Knowledge management: I’m suspicious of the term right away. Too many syllables in the phrase. The root words — know and manage — I think are shorter and better.

But, hey, I’m kind of new to this “”set of practices that maximizes the business value of knowledge by gathering, structuring and delivering

it at critical points of customer interaction.”” That’s how the folks at eGain Communications Corp. define knowledge management, anyway, in their recent white paper on the subject.

KM improves ROI

So, let’s see if we can take this knowledge management mouthful and parse it down a little — just so we short syllable folk can better grasp the idea.

It’s a good idea anyway, because the term promises such returns on investment as lower taxes and improved government services, not to mention fewer dumbfounded cell phone users.

For example, eGain says a British telecommunications company has used knowledge management techniques to reduce the number of handsets returned as “”broken”” simply because customers didn’t know how to turn them on.

So knowledge management, despite all its syllables, is saving the company more than a million pounds a year.

Now, I think I’m getting this straight: If, at the right time and in the right way, you let your customers know how to turn on their cell phones, you’ll manage your cell phone business better.

Or if your call centre clerks know how callers can also interact with the department’s Web portal, you’re going to get fewer letters of complaint about long waiting times and poor service going to members of parliament. Great concept.

It reminds me of a mentor of mine, the late Doug Harvey, who worked for the federal government’s long defunct Information Canada.

In the days before computers took over our lives, Information Canada was set up to help federal departments manage their knowledge about the public (they weren’t called clients back then) they served.

Harvey, a former WWII Lancaster bomber pilot, took his job seriously and once targeted the northern woods of Ontario — although not with bombs, of course.

His mission: To find out why certain isolated groups up there were not cashing their pension and other benefits cheques. He found the residents, being somewhat nomadic, often pulled up stakes, but didn’t know how to inform the civil service cheque writers they’d moved camp. In other words, somebody had not managed their knowledge enough to include a change of address form at one of those “”critical points of customer interaction”” i.e., when the mail arrived from Ottawa.

Strategy, not technology

Today, thanks to computers, we can manage our knowledge much better. At best, knowledge management is not just a technology but a whole strategy complete with a set of best practices. And when embraced by an organization there’s a remarkable ROI. For instance, in a typical call centre operation, reports eGain, repeat calls and incorrect transfers drop 30 per cent; training of new operators takes 80 per cent less time; and the number of complaint calls that get “”first time fixes”” rises by 24 per cent.

What’s more, when your call centre people know how your Web portal works, the overall volume of incoming calls tends to drop dramatically.

If only we had a better term for knowledge management — so more of us can first know what it means and then figure out how to reap its benefits.

My suggestion? We could think of knowledge management simply as a modern day version of old fashioned know-how.

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