Self-service: Everything you need to know about knowledge management

14th Jul 2014

Probably the most central and critical element to a company’s self-service capability is the knowledge base, which is vital to the accuracy and consistency of the cross-channel self-service experience for both agents and customers.

For many organisations, a knowledge base often starts off as a list of useful documents and files, which quickly grows into a wider, less coherent collection of information sources, requiring increased levels of expert management, amendments, editing, and deletion. However, the resources required to keep these knowledge bases up-to-date are often very scarce, as the people within the business that have the capabilities and expertise to do so also have their own jobs to do. Very quickly, what started off as a useful and highly-tailored information resource mushrooms into an expensive, out-of-date and increasingly less-useful collection of information of wildly-varying quality.

Organisations that wish to create a knowledge management system for the first time, or to make swingeing changes to their existing knowledge base, must accept that there will probably be a significant upfront cost in terms of time and money:

  • In the planning and assessment stage, determine what a successful knowledge base implementation will look like, including the specific reasons and measurable goals that you are aiming to achieve (for example, a specific figure for call avoidance, and associated cost savings).
  • It is vital to understand where knowledge is held and sourced within your organisation, and to gain buy-in from all relevant stakeholders, including committing specific resources to creating and updating knowledge, as well as understanding realistic long-term maintenance requirements. Building, maintaining and developing a knowledge base can be a good career path for a contact centre agent, as knowledge workers do not have to be experts on the particular subject matter but require the capabilities to find and present knowledge in an optimal way. Having access to subject matter experts, regardless of the level of the organisation, is vital: there may need to be a senior project champion involved in order to get the required access to such people.
  • When considering which knowledge base solution provider to use, it is important to agree which features are vital, and which simply nice-to-have. Functionality could include:

o Natural language search, semantic search and decision trees (which may help to deliver only the most relevant of answers rather than pages and pages of content of peripheral relevance).

o Automated document organisation.

o The ability to rate the accuracy of articles.

o Document retention.

o Dynamic FAQ production.

o The availability of specific information based on user profiles.

o Defined editorial and approval processes

o The ability to access the knowledge base across multiple channels.

  • Costs of implementation will include:

o The choice of deployment model (whether via cloud, hybrid or CPE).

o The level of customisation.

o Changes to the look-and-feel and graphical user interface.

o Database design.

o Any hardware or infrastructure upgrades required.

o Integration with CRM / back-office systems, websites and mobile apps.

o The time required content sources to migrate these into your knowledge base.

  • On an ongoing basis, feedback from agents and customers will identify gaps in the knowledge base which will need to be filled by product experts. Some knowledge bases will require full-time, dedicated resource to manage them, whereas others will rely on automated systems making dynamic changes depending on callers’ and agents’ requirements. It is often the case that large businesses with many products and services to maintain will have numerous editors across many departments who can make suggestions, although it may only be a small handful of people who will verify and publish this information.

While many solution providers state that 80% of questions can be answered by 20% of content, it’ll be each business’s decision to decide how the remaining 20% of queries will be handled (but of course, even these 20% of documents will change over time as customers’ requirements and the businesses’ products will not stay static). Some will consider that this is a reasonable proportion to be handled by more traditional means, such as the contact centre, whereas others will leverage expert internal resource, as well as customer communities and forums to fill these knowledge gaps.

Before the knowledge base goes live, it is crucial to have a content management strategy in place that will support the aims of the project. Without a clear understanding and appreciation of who requires the content, and what this content should be, there is little possibility of a successful implementation, or one where the cost is managed. The performance of the knowledge base can be measured by metrics such as reduced training time for agents (particularly relevant for greenfield or rapidly upscaling operations, such as outsourcers or seasonal retailers), and improvement in first-contact resolution, lower call escalation rates and the reusability of content.

It is not just the publishing of information that is vital: feedback on its accuracy and success from the wider user community will help the business to fine-tune the knowledge base. Processes to gather this feedback should be put in place, and continually revisited to check their effectiveness, and it is possible to add successful answers to the knowledge base very quickly if a response from an agent (for example, via email or web chat) has been marked to be successful. Those who contribute timely and useful information - whether a customer or an employee - can be rewarded and recognised accordingly. People want to share their knowledge with others, and enabling them to do so easily is beneficial for all parties concerned. Businesses could measure the success of the knowledge management system by measuring the return on investment from call avoidance, by the rating or score given by readers of recommended articles, or by the number of times an article was read, for example.

Regardless of the scale of the implementation, the key to successful knowledge management is continually monitoring, updating and publishing the most accurate and in-demand information. Businesses should consider setting internal service levels for the knowledge base, for example only returning documents and suggested answers that have over a specific score for relevancy, and no more than a small number of answers per enquiry. If customers are trained to expect a self-service experience that returns pages and pages of documents that bear little relevance to their original query, they will very soon abandon self-service entirely and the time and investment spent on the knowledge base will have been wasted.

Steve Morrell is principal analyst at ContactBabel. “The Inner Circle Guide to Self-Service” is available free of charge from The 130-page report includes in-depth, objective analysis and advice on omnichannel self-service, IVR, speech recognition, virtual agents, mobile service and voice biometrics.  

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