My Personal Experiment with Crowdsourced Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS)®

The embedded broadband chip inside my new laptop wasn’t working. Neither my cell provider nor the PC manufacturer’s support website offered a resolution even though the problem was commonly complained about online. I eventually fixed the issue myself and decided that if vendors refuse to publish knowledge content on their website, then I’ll do so on mine! And thus began my personal experiment with crowdsourced Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS)®.

My issue started with a Windows error code about a locked SIM card. Verizon insisted the SIM was unlocked. The PC manufacturer’s website contained several forum threads about this very issue, as did Microsoft’s support community, but there were no solutions.

So I turned to an old, trusted friend: Google. And not just the simple kind of web search. This issue took me on a deep dive past the first 20 pages of search results into the obscure corners of the Internet to comb through product manuals and forum threads and then pair that information with the knowledge I already had on similar Windows device issues.

I eventually convinced myself that the error code had to be incorrect. I finally remembered how Windows 10 sometimes installs the wrong device driver automatically. So, I tried manually downloading one from the manufacturer’s website, and then, boom…my problem was solved.

My 8-year old son was hanging out with me that day, so I decided to use this example to help him understand what “dad does at work” (Knowledge Management). I decided not to include my 6-year old daughter, who for some reason thinks that I “sell silverware” instead of selling KM software 🙂

With this new solution in hand, we drove back to the cell phone store and told them all about the inexplainable error code, the true root cause, and the specific fix – just in case someone else came in later with a similar problem. But I wasn’t very confident that they actually understood what I was saying despite the pleasant nods.

I also called my PC manufacturer. The phone agent impressed me by acknowledging that the driver update is a common cure for the SIM lock error code. But, it was incredibly frustrating to not have that solution documented in so many threads on this very subject within their own support forum. Channel shifting for access to knowledge is completely unacceptable, and yet the support agent either didn’t understand, didn’t care, or perhaps couldn’t do anything about her company’s obvious self-service publishing problem.

While the cell phone store and computer manufacturer’s phone agent surely wondered why I was spending part of my weekend trying to ensure that the next person can easily find a solution to this issue rather than just being happy that my problem is solved and moving on, my young son immediately saw the benefit of paying it forward. He even hypothesized how someone like “grandma” might have this problem in the future and wouldn’t know how to correlate the error message to the actual root cause, but could at least search Google, find my example with the same laptop, LTE card, and error, and then see if updating the device driver solved her problem too!

And thus began a new experiment I’m running on the blog: a “Tips & Tricks” section where I document solutions to the random problems that I encounter. The first post is on Windows technical support. My next one might be for something totally different. But the idea is the same, capturing solutions and sharing them with others.

I’m breaking the rules of Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS) ® a bit and following a short narrative format rather than the typical problem-solution or break-fix format because (a) my website isn’t a support KB and (b) I personally prefer short stories over of structured articles. I am leveraging the typical KB/KCS best practices of including relevant context in my posts, such as the operating system, exact error message, a screenshot for visual effect, and of course the answer. Yes, I could have posted the fix to an online forum, but at least for this experiment – I’m putting it on my website for now. I have linked to my post from multiple unanswered Internet forum threads on the same subject.

It sure feels good to “eat my own (KM) dog food” by documenting solutions even when the vendor refuses to do so themselves.

Works for me! Especially if customers are given access to submit knowledgebase content instead of being forced into a community / forum thread.

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March 2018 Update: Several people have questioned why I am contributing knowledge on my own personal website rather than through the vendors. I don’t want to do this, but there are a couple reasons I have chosen to:

  1. In several cases, vendors have refused to publish their own self-service knowledge article, thus, unfortunately, requiring me to take the matter into my own hands.
  2. In past experiences, vendors have changed forum platforms and not migrated over the old answers (or perhaps they have done the same on #1 with their official knowledgebase software). Thus, my publishing of an answer here (where it will never be deleted) while linking to my article from multiple vendor forums.

My hope is that the corporate antibodies David Kay references below change their position and we as customers (who often times know more about the product than the vendor) can respectfully participate in the knowledge creation and curation process directly within the vendor’s official knowledgebase and communities platform. Until that day comes, my experiment continues.

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KCS® is a service mark of the Consortium for Service Innovation™.

2 Comments

  1. Great stuff! I love the “pay it forward to Grandma” idea.

    Crowdsourcing KCS is a great idea: Novell allowed its high-reputation community members, for example, to contribute KB articles directly over fifteen years ago! They found emerging bugs and workarounds faster than anyone inside the company. Sun, Cisco, HP, and others have all made runs at some variation on this.

    Unfortunately, every time this gets proposed, the corporate antibodies come out in full force and kill it eventually, usually before it gets started.

    I’ve been exposed to an emerging project at a Very Substantial Technology Company that is considering making another run at this. Fingers crossed they (and your blog) make this an accepted standard.

  2. Great thought process Scott! When it comes to documenting generic problem-solving issues not related to your company product with an assumption that Google has a solution, we as a team are still debating if these should be part of self-service OR let customers engage on their own.

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