willing to persist in cultivating organizational change – to be successful in any situation.

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