Knowledge is power – an inside story

Knowledge is power, or so the old adage says – and it’s true.  Here at The Co-operative Bank, we use a Virtual Adviser (VA) to give our staff the knowledge they need, and to empower them to give our customers the service they deserve.  But in order to make our VA work effectively, there are some principles we have to take into account:

1. Knowledge changes

It’s not enough to present what’s right now; you have to be keeping an eye on all content, to ensure that your knowledge is consistently up-to-date.

In the ever-changing and highly-regulated financial sector, this is an enormous challenge.  Our VA could be asked anything – from authentication to overdrafts, from product knowledge to exotic questions about Banker’s Drafts.  The more information you have, the more likely it is that something will change, and you won’t realize.  The moment your VA is out-of-date, you’ve got a problem.

So first of all, you need people who are responsible for constantly amending and checking the content – Editors, if you will (I’m one of them).

Our tasks begin with assigning everything to a category – for example, all ISA-related content is grouped together.  We then score each topic for:

  • Frequency of change
  • Notice typically given (for example, 2013-2014 ISA allowances were announced by the Chancellor in the Winter Budget – it’s reported externally as well as internally, meaning we have more opportunities to notice a change if, due to an error, we’re not officially informed)
  • Any historic communication problems, such as an area not notifying us of a change
  • Compliance – what regulatory factors come into bear here, and how frequently those regulations are being changed
  • Business Critical – any significant issues may cause us to add this score, for example record accounts being opened last year led to us putting Business Critical on Application-related content so as to enhance the customer experience

These run through a formula, and produce a score out of 40.  The score tells us how frequently we need to review the content – once a year (background information, rarely changing), six months (standard), or three months (frequent change, or significant regulatory factors).

2. Users can help

The reality is; the Advisers who are taking the customer calls are a rich source of information.  In fact, the Editors are all ex-Advisers themselves, and so know both the systems and the problems that Advisers face.  The Editors are increasingly depending on user-testing when new content is launched, getting experienced Advisers to give feedback.

And our VA is soon to be upgraded, letting Advisers use a thumbs-up / thumbs-down to give feedback on any content.  It allows Advisers to pass on any improvement ideas directly to the Editors through the VA itself.

It’s quite possible for information to be entirely correct – and still difficult to use.  The key test is how usable content is, and that knowledge will only come from the users.

3. Things should always get better

It’s essential that you develop standards and controls, so that all content is represented in the same kind of way.  The moment you have inconsistency, you take a direct hit on how usable your content is.  But there’s another plus to this; as you continue to work on the VA, and review the content, you can consistently strengthen the standards and controls.  You can develop whole new ways of working.  Direct access to the database is vital in order to do this efficiently – we’re in the process of being upgraded to Artificial Solutions’ Studio 2, and so will be able to edit and redesign content within minutes.

Ultimately, there’s a balance.  If everything changes all the time, then nobody knows how to use your VA – but if everything stays the same, then you really lose enthusiasm.  That’s especially the case where improvements are possible, and the users start to realize as much.  You’ve got to move through content very carefully, continually enhancing it so that it always seems ‘fresh’ and ‘new’, but not disrupting the user experience.

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