In customer support, we’re often operating 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 notice the same questions and issues come up over and over again.
If you truly you want to help your customers succeed, a robust knowledge management system can be a game-changer.
Building a knowledge management system can help you ...
How? By answering questions in real time and giving customers the option of DIY 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.
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 your knowledge management system. It will also cover examples, 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.
A knowledge management system is any kind of IT system that stores and retrieves knowledge to improve understanding, collaboration, and process alignment. Knowledge management systems can exist within organizations or teams, but they can also be used to center your knowledge base for your users or customers.
Clearly, this is a broad definition, and rightfully so.
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.
There are many types of knowledge management systems, but they all share some common characteristics. These include:
Let's look at some well-executed knowledge management system examples.
An example of a knowledge management system is Tableau’s knowledge base.
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 so users can bounce ideas off others, 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 — you can post and answer questions. It also includes articles that address common customer support issues.
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.
Otherwise, here are a few companies with knowledge management systems that execute particularly well to check out:
Now that 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.
The most important benefit of knowledge management systems is that 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, thus becoming enthusiastic brand advocates. Make no mistake, there is true business value in knowledge management systems.
We know that customer success feeds business success. Organizations that prioritize customer success are more likely to have growing revenues:
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 useful knowledge management system can free up the time of your support staff while providing a similar or an even greater level of customer satisfaction.
Knowledge management systems can also help convert consumers. Did you know that, when consumers have a need for a new product, tool, or service, 32% of them look to product guides, educational content, and best practices? Your knowledge management system might make the difference between an inquisitive shopper and a decisive customer.
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 training, 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.
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? Here are a handful of methods to determine these factors.
1) Sift 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.
2) Talk with your team about what issues come up frequently. Get your support team together and have them contribute ideas for knowledge management system articles to proactively answer questions that they get all the time. Since these probably affect your support workers (it is super frustrating to get repetitive issues), these things should be prioritized immediately.
3) Use Google Analytics to find what people are commonly searching for on your site. 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.
4) Use social listening and social tools to discover what customers are saying about your company. 89% of customer service professionals agree that customers are more likely than ever to share about their experiences with brands — likely on social media, where over 30% of people have gone to post about negative experiences. Simply put: people are talking about your company and products online, and you should know what they're saying. Moreover, you can probably minimize this chatter by proactively answering their questions and addressing their issues 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:
Next, how do you organize your knowledge management system? Here are some best practices for you to use when in designing and organizing your knowledge management system:
The structure of your knowledge management system will 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.
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 knowledge management systems as inspiration (which is why we listed some brilliant knowledge management system examples above).
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 to hire this type of expert, these steps work just as well.
Managing an information or knowledge management system is a different story. You need to track metrics that aren’t intuitive. Moreover, the process isn't the same as measuring a landing page where you can use metrics like leads generated or conversion rate.
How do you know if a knowledge article was successful? It’s not a straightforward answer, really. You should 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 success metrics.
Some do "un-conversion-rate-optimization" to optimize their support pages to make fewer people reach out to support.
But 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 each article. Ask: “Was this page successful? Yes or No:”
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.
Operating a knowledge management system not only requires you to keep a close eye on metrics, but also in support trends and issues that pop up. Just because you’ve created the 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.
One simple way to solve this: Add a feedback form where people can ask questions they couldn’t find on the site.
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.
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 successfully use and interact 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.
Growth Marketing Manager @ HubSpot