Knowledge Management Systems: The Ultimate Guide

How to Create, Manage, and Improve Knowledge Management Systems for Customer Support

When you want to help your customers succeed, building a robust knowledge management system can be a game-changer.

In customer support, we’re often playing on the reactive end of things. And when you’re swamped in support tickets, it’s hard to be proactive and work on strategic measures to help your customers be successful in the big picture. Plus, you’ll almost always find that the same questions and issues come up over and over again.

Building a knowledge management system can help you ...

  • Decrease support costs
  • Increase customer happiness
  • Improve the overall customer experience and customer success ROI

How? By answering questions in real time and giving customers the option of self-serve customer service, you can empower users to answer their own questions. And by providing these resources so customers can help themselves complete these repetitive and tactical tasks, you can spend more time focusing on higher-leverage activities.

  • About

    70%

    of customers expect a company’s website to include a self-service application.

  • By 2020

    85%

    of the relationship with an enterprise will exist without interacting with a human.

  • Almost

    90%

    of businesses are expected to compete mainly on customer experience.

Users want this type of support. In fact, 70% of people expect a company’s website to include a self-service application, and trends show this will soon become the norm. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of the relationship with an enterprise will exist without interacting with a human.

Providing this resource will be a competitive advantage for businesses in a crowded market. Also from Gartner: 89% of businesses are expected to compete mainly on customer experience.

This comprehensive guide will help you build, plan, and manage a knowledge management system. It will cover the benefits, challenges, tips, and software options.

Feel free to treat it like a choose-your-own-adventure guide and jump to the sections that apply most to your situation. Here’s what we’ll cover in the guide:

Let’s get started.

What Is a Knowledge Management System?


First, let’s step back and define knowledge management system.

A knowledge management system is any kind of IT system that stores and retrieves knowledge to improve understanding, collaboration, and process alignment.

Clearly, this is a broad definition, and rightly so. Knowledge management systems can exist within organizations or teams, but they can also be used to center your knowledge database for your users or customers.

This latter definition is what we’ll talk about in this guide -- how to build a knowledge management system, or a knowledge base, to improve the customer experience and help customers achieve success using your products or services.

The meaning of knowledge management system, while broad in use, can be narrowed to the following purpose: to help people utilize knowledge to better achieve tasks. When you look at it like this, you can reframe it as a more proactive form of customer success. You can answer customers’ questions in real time, as they’re struggling with their challenges, instead of constantly answering the same questions in your support ticketing system.

A knowledge management system can take many forms, but there are usually some common characteristics. These include:

  • FAQ content
  • Forum or community feature
  • How to articles and tutorials
  • Education, academies, and training programs
  • Certificates
  • Case studies
  • Webinars

An example of a knowledge management system is Tableau’s knowledge base.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 9.57.52 AM.png

It includes a search feature so users can get answers to specific solutions as well as top articles and product-specific navigation. In addition, the sidebar links to a Tableau community to bounce ideas off other users, and it also includes other customer education features like classroom training, e-learnings, training videos, and webinars.

Another knowledge management system example is from R Studio. This one has more of a community focus, as you can post and answer questions. But it also includes articles that address common customer support issues.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 10.00.45 AM.png

At the very bottom, it also includes what I think are the most important links: learning resources and trainings. For a technical product like R Studio, these can sometimes be the highest value customer education assets.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 10.01.33 AM.png

Now you’ve got a good idea of what a knowledge management system is and what some examples are. Let’s dive into the main benefits of employing them.

Knowledge Management System Benefits


The most important benefit of knowledge management systems is best practices are available to customers, which creates happy and successful customers. Happy and successful customers keep coming back to buy more (and more often) than other customers, and they tell their friends, becoming enthusiastic brand advocates. Make no mistake, there is true business value in this.

We know that customer success feeds business success. Organizations that prioritize customer success are more likely to have growing revenues:

Customer-Service-report-1-3.png

And when you’re able to provide a self-serve customer service portal (i.e. a knowledge management system), you’re able to scale customer support without increasing support costs.

It’s relatively expensive to have a customer support rep interact with a customer for each and every issue. According to Forrester, a chat with a live customer support agent can cost $6-12 per interaction, but an automated interaction can cost as little as 25 cents.

Creating a knowledge management system that’s actually useful can free up the time of your support staff while providing a similar or an even greater level of customer satisfaction.

Really, the advantages of knowledge management systems far outweigh any disadvantages in terms of time or costs -- as long as you do it right. Though you may think knowledge management systems are only necessary with complex products that require a lot of trainings, they can also be useful for “simple” products and services, too. We might assume that a typical ecommerce site is quite simple, but people still visit the FAQ page and have questions. It still helps to compile knowledge to help customers with their questions.

Knowledge Management System Issues and Challenges


A knowledge management system, of course, has its issues and challenges, as well as its benefits.

The two biggest challenges to creating knowledge management systems are:

  • Creating and organizing knowledge management system features
  • Measuring and optimizing knowledge management systems

Even if you know you need a knowledge management system, where do you start? I’m not even talking about things like writing a compelling knowledge base article or designing the thing so people trust it (though both are important).

I’m saying, what the heck do you even write about?

To get started, just get your team together and talk about what issues come up frequently. Get your support team together and have them contribute ideas for knowledge management system articles to answer questions that they get all the time. These things should rise quickly to the top since they are emotional for support workers -- after all, it’s super frustrating to get repetitive issues.

That should give you enough work to get going on writing things.

But how do you organizing your knowledge management system? Ideally, you’d hire an information architect to model your knowledge management system after the real path a user would use to find solutions to their problems. This requires lots of user experience research and iteration

However, if you don’t have the time or resources, you can use some best practices in designing and organizing it:

  • Chunk articles into a set amount of topic categories (try to stay within 4-6 categories).
  • Make the most frequently-used elements most prominent on the homepage of the knowledge management system (so probably most popular articles and a search bar).
  • Include frequent links within article content to other helpful and related links.
  • Include a sidebar that links out to supplementary resources like chat, community, and courses.
  • Include a feedback mechanism so you can measure the response to articles.
  • Use a variety of media -- video, image, text, etc. People learn differently.

Measuring and optimizing your knowledge management system can be even more challenging. It’s not the same thing as measuring a landing page and determining success where you can use things like leads generated or conversion rate. How do you know if a knowledge article was successful? Even things like bounce rate or time on page can be misleading -- perhaps time on page means they were engaged, but it could also mean that the article was confusing and they were reading and rereading it without getting the message (which is frustrating).

The best way is to simply use a binary feedback form at the end of the article. Ask: “Was this page successful? Yes or No:”

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 10.26.10 AM.png

While any data on an individual page with this binary question may not help much (what does it mean when 70% of people think it was helpful - is that good?), it helps when you can determine a baseline and see which articles aren’t very helpful. You can then set out to optimize those articles with better information.

Looking for a free tool to ask these questions? HubSpot is building one right now….

Another issue is determining what else to cover in your KMS. One simple way to solve this: Add a feedback form where people can ask questions they couldn’t find on the site.

You should also continue to monitor your site analytics and support ticket content for rising trends in questions and complaints. A knowledge management system should be a living, breathing document, and as such, you should continue tweaking and improving it.

How to Build an Effective Knowledge Management System


The first step in developing a knowledge management system is knowing what knowledge to document. What are the common problems, issues, and questions people have, and how can you document the answers to them?

While there are many tactics you can use to collect this information, you can probably check off some low-hanging fruit simply by sifting through your support ticket system. What are the most common questions people are asking? Is there anything in particular that continues to be asked over and over?

These are the questions you should try to answer first.

You can also find what people are commonly searching for on your site using Google Analytics. As long as you have enabled the site search feature in Google Analytics, you can simply go to Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms to see the common terms people are searching for (pro tip: you can compare time periods and sort by “absolute change” to see rising trends over time) ...

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 11.28.59 AM-1.png

After the basics, conducting cross-functional research can help you decide what type of content to include in your knowledge management system.

There are many moving pieces when it comes to the overall customer experience. Specific roles each tend to hold a piece of knowledge concerning the whole experience. For instance, feedback from salespeople that may be distinct from user experience researchers, customer support specialists, and marketers.

When it comes to building a knowledge management system, all of these viewpoints become important. Each one will shed some insight on problems or issues your customers are dealing with.

It may also help to gather some additional qualitative insights to find issues that may be in your blind spot. To do that, you can conduct on-site or in-app surveys to see what people are struggling with. Use a tool like Usabilla or Hotjar, as shown below:

screen-shot-2016-03-09-at-8.23.33-pm-1024x568.png

Source: HotJar

Next, you need to determine the structure of your knowledge management system.

Now, this too can vary, but it should reflect your customers’ expectations to create a great customer experience. Your knowledge management system could contain multiple different features, such as a frequently-asked questions (FAQ) feature, a user forum, instructional videos, and more. You can even develop advanced customer education training like Optimizely or Google Analytics does.

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 11.54.19 AM.png

What you choose to include depends on what you believe will help your users achieve their goals.

A good way to determine this is to look to other companies will knowledge management systems as inspiration. We’ve written about this before, so feel free to check that article out.

Otherwise, here are a few companies with knowledge management systems that execute particularly well to check out:

Managing an information or knowledge management system is a different story. You need to track metrics that aren’t intuitive. For example, if you create a landing page, you know you can track leads and conversion rate. What’s the success metric for a knowledge management system metric?

It’s not a straightforward answer, really. You need to have a discussion in your organization about what your goals are and how you can meaningfully track them. I’ve seen systems based on satisfaction surveys (like Usabilla’s), and I’ve also talked to companies who use metrics like bounce rate or time on page as a success metrics.

Some do "un-conversion-rate-optimization" to optimize their support pages to make fewer people reach out to support.

In any case, operating a knowledge management system requires a close eye on metrics, but also in support trends and issues that crop up. Just because you’ve created a system doesn’t mean you’re finished. Continue to keep a close eye on what questions your support team continually fields, things that customers are searching for on your site, and bottlenecks within the product or website itself.

Continue investing in self-serve service and proactive support measures, and you’ll be rewarded with happier customers, increased revenues, and decreased support costs. It’s a challenging endeavor, but it offers a huge return on investment.

Conclusion


A knowledge management system, when done well, can help you increase customer satisfaction, decrease customer support costs, and increase overall customer success ROI in your organization.

While the tactical aspects of knowledge management systems can vary, the purpose is the same: Educate your customers so they can be successful with your products or services.

The way you do that could be through some combination of FAQ, tutorials, academies, how-to articles, or forums. Any knowledge management system feature should contribute to the goal of answering and educating customers and compiling knowledge about your products or services.

New Call-to-action

Created By

  • Alex Birkett

    Growth Marketing Manager @ HubSpot