“KCS seems like a good idea…unfortunately, our people don’t have the writing skills to create knowledgebase content.”
“You know, English isn’t the first language for many of our people.”
“Maybe in the future, we’ll hire people who know how to write. As of now, we’re stuck with the people we have.”
We hear variations on this theme over and over again. Sure, capturing, structuring, and improving knowledge in the course of resolving customer issues is a good idea, but the current crop of agents wasn’t hired to be technical writers, so of course they’re not up to the task of knowledge capture. KCS will have to be restricted to a small number of the most literate staff…or it’ll just have to wait.
This would be a depressing refrain if it were true. Fortunately, it isn’t.
We’ve worked with teams of all kinds: technicians nearing retirement; native speakers of German, Italian, French, Swedish, Mandarin, Japanese, and Hindi; temporary staff; übernerds; and former truck mechanics. None of them thought of themselves as skilled writers, yet all of them ended up creating value in the knowledgebase. So where’s the disconnect?
I think it’s a misunderstanding of the job. See, KCS isn’t about writing. It’s about communicating in words, using a structured format. And that’s a much easier task.
Writers have it tough. They start with a blank sheet of paper and a blinking cursor (or a tapping pencil.) Good writers use all kind of techniques to tame the featureless, empty page—tools such as outlines, the inverted pyramid, and stacks of 3×5 cards.
People doing KCS are filling in a template. That’s much easier.
Writers have to deal with all the conventions of prose style: paragraphs and topic sentences, for example. They are told to stick to active verbs, and use a mix of sentence structures—simple, complex, compound, and complex-compound. (You do remember your complex-compound sentence structure, don’t you? I thought so.) Split infinitives, dangling participles, and terminal prepositions are all no-nos. Subjunctives and the serial comma are all topics for serious discussion. No wonder we don’t expect our agents to be writers!
People doing KCS don’t have to worry about that. Their model is Sgt. Joe Friday from Dragnet: “just the facts, ma’am.” Write down the customer symptoms. (“Green LED flashes during Power On Self Test.” “Gears grind when shifting into third.” “Application exits abnormally after writing ‘Warning: type mismatch’ to the system log”). Write down the environment. Write down the resolution as a series of steps. They had to say all this to the customer anyhow, either live or in an email; they’re just writing the same information down in the right section of the knowledgebase.
See the difference? They’re communicating in words. It’s much easier than writing.
I guarantee that if you have someone who can effectively answer questions and communicate resolutions to your customers, they can do the same thing in a knowledgebase article. It may not be completely easy and natural; in fact, it may take some work, some coaching, and some focused practice. Even after time, there might be the occasional misspelling or odd phrasing. That’s OK; your customers judge you by your answers more than your literary talent. The important thing is that they’re contributing to the collective experience of the team.
This is good news for your KCS program. You don’t have to wait for a new workforce to launch, and you can benefit from anyone who has knowledge to contribute.
But perhaps more importantly, this is good news for your staff. Their eighth-grade teachers might have convinced them that they’d never make a living by writing, and they may believe that to this day. But with encouragement and good coaching, they can write—OK, communicate in words—in knowledgebase articles that can help hundreds or thousands of colleagues and customers. That’s pretty heady stuff.