SaskTel is trying to help its customers help themselves by building a knowledge database they can access online to answer common questions.

The Saskatchewan telecommunications company is using a tool from Cupertino, Calif.-based Knova Software Inc. to cull data from different parts of its organization.

“We have our knowledge in multiple forms — either in people’s heads, in their desktops, in paper, in shared files,” said Tim Ludwar, senior business planner at SaskTel. The company selected Knova software to “creep out and grab the information within our corporation so we could have it on one common platform.”

The ideal is to create a knowledge base that customers can access for common questions — an interactive frequently-asked questions (FAQ) list of sorts. Until that is possible, SaskTel will use Knova in its customer call centres to help operators answer questions more quickly and effectively.

“Once we can analyze the data and run some analytics based on the number of customer contacts and the number of resolutions . . . (we can) evolve that to customer self-help,” said Ludwar.

The Knova package leaves disparate data in its native format but tags it all as XML so it can be read easily.

“They’ll be content sources that are about a marketing plan and pricing plan for Sasktel . . . content sources that will deal with issues related to installing a DSL modem. The list goes on,” said Ben Kaplan, vice-president of marketing at Knova. “There are literally thousands and thousands of documents and hundreds of knowledge sources. What the Knovo platform does is integrate and classify and search against those.”

SaskTel deals with customer queries based on product type — wireline, cell phone, Internet, etc. — and the Knova solution is being rolled out for each of those business units. The initial plan was to complete the help desk portion of rollout by February 2006, said Ludwar. The implementation will probably be completed ahead of schedule, but the longer-term goal of building a self-help function may take a lot longer.

“Our internal processes will dictate the timelines, but those haven’t been determined yet,” said Ludwar.

Customer knowledge is the bread and butter of most telecommunications companies, said Iain Grant, managing director of Montreal-based SeaBoard Group. Large providers like Rogers have learned the value of customer data, particularly when it rolled out high-speed Internet several years ago.

Coming up with consistent answers to common problems and turning those into a commodity helps the customer service process, he said. Call centres frequently hear the same questions over and over, like the urban legend of a user complaining that the “drink holder” (i.e., the CD tray) on their PC doesn’t work.

SaskTel brought in a third-party integrator to help install the Knova software, said Ludwar, but will manage it internally on an ongoing basis.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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