What is a knowledge management system?
A knowledge management system is how people gather, organize, and share information across a business. Knowledge management also refers to the technology that makes all of that happen.
Knowledge management is often used to improve customer experience. For example, a self-service portal is one output, or result, of a knowledge management system. Self-service portals are popular ways for customers to help themselves when they need assistance with simple issues. Changing a password or printing a return label probably won't require 1:1 support, for example. But knowledge management can help employees internally, too.. When a business becomes a knowledge-centered organization, it ensures that information about products, tips, and tricks are shared openly across teams and departments.
Establishing a culture of knowledge-sharing helps give everyone equal access to institutional knowledge that can help them do their jobs. It also helps everyone contribute to that knowledge in one way or another.
Some types of knowledge include:
- Expertise for help center articles; these articles help customers self-serve on common support inquiries, and they help agents when they are assisting customers
- Internal insight from the customer support team, such as information about a bug or a design oversight impacting the customer experience
- Tips from community managers and moderators about tailoring the product for unique use cases
- Information from product experts, which helps technical writers create official product documentation
- Updates from the product team about upcoming features
- Interviews, survey results, or feedback from the customer success team or a voice of the customer program
What is the purpose of a knowledge management system?
There are many reasons for establishing a knowledge-management system. Two of the most important reasons are:
- Harnessing institutional knowledge can streamline operations. Proper knowledge management breaks down internal silos of information. Furthermore, knowledge is the basis of good self-service, and good self-service helps a business scale support. Ensuring that fresh, relevant content is available for customers can improve the customer experience and give companies an edge over their competitors.
- Having a process helps capture tacit knowledge that might otherwise fall through the cracks. A process gives teams across an organization the power to leverage knowledge throughout their workflows.
Knowledge management can get complicated. Failing to address knowledge management complexity can have serious impacts on the business. One of the biggest issues is fragmented information that is hard to find when customers or agents need it most, according to a report on knowledge management from Customer Contact Week Digital. For example, say the support team is capturing great knowledge that is most useful for support: accurate, complete answers to customers’ most frequently asked questions. They have a process for finding and publishing content on a help center. As far as they know, knowledge management is going well. But maybe community managers are sharing helpful advice for unique use cases, visible only to a handful of people within a small team. There might even be multiple sets of information about multiple products and services, with no processes connecting any of them. When there are this many sources of truth, there are no sources of truth.
Staying on top of the process is the best way to reap the benefits of a knowledge management system.
Knowledge management system benefits
There are many knowledge management system benefits.
- Good knowledge management improves customer experience. We’ve known for a long time that customers prefer to self-serve for simpler tasks, such as changing their password or to find answers to to frequently asked questions. Data in the 2020 Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report confirms that self-service is essential for a good customer experience. Customers are even open to interacting with bots and AI if it resolves their problems faster.
- Good knowledge management improves agent efficiency. While customers who successfully self-serve can save agents a lot of time, good knowledge management enables agents to become cross-functional collaborators. Months after a product launch, for example, an agent with explicit knowledge of a product or feature can make suggestions for future launches and versions of the product. They would also have the context needed to assist customers 1:1 with complex issues within their area of expertise. Tapping into their intellectual capital can be a boon for their careers and the business.
- Good knowledge management breaks down internal silos. Silos prevent people in an organization from sharing information that could help everyone do their jobs better. It's like hoarding all of the good candy. Think of every time you contacted someone within your company for information; and then consider how much easier it would be to self-serve, instead. A knowledge management system that surfaces knowledge throughout the organization, across teams and geographies, can make this a reality.
Establishing a knowledge management process
The first step in establishing a knowledge management process is identifying collaborators and securing buy-in across the business.
Good knowledge management can help support many different teams. So becoming a knowledge-centered organization requires their participation, too. It includes teams identified above: product, IT, customer success, and documentation experts, to name a few. Buy-in also helps break knowledge management silos before they pop up. Everyone will be on the same page from the start and are therefore more likely to turn to the knowledge base when they need help. It also establishes knowledge management as a shared benefit and shared responsibility. Though documentation experts often take the lead, effective knowledge management isn’t only their responsibility.
Here are some knowledge management best practices to get started:
- Identify quantitative and qualitative knowledge management KPIs, such as ticket deflection rate or an increase in cross-functional collaboration. KPIs aren’t one size fits all, so be deliberate about what to track based on the business' goals with knowledge management.
- Structure your knowledge management team to include a knowledge editor, who helps ensure a cohesive, brand-right voice and tone; an executive sponsor, who helps ensure the knowledge management function is cross-functional and strategic; and individual contributors and subject-matter experts, who provide the essential knowledge transfer.
- Identify candidates with skills that are especially useful in knowledge management, such as project management, content management, or technical writing. Some good candidates include support agents with creative problem-solving skills or writing skills, power users of existing knowledge management tools, or technical writers who passionate about bringing a human voice to technical processes and tools. Many of these people can serve as valuable thought partners and ad-hoc knowledge workers.
Best practices for designing a knowledge base
Designing a knowledge base is the next step. Here are some of the most important knowledge base design strategies that apply, regardless of the type of business.
Make complex knowledge simple to consume
Use simple language to describe the steps involved in solving a problem. The knowledge base isn’t a resource if people are still confused after consulting it for help.
Keep titles concise
Keeping titles concise makes it more likely that the articles will show up in search queries.
Build and improve knowledge over time
Taking an agile approach to maintaining the knowledge base helps ensure it stays fresh and relevant.
Empower your team to work with analytics and AI
When more customers and internal users depend on the knowledge base, a strong feedback loop helps ensure that reliable, accurate content is available for customers, agents, and cross-functional teams. Deploy AI to spot trends in what people are clicking on, searching for, and more.
Implement a responsive design
Implement a responsive design to help ensure a good experience no matter what device is being used.
A modern knowledge management tool can streamline all of the above. Smart knowledge management software and knowledge base solutions automatically offer relevant articles in response to search queries. Knowledge base software solutions equipped with machine-learning get smarter with time, improving the quality of the automatic responses served up with AI. Other technologies can streamline the maintenance and upkeep of the knowledge base, prompting knowledge contributors to update articles, to fill knowledge gaps, or to verify accuracy and relevance.
Check out some of the best knowledge management examples and see how organizations like Spartan Race, Vend, Khan Academy, and Tesco are empowering support agents, harnessing the power of community, and creating simple, beautiful customer experiences by putting a knowledge management system into place.