The Accidental Knowledge Manager: Information Handling in Customer Service

Information overload is a byword these days.¬† We have access to so much information that it completely overwhelms us and causes disorders like “analysis paralysis”. A picture keeps running through my head of someone literally buried in documents at his desk (it seems we haven’t conquered paperlessness yet either).

We know there is valuable knowledge in that pile if only we could, well, dig it out. Creating an organizational schema for your information is one of the first steps in wielding that shovel. Or, more precisely, a collating tool. Something to separate the information into smaller piles, each of which have some facet in common. And then, if needed, each of those piles could be separated into even smaller piles until they yielded some actionable knowledge.

There are several ways of dividing this information into buckets; librarians have been doing it for centuries. It’s just that back when copyists created documents things moved a little slower. Mistakes aren’t the only thing that computerization has caused to speed up. Some of these techniques of information management are more work-intensive than others, and not all techniques are appropriate for the business setting.

Taxonomies, for instance, are a method of exhaustively evaluating and positioning every item (word, idea, widget) into its own precise place in a hierarchy. In a way, part numbers could be considered a taxonomy if the numbering system shows relationships and similarities between parts. When applying a taxonomy to ideas or even words, it can quickly become complicated and we get bogged down in trying to organize the information rather than pull knowledge out of it that can indicate a needed activity. It rapidly becomes organization for organization’s sake.

Classification, though, is a more workable, less work-intensive method of organizating information into “buckets” of similarities. It is not exhaustive, but it is more helpful in creating easily handled chunks. A classification scheme can be created ahead of time, but allowing it to be tweaked and grow organically will probably yield a tool that collates information¬† in a way that more closely relates to our business.

To what purpose though? Why bother to go to all this trouble? If information is not going to be used for some purpose, why bother keeping it? Hoarding information won’t move business forward. But mining that information by classifying it into categories can illuminate incipient problems, point up customer likes and dislikes, give direction for a new product or service, and more.

  • Identify trends
  • Increase “findability”
  • Improve decision-making
  • Support initiatives
  • Maintain regulatory compliance


Start simply by identifying some common categories of problems, features, parts, services, or other pertinent information to the business or industry. Perhaps some suggestions could be elicited from an industry blog or forum.

Determine how to apply the classification when a contact is made, for example, a number and/or letter code, a look-up menu, natural language search, whatever will be most efficient and usable for the agents and the customer service application. A customer service solution should have the capability of classifying tickets and is one of the many reasons to invest in one.

The information can be checked in real time or periodically, with reports being automatically pulled and provided to the appropriate manager. The report is analyzed and steps taken using the knowledge gleaned: an emerging software incompatibility, requests for a particular feature are growing, the online help for the product isn’t effective…..

Now, we can take action.

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