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Article 10 min read

4 knowledge management best practices for better self-service

Help your customers and your agents save time with these knowledge management tips.

By David Galic, Contributing Writer

Last updated March 27, 2024

The benefits of self-service are clear—it can increase customer satisfaction, boost agent productivity, allow a business to do more with less, and drive competitive advantage. But this is only possible if customer service organizations implement the right knowledge management process and strategy to ensure knowledge sharing is effective.

Knowledge management (KM) empowers your customers to independently find accurate answers to their questions. And when they do need help, quality KM enables your customer service staff to quickly offer resolutions—even for complex queries.

Not to mention, many consumers today prefer self-service. In a Vanilla Forums study, 79 percent of customers said they expect companies to provide self-service tools to help them find answers without having to contact support. Yet only one-third of companies offer a knowledge base (KB) and/or a community forum to their customers, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report.

79% of customers said they expect companies to provide self-service tools to help them find answers without having to contact support.

Encourage self-service by defining your company’s knowledge management goals and equipping team members with the tools and processes needed to complete those objectives.

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management is the process of successfully capturing, distributing, and using information. KM also commonly refers to the technology that enables the uploading, storing, updating, and sharing of this information with customers, employees, business partners, and other stakeholders.

Knowledge management recommendations

knowledge management best practices

1. Define necessary roles and skill sets

An external knowledge management system is complex, to say the least. A company must collect information from multiple departments and present it in a compelling way to customers. To create this intricate system, you’ll need a team of people with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. No two knowledge management teams are the same, but there are a few common roles that are good to have on deck.

Chief knowledge officer (CKO)

The CKO is the company’s biggest knowledge management champion. They define the KM vision and mission, and they determine what steps must be taken in order to achieve them. The CKO also creates initiatives with the goal of company-wide adoption. They’re responsible for persuading the entire organization, not just the KM team, to believe in the benefits of knowledge management, buy into the knowledge management strategy, and participate in its execution.

Skill set for CKOs:

  • High-level project management skills
  • Experience with strategic planning and implementation

  • Great people skills

  • Strong communicator and listener

  • Combination of technical and leadership skills and knowledge

Knowledge base owner

The knowledge base is the heart and soul of your KM operation. It’s a searchable directory of customer-facing content such as FAQs, guides, explainer videos, and more. A well-managed knowledge base allows customers to find the information they need quickly.

According to Kate Leggett, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research, the knowledge base owner is a decision-making role “responsible for the tactical execution of a successful knowledge management program.” Tasks include but aren’t limited to:

  • Outlining the overall taxonomy of the knowledge base

  • Defining content standards (templates, tags, voice)

  • Defining knowledge management process implementation, such as the authoring and publication of content

  • Making content easily available to customers regardless of the channels or devices they use

If your KM program is more complex, you may need to hire category owners to work under the knowledge base owner. Category owners are responsible for the health of a particular topic area within the knowledge base. They can be knowledge base employees or support agents with skills in a specific area.

Skill set for knowledge base owners:

  • Excellent project management skills
  • Good communication skills

  • Ability to work effectively across organizational lines

  • Understands customer needs

Knowledge base employees

Knowledge base (KB) employees are the people who create the knowledge base content. The role can be a distinct position, or its duties can be a part of a support agent’s job. The structuring depends on your organization’s needs and budget.

The two most common KB employees are the writers and the editors.

Skill set for writers:

  • Strong technical writing skills
  • Ability to quickly learn new concepts

  • Ability to describe complex ideas in simple terms

Skill set for editors:

  • Strong editing and writing skills
  • Ability to follow style guides

  • Understands how customers interact with content

Knowledge base administrator

The administrator is the most important technical role in the knowledge management department—they’re responsible for the deployment and maintenance of the knowledge base. They should have experience in knowledge management systems and data integrity.

The administrator should make sure your data is accurate, safe, secure, and meets all necessary regulatory compliances. They should also recommend KM software and tools and play a major role in implementing them.

Skill set for knowledge base administrators:

  • Ability to design, implement, and own the knowledge base architecture
  • Good communication skills

  • Ability to explain technical concepts to non-technical staff

  • Experience with managing, maintaining, reviewing, and upgrading KM systems

  • Strong project management skills

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2. Align knowledge management goals with the right metrics

Once you’ve established your KM team roles and responsibilities, the next step is to define what success looks like for the KM department. How will you determine whether your customers are benefiting from your efforts?

According to Leggett, to evaluate the performance of your team, you must be able to gauge four basic content goals: knowledge use, knowledge creation, knowledge maintenance, and knowledge quality.

Knowledge use

These metrics help teams understand whether customers are using their knowledge base content and finding it helpful.

  • Resolved customer issues: the number of tickets closed that include linked knowledge. If you’re using help desk software that includes a ticketing system, you may be able to use the tool to track how many customer issues were resolved with the help of your KM content. Measure both the number of tickets closed with the help of existing content and the amount of new KM content created to answer specific customer questions that existing content hadn’t addressed.
  • Search activity: the number of knowledge base searches performed for topics that your KM team has covered. This reflects how well your KM team grasps the most common customer concerns and frequently asked questions.

Knowledge creation

As the name suggests, knowledge creation metrics reflect how much content team members generate and how often agents use their new knowledge content.

  • Knowledge creation volume: the number of articles created within a certain time frame predefined by the knowledge base owner.
  • Knowledge reuse: the amount of knowledge created by a specific agent that other agents have used or referred to when providing customer support.

Knowledge maintenance

A key aspect of KM workflows is keeping content up to date. Regularly adjust self-service content to reflect customers’ evolving needs and changes or additions to your offerings so your audience isn’t confused. KM team members can help keep content fresh by recommending and implementing edits.

  • Knowledge edit volume: the amount of content an agent has both recommended an edit for and edited. Track this metric to gauge how well you’re maintaining content as a team and to evaluate each agent’s proactivity.

Knowledge quality

Measure the quality of your content by tracking the following metrics:

  • Knowledge quality index: how well the employee is meeting certain content standards predefined by the knowledge base owner. Often referred to as the article quality index (AQI), it usually includes a checklist of standards that all content must meet before being published. Uniqueness, clarity, and completeness are some common examples of what KB owners look for when assessing content quality.
  • Knowledge feedback: the volume of customer feedback about knowledge base content. A high amount of negative feedback may be a sign that the content is incomplete or inaccurate.
  • Satisfaction rating: the average rating customers give to a piece of knowledge content. This rating is often on a 1–5 scale and indicates how well customers believe the content serves its purpose.

Once your KM team leaders have determined which metrics are most important, how do you go about tracking them? By implementing the right tools—namely, knowledge base software.

3. Identify and implement the best knowledge management tools

Effective KM tools help companies create, organize, audit, and share information with customers. They also empower organizations to track content metrics, so they can determine what knowledge sharing tactics are working best and test different methods.

There are several types of knowledge management tools your customer support team can use to encourage self-service.

  • A knowledge base is an electronic library of information about a company’s product or service, policies, and general FAQs. It is typically searchable so customers can easily find the content they need. KBs should also be:
    • Easy to manage: The KB tools for creating, publishing, and editing your content should be simple for all your KM team members to use, regardless of their level of tech-savviness.Scalable: A scalable knowledge base is one that remains stable when new content and functionalities are added and any other upgrades or overhauls are implemented.
  • Community forums work just like any other forum or message board. Customers create threads to ask questions, offer feedback, or submit complaints that company representatives and other buyers can respond to.
  • AI-powered chatbots deliver content to customers based on their inquiries, the part of your site they’re interacting with, or where they are in the buyer journey. The technology works in conjunction with knowledge bases, which means the chatbots can send relevant content directly to the customer.

All these tools are sometimes included in one knowledge management system. Zendesk’s modern knowledge management software solution offers all three of the aforementioned tools in a single, integrated system.

4. Keep content up to date

As mentioned before, KM teams must continually refresh content so that it’s in line with user demand and need. Here are a few tips to follow when creating a process for keeping your content current:

  • Run reports on a regular basis to understand the health of the knowledge base. You can use a tool like Zendesk’s knowledge base dashboard to track KB article activity based on channel (help desk, web widget, etc.), user role, date, and more.
  • Allow customers and agents to give feedback on knowledge base content. Use these ratings and input to improve your knowledge base.

  • Give agents the ability to correct mistakes and improve published content in real-time.

  • Set expiration dates for content so agents are reviewing content on a regular cadence. This means content audits are mandatory once a piece has “expired.”

Another good way to keep content fresh is by syncing the support staff training and the KB content update processes. Every time a new product or feature warrants a refresh of training materials, use that opportunity to update customer-facing content as well.

Enable self-service with these knowledge management best practices

Effective knowledge management isn’t as simple as just having a knowledge base or help center. It requires a clear knowledge management strategy, the right tools, and streamlined processes.

KM staff must make knowledge easy to consume and keep it up to date. They need to tailor content to customers’ specific needs so their audience can find the answers they’re looking for with little effort. And they should pair self-service with AI to deliver relevant content to customers wherever they are—whether that’s on the home page of your website or on the product page in your mobile app. Only then can a company reap the benefits.

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