Leveraging Sticky Know-How in the Contact Center

You’re probably wondering what “sticky know-how” is and why it’s a predicament. It is the know-how that resides in the minds of your “go-to” experts concerning what really gets results and what mistakes to avoid.

It is the know-how that separates the “okay” call center agent/supervisor from the expert agent/supervisor. It’s the thing you worry about walking out the door before you get a chance to capture and share it.

Sticky know-how is tough to get to, let alone leverage. Here’s why.

Unconsciously competent
Most go-to experts are not fully conscious of everything they know. When asked to describe what they know and how they do what they do they sit like deer in headlights unable to communicate what comes so naturally to them on the job.
Brain drain
Sticky know-how is one of most illusive forms of expert knowledge. It is inherently full of intuition and hunches which make it extremely difficult to extract from experts’ heads and translate into practical training.

Know-how hoarding
Some employees believe that the more know-how they singularly possess the more valuable they will be to the organization and the more success they will achieve. These employees tend to hoard their know-how, making the already sticky know-how even stickier.

Disappearing know-how
Sticky know-how disappears at a rapid rate in most contact centers. Unfortunately, many of our “go to” people walk out our contact center door each year. When they walk out, an incredible wealth of know-how walks out with them–and, if we haven’t gotten this sticky know-how out of their heads, it’s lost to us forever.

Why leverage sticky know-how?
Research has proven the performance of our contact center will improve if we can get that sticky know-how out of our experts’ brains and into our new hire and refresher training. Capturing and sharing sticky know-how is essential to the efficiency and effectiveness of every organization.

Think of the unrecorded sticky know-how in your own head. Wouldn’t that expertise benefit the organization as a whole?

Now consider how many employees are walking around your organization with untapped know-how. This gives you a sense of how much latent know-how you could be leveraging.

There are tools to expedite sticky know-how capture and transfer. The methods you use depends on the priority of the “sticky know-how” predicament in your center and the resources you can apply to solve it.

Give experts time to socialize their knowledge
This is tough when agent occupancy is high and service levels are low. But interaction and collaboration is important when attempting to transmit sticky know-how between employees.

I’ve seen centers apply socialization in “nesting” which assigns a new hire to a “mentor” or in giving agents the ability to confer with experts on tough calls. Agents naturally socialize knowledge on breaks or lunch.

Observe and interview
This is labor intense, but it works. Trainers sit with experts to observe, interview, and document what the expert does.

One caution: Once out of new-hire training, most employees “learn by doing” their regular tasks. And until the expert understands how to communicate their insights, intuition, and hunches about a process, the trainer’s documentation will probably contain gaps.

Record interactions
If you have audio/video recording technology, use it to capture experts at work. This gives you great examples for new-hire or refresher training.
The recorded interactions can be annotated, used in their entirety or sliced into bite-size learning opportunities. The downside to this is getting the right interactions recorded and having to manually transcribe the expert knowledge from the audio to use elsewhere (e.g., knowledge management databases).

Run simulations
Simulations simplify the creation and transfer of sticky knowledge. Experts (agents, supervisors, managers) are asked to take a simulation. Everything they say and do is recorded.

And here’s the neat thing: Everything they say is transcribed automatically using voice to text! All audio, video, and text can be tagged to make searching easier (e.g., when your coach needs a specific example for a coaching session). The recorded simulation can be shown in its entirety or parsed into pieces.

Invest in culture and rewards
Create a culture in which sharing know-how is the norm and then reward your employees for sharing. When your culture recognizes, encourages, and rewards know-how-sharing activities, your employees will be motivated to start and continue to share their know-how.

Leveraging know-how is a no-brainer, but figuring out how to get to it is a sticky proposition. First define who your experts are. Then list the top 20% of your contact types that define the most critical customer interactions.

Focus on getting the sticky know-how for these first. Talk with your team about which tools you should use to extract the sticky know-how. Then get started.

Don’t try to do it all at once. “Eating the elephant one bite at a time” is a wise approach when it comes to leveraging sticky know-how in your contact center.

Kathryn E. Jackson, Ph.D, is president of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

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