The Knowledge-Carousel

It is turning around … around … around … and around. Always the same turn, always the same things in view. With changing perspectives, but actually always  at the same place. Sooner or later just boring. And once you overwind … well, mhh … might become unsavory.

I exactly feel like sitting in such a carousel since I seriously entered the world of Knowledge Management (KM). I regularly find myself hanging around at places where people interested in good knowledge working meet virtually or physically, like KM blogs or meetings of like-minded colleagues. In any case, places where people with a greater awareness for the importance and value of Knowledge Management are, many of those knowing each other already for quite a while. “Knowledge workers”, “knowledge experts”, “knowledge managers”, “knowledge enthusiasts”, “knowledge evangelists”, gurus, consultants, etc. pp..

We then intensively discuss the meanings of terms, theoretical and innovative concepts, as well as why so many companies are such ignorant regarding the benefits of KM. Assumed that you are such a rational guy like me, you can glory in that, and without doubt you will meet a lot of interesting people. And normally all will agree, that they know how it works … or as it actually should work.

And it’s true. We know how it could be done, efficiently and with maximum value for a company. But … it is completely for nothing! Well, yes, it always has been nice to talk to each other again. But finally with zero impact on real life. At the end all together spin around, and ever and anon the same people are having the same (philosophical) discussions. They feel comfortable with each other and don’t need anyone else. People know each other, appreciate each other, understand each other.

Just to avoid any misunderstanding. The strategies and concepts developed and discussed by us “knowledge experts” are in general really good and trendsetting. They have the potential to substantially change and improve enterprise knowledge sharing. It is just never applied. Somehow none of all the good ideas and solutions becomes real, in a true implementation. I frankly do not understand so far what leads to failure, and I am thankful for any hint.

By the way, this general tendency for parallel universe seems to be common with all “managements” (Information Management, Knowledge Management, Innovation Management, …). Perhaps a fraction of the problem is within the name already (also see “”Knowledge management is the wrong attitude“).

As a first step I decided to have real life feasibility and implementation as my personal benchmark in the future. I say yes to hot air … if a turbine is driven by it. And I don’t really expect it to be the big strike, the complete new knowledge strategy within the company. I also accept minor steps and improvements, if they go into the right direction. And by the way, this fits to the latest crowd-intelligence-social-media-hype in Knowledge Management (which to my opinion is absolutely overrated … but that’s another story).

One important thing with carousel rides is not to miss the right moment to get off and back on solid ground. Otherwise … as mentioned before, well mhh …

Better chat without chat

From time to time, the team I proudly belong to does some customer surveys to optimize our inhouse services. One request we consistently get is the need for a live online chat as extension of our customer support portfolio.

This is an understandable wish, as the advantages of live support and communication by live chat are evident.

  • Individual – you have live communication with a human being, not with an anonymous system
  • Realtime – you get a quick answer at the time you have the issue
  • Guidance – more complex issues can be solved step-by-step
  • Communication best practice – this is real life knowledge sharing at its best

Time for a testimony. Dear reader, I apologize if you are one of the sufferers and ask to kindly not take it personally, but to very honest … I usually switch the preinstalled text chat tools off. Why? Because they are just unefficient and get on my nerves. When it rains, but it pours. And on top of that this tiny little text chat window pops up with messages like “just to say hello” or “what are you doing?”

There is one more fancy attitude of text chatters. “May I call you?” … …. …. Come on!!! Maybe I am utterly daft, but …

  • If you want to call me, why don’t you just do it?
  • If you are afraid for possibly disturbing me, why do you let an annoying chat box pop up on my screen?
  • Isn’t this like asking “may I disturb you” while you have done it alreay by speaking it out?

To me a text chat window appears much more offensive than a phone call would ever do. I like people, and hearing someones voice is much less annoying than dry text messages on the screen. (at least for most voices) And I am always free to not pick up the phone in case it does not suit me … with a chat tool I do not really have this choice as the tool always shows that I am there. This suggests that I am available, and puts some mean subliminal pressure on me not to decline. So, in case you would like to call me. Just do it, please! I will either answer the phone, or call back ASAP.

Yes, I am live available already at any time … by phone. Aaaahh… phone! Dear generation-Y-timers, this old-fashioned voice-thing, you remember? I can be reached by phone as easy as by text chat. But no one ever would call me during working time and asking “what are you doing at the moment?” OK, perhaps my boss could legitimately. But even he does not, because he knows that wasting my time is neither in mine nor in his interest.

With phones people chat live since ages just by simply talking to each other. Well, let’s have a look at the core features of phone communication …

  • Individual – you have live communication with a human being, not with an anonymous system
  • Realtime – you get a quick answer at the time you have the issue
  • Guidance – more complex issues can be solved step-by-step
  • Communication best practice – this is real life knowledge sharing at its best

Weird … somehow having a déjà-vu feeling …

Heavily looks like that phone does already what chat claims to provide. So, is chat a redundant functionality? To my opinion it is even worse. Chat does not offer a dispensible functionality only, it offers even less functionality as phone at lower efficiency resulting in lower productivity.

Only about 60% of chat requests I myself get at work do have a work-related objective and result in a solved task, compared to 95% finally productive phone calls. And the average attentiveness a text chat conversation needs for me is estimated in the range of 12-15 minutes, compared to average 5-6 minutes for a support phone call regarding a similar issue. I found some posts in German newsgroups on real life experienced duration of (business-service) chats and phone calls. They confirmed a strong tendency for text chats to take longer (at least doubled on average). This loss of time is inevitable as typing a text certainly takes longer than saying it. Plus the time it takes for submitting and displaying the message on the other side. More than that, our human brain is able to digest and work with a message while we hear it already. With chat you have to wait for the message to be finished, then it is transmitted, and then you start to read (and think). Phone is true interactive discussion. Text chat is playing Ping-Pong.

But with phone you cannot do such fancy and auxiliary things like file and desktop sharing, I can already hear you say. Sure you can do those things with phone communication! Even better! As both hands are free for working with files and desktop (esp. when you are working with loudspeaker or a headset). Very similar to working with Skype1 e.g. (see below). And by the way, yes, you can do “conference calls” with a phone.

Let’s directly compare live text chat with live phone …

Text Chat Voice Phone
Functions text chat, live communication, short-term, individual guidance voice2voice, live communication, short-term, individual guidance
Auxiliaries conference (tool dependent), file sharing (tool dependent), desktop sharing (tools dependent) conference, file sharing (with add. tool), desktop sharing (with add. tool)
Productively works on …
  • Blackberry,
  • smartphone with QWERTZ
  •  iPad/iPhone with Bluetooth QWERTZ
  • PC, Apple, …
  • Laptop, Netbook
  • Blackberry
  • smartphone
  • iPad/iPhone
  • PC, Apple, …
    (with Sykpe e.g.)
  • Laptop, Netbook
    (with Sykpe e.g.)
  • mobile phone
  • landline phone
Connection via …
  • cable network
  • wireless network
  • landline phone
  • cell phone
  • cable network
  • wireless network
Communication efficiency
(range = 1* (snailmail) to 6* (interactive talk))
  • 3*
  • easy
  • limited to text input
  • Ping-Pong-communication
  • 5*
  • easy and efficient
  • true interactive real-time communication
  • closest to personal talk
Productivity factor
(range = 1* to 6*, values based on individual, non-generalizable data)
  • 3*
  • 60% of sessions work-related
  • 10-15 minutes average session duration
  • 80% success rate
  • quick connect, time loss by typing input and waiting lags, constricted input via keyboard/mouse/QWERTZ
  • 5*
  • 95% of sessions work-related
  • 5-6 minutes average session duration
  • 95% success rate
  • quick connect, interactive support, need for an additional tool for file/desktop share
Costs
 (based on the Swiss industry average personnel costs per hour = € 37.05 (2009 data 1))

calculatory productivity factor = x / %-work-related / %-success-rate

  • € 7.70 per support chat (~5 support chats possible per hour)
  • € 16.00 per support chat incl. productivity factor
  • plus internet connection fees depending on device used and individual contracts
  • plus optional license costs for applications or application services
  • no setup/device costs as device generally present
  • € 3.40 per support phone call (~11 support calls possible per hour)
  • € 3.80 per support phone call incl. productivity factor
  • plus phone and/or internet connection fees depending on device used and individual contracts
  • plus optional license costs for auxiliary applications or auxiliary application services
  • no setup/device costs as device generally present

Too much biased to your taste? Well, sorry, the facts just speak for themselves. As a logical consequence of these facts I clearly need to stick to the phone.

But there is an auspicious eye. As I am strong advocate of multi-channel strategies, I have no issue with redundancy. Each of us should use the channel he personally prefers, even if it might be text chat and even if it might be less efficient. But also be still open for the channels other prefer!

So, even I will start to occasionally switch my chat tools on for internal customer support. Because I want to be were our customers are. This is no inconsequence, this is customer-oriented behaviour and tool-independent knowledge culture. But I will feel free to also share the knowledge how people on the other hand can reach me best.

So, I tell clients asking for a live chat support: “No matter! … I have a live chat tool in place already where you can always instantly reach me!
I call it phone.”

Do you also favour phone over text chat?
Or quite the contrary?
If you really prefer text chat, tell me why and try to convince me!

1 Comment: Skype is another story. In this post’s context it simplified fits to the phone category. But unfortunately in some companies blocked for dubious security reasons.

2 http://www.slideshare.net/napresseportal/arbeitskosten-international-kein-deutscher-wettbewerbsvorteil