Getting the Most Out of a Knowledge Base

In today's burgeoning marketplace there's an abundance of software available to help businesses accomplish a host of CRM-driven business initiatives. What smart companies are beginning to realize is that some single-solution applications can work double (or triple) time to handle multiple end-user groups, and as a result, deliver a greater return on investment. Knowledge-base software is one such example of a single solution that can be deployed and customized for many user groups helping companies meeting multiple business objectives. For instance, a knowledge base can assist customer support agents while solving incoming customer questions; can support sales and marketing teams; can aid help desk representatives; and can directly address customers questions via customer self-service. The key is, whenever possible look beyond a single user group to widen the scope of a knowledge-base application and empower several groups with easy access to valuable knowledge. Using a single knowledge-base solution for many end-user groups is a great example of getting a two-for-one deal out of a single solution. However, this is only a good value if your users buy in to it. And the only way they will is if it's customized for them. Make sure information is accessed and presented in useful ways, and tailored to fit the user. This is the key to sharing tacit knowledge, internally and externally, with multiple user groups. There's no need to build disparate systems for customers, partners, help-desk representatives, marketing teams, and customer support agents when one central repository can provide all the answers, articles, and documents needed to address each and all their needs. To accomplish this there are a few main considerations to take into account when customizing a knowledge-base application and fully leveraging it for multiple groups. The front end of a knowledge base can and should look and feel different for various sets of end users. In all cases, the knowledge-base portal should be an organic extension for the end user and should deliver as close to an uninterrupted Web environment as possible. While a customized knowledge-base "landing page" may be appropriate for customer support agents -- with interchangeable features like "Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions" front and center -- this might not be as compelling of a starting point for customers. Instead, for this group, the starting point of a knowledge base might be a simple search window or portal splash screen on a company's home page or customer support page. Users don't have to feel like they've left their original Web environment just because they've accessed a knowledge base. Delivering a seamless experience will help users feel more comfortable and promote usage, and there are many integration tools that can facilitate such an experience. A knowledge base that integrates Web services like .Net allows the greatest level of integration on the back end. And, utilizing an application protocol interface (API) helps deliver a seamless experience on the front end that's most relevant to each user group. The point is, while thousands of articles of knowledge can be centrally stored in a single location, the front door to this treasure trove of information doesn't have to be presented in the same way. Something to consider: Many knowledge-base applications have snap-and-go features that are fully interchangeable so that individual elements can be directly placed into any Web site page. Any way it's sliced, the way into a knowledge base should reflect the habits and needs of the users. Tailoring search methods to user groups is yet another crucial means of customizing a knowledge base, since different user sets have different ways of finding information. Knowledge bases that address various audiences should first and foremost consider how information can be simply and conveniently found. If a knowledge base will be used by a general set of end users and companies haven't pinpointed how information will be most easily retrieved, then offering a variety of search methods is a good approach. From natural language search to Boolean and keyword, a drop-down menu with several searching options lets an end user choose his or her preferred method. Alternatively, if a knowledge base is intended to aid customer support agents, then employing a solution-finder engine, where each subsequent answer drills down to the next logical choice until the right answer is brought up, might be the most efficient search method. Another consideration when deploying a knowledge-base solution for multiple groups is information security, since not every group will be privy to all sets of data. There are a few ways to tackle the securing of knowledge. One such way is to build a unique knowledge base for each group and secure it with user names and passwords. Building separate knowledge bases may sound cumbersome, but managing each one isn't as time-consuming as you might assume. Many features offered in knowledge-base software allow universal update across knowledge bases so that entering a change once ensures that the change is made across the board. Alternatively, one knowledge base can be built for multiple user groups with different levels of access provided based on permissions. Here, integrating username/password management protocols and other permissions-based systems, as well as tagging knowledge to be indexed, sorted, and secured for appropriate users, ensures that only the right information gets into the right hands. If choosing to build a single knowledge base, companies can opt to create one portal for all sets of end-users to eliminate the need for administrators to create separate portals for different end-user groups. This way, managing user access rights and updating portal pages is taken care of, conveniently, all at once. The use of permissions-based logins can become very strategic when creating portals and presenting information sets, and can allow for a highly personalized delivery of customer self-service. For example, if a company has several large, strategic customers or partners, each group might be given access to unique portal. These portals can show exclusive information such as logos, data sets on specific product lines, and other customized knowledge that's pertinent only to their line of business. With personalized portals, the end-user experiences a very customized interaction. Finally, it's important to note that like all the front-end features that can be selected and deployed with specific user groups in mind, marketing a knowledge base should also be customized to fit each user group. For example, when launching a knowledge base to assist internal customer support agents, many companies tie performance metrics into knowledge-base usage. When the same company is ready to launch the knowledge base to external users, such as the case with a customer self-service portal, different tactics might be leveraged to create awareness and drive usage. These might include answering inbound customer email questions with direct links to a knowledge base or regularly emailing customers links to new articles in the knowledge base. In the end, as the renowned scientist Sir Francis Bacon once famously said, knowledge is power. And, whether you already have a knowledge base or you're just beginning to mull over its potential benefits, keep in mind that many of your user groups can be empowered with access to knowledge. Then, customize your knowledge base to fit the needs of each group and get more return for your CRM dollars. About the Author Alex Kazerani is CEO of Knowledge Base Solutions. He works hand-in-hand with many customers to ensure their knowledge bases are fully leveraged.
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