Knowledge management systems
Customers expect discoverable, useful information.
Why KM systems are necessary
With the current market emphasizing the importance of the customer experience above all, companies are scrambling to please their consumers. Sales reps are building relationships, branding is becoming more welcoming, and customer service is expected to solve problems faster than the speed of light.
Or at least as fast as humanly possible.
Unfortunately, “humanly possible” has its limits. CS reps can only talk so fast, type so fast, and handle so many cases at once. It’s simply not possible to meet demands without a bit of help—and that’s where technology comes in.
Knowledge management systems (KMS) are your CS team’s best friend.
Not only do these solutions give reps the tools they need to be more productive, but they also handle thousands of cases all on their own. And they do it well. So well, in fact, that 67 percent of users prefer using KMS self-service over speaking directly with a company rep.
In this piece, we’ll explain:
- What is a knowledge management system (KMS)?
- What are the benefits of using a KMS?
- How does knowledge management software work?
- Knowledge management best practices
- How to create a knowledge management system
- Try a KMS for free
What is a knowledge management system (KMS)?
A knowledge management system is a powerful tool that gives you the ability to gather, store, update, and access all existing knowledge within your business. It’s a win for both your company and your customers. Knowledge sharing with a KMS lets you work in collaboration with your customers to streamline the experiences of buyers and employees alike.
There are three types of knowledge contained in your KMS:
- Explicit knowledge: easily shareable information (like data)
- Tacit knowledge: intangible and unique information (like personal customer experiences)
- Implicit knowledge: how to apply explicit knowledge to actively solve a problem (like an instruction manual)
These three types of knowledge form your knowledge base. A KMS works off of your company’s knowledge base to provide self-service help to your customers. This help is usually broken down into three accessible options:
Help centers (sometimes referred to as knowledge bases or client portals) are your company’s historical library. They contain and catalog every piece of information and data your company has ever gathered. Once that information is organized, your customers and reps can search through the library using keywords to find the answers they need. As time goes on, your reps can always update information or flag incorrect articles.
Help centers are the core of your company’s self-help strategy. By keeping all of your product and policy data in one place, you ensure that both your reps and your customers can access that knowledge from anywhere, on their own time.
Not only that, but because they’re updated and accessible to all, help centers ensure both reps and customers are aligned. This streamlines your customer service experience and reduces frustration. Gone are the days when customers get confusing or contradictory answers from different employees. Everyone’s on the same page because all information is right there in the help center.
In the same vein, your reps can improve the customer experience by making customer service interactions much shorter. When they can do a quick search for an answer rather than having to contact an expert in another department, they increase efficiency and more customers walk away satisfied.
Chatbots are AI-based tools that use systematic questioning to guide users to the answers they need. While not ideal for complex issues, chatbots use your KMS to save time by answering troubleshooting questions and FAQs. They also redirect users to an appropriate service rep if the issue needs to be escalated to a human helper.
Many companies are hesitant to install chatbots for fear of driving customers away, but these days, there’s no need to worry. With 62 percent of consumers preferring a bot over waiting for an agent, a well-programmed chatbot is a solid investment for your business.
Community forums are open, online platforms where both customers and employees can interact and provide support. Your customer service team can answer a lot of questions, but they might not have first-hand experience with certain issues. By creating a community forum, you’re giving your customers access to fellow buyers who may have dealt with similar issues and can guide new users through common questions.
Community forums also serve as a treasure trove of customer feedback for your business. When customers start communicating with each other, they end up revealing universal truths about your company and products—things they might not reveal on a survey, depending on the questions.
If you notice that a lot of customers have issues with the same feature but still want to use it, it’s time for your technical development team to dive back in and fix the bugs. You didn’t need to ask for that information—with community forums, your customers offered it to you free of charge and without hesitation.
Internal vs. External KMS
The key differences between an internal KMS and an external KMS are the types of information stored and who has access to that information. In this piece, we’ll largely look at external systems, but one of the benefits of investing in a KMS is that you can also use it to create an internal knowledge base to support your employees.
The information in your internal and external KMS may overlap a bit, but an internal knowledge base will also contain company information inaccessible to your customers, such as:
- Onboarding and training documents and procedures
- Technical assistance and IT troubleshooting
- Company directory
- Company calendar and links to events
- Payroll and benefits information including pay stubs and company policies
- Individual department policies
- Company procedures and handbooks
Like an external KMS, an internal KMS saves time and keeps people on the same page, company-wide. Your employees can easily use your internal KMS system to find answers to questions without needing to contact HR, IT, or upper management.
What are the benefits of using a KMS?
Knowledge management systems have substantial positive impacts when utilized both internally and externally. Let’s take a look at the benefits for both before getting into the logistics of how a KMS works.
Benefits of external KMS systems
- 24/7, global support
- Reduced customer service workload
- Increased customer retention
- Increased conversion rates
- Improved customer experience
- Increased brand credibility
- Aligned communication
- Product insights
- Marketing insights
Benefits of internal KMS systems
- Increased communication
- Increased employee retention
- Decreased workflow interruptions
- Faster onboarding
- Decreased frustration
- Reduced HR workload
- Reduced IT workload
- Increased customer satisfaction
What you can expect from this type of software—using Zendesk as an example—is:
- Structures content with a sophisticated tagging system that allows you to slice and dice articles for easy sorting
- Provides access to deleted content in archives
- Allows you to view previous edits to content
- Lets you select your audience when releasing content, so the right users see the right articles and restricted information is protected.
Ultimately, customizable knowledge base software like Zendesk helps make your information discoverable, useful, and attractive to customers.
How does knowledge management software work?
Knowledge management software works by gathering specific pieces of knowledge from your various departments and centralizing them in an organized, searchable system. KMS software can be sold separately from your service or sales software (like Asana) or part of your service package (like Zendesk).
If your KMS software is bundled into your service package, then it’s just a matter of setting up your knowledge base. However, if your KMS is separate, then you’ll need to integrate your third-party software so that knowledge from different areas of your company can be transferred to your knowledge base.
What features should knowledge management software include?
Depending on the company, your knowledge management software might have different abilities or available features. However, there are some features that every KMS should include right off the bat:
Text editing and media support
You’re creating a giant database of years and years of knowledge—it needs to be legible and comprehensible. Text editing and media integration allow you to customize your KMS to fit your brand while incorporating pictures, videos, and interactive apps.
Your information should be discoverable from a google search. If a customer types in “your brand, your product, troubleshooting” the first item on the page should be your knowledge base. Without SEO and its features like metadata, keyword tagging, and header formatting, your customers won’t necessarily know where to find your KMS.
Restrictions and access controls
Not all of your knowledge is designed for all eyes. A good KMS will allow you to set administrators and knowledge-specific restrictions based on different security levels.
Universal content management
The information in your knowledge base needs to be updated frequently. Without open content management access, you’ll have to rely on a small group of people to maintain an entire web of ever-evolving knowledge. Universal content management allows anyone in your company (with proper security) to update information and moderate customer interactions.
Knowledge management best practices
With so much ground to cover, knowledge management can be a beast to, well, manage. That’s why it’s essential that you follow the best practices for KMS when creating your new system. Below are some common best practices when it comes to running a smooth knowledge management system.
Organize your knowledge
Getting all your company knowledge in one place is only step one. You have to make it organized and easy to search. The general rule with knowledge organization is to think of it less like a dictionary and more like a cascade. You start with large topics (categories) and then work your way down through subtopics until you end up with precise, niche information. Otherwise, it becomes too much knowledge to sort through.
Before you start adding categories and sections to your knowledge base, take the time to lay out your plans. Your sales and service teams probably have a very strong idea of what topics customers are most interested in or which products receive the most complaints and concerns. Reach out to your employees to craft guiding topics that will inform the rest of your knowledge base creation.
Analyze your knowledge base activity
Your KMS is a great source of information about customer interests and behavior. Analyzing clicks, searches, and popular topics can provide a ton of valuable insight as to what customers are most curious or confused about.
When users interact with your KMS, every button they touch is logged and reportable. Let’s take a look at a report sample:
As you can see in the above graphic, Zendesk KMS reporting takes the same user-friendly form as any other dashboard. You can select any reporting period and then customize your metrics by channels and data sets like:
- Help center: source of knowledge
- Mobile SDK: source of knowledge
- Web widget: source of knowledge
- Articles: total number of new articles created in the knowledge base during the reporting period
- Views: total number of views for articles in the knowledge base during the reporting period by both customers and employees
- Net votes: the difference between the positive and negative votes on articles in the knowledge base during the reporting period
- Subscriptions: the total number of user subscriptions for sections and articles in the knowledge base during the reporting period
- Comments: the total number of comments on articles in the knowledge base during the reporting period
Based on these various reports, you can look at which sections of knowledge get the most hits and enhance and/or update those articles. You can also look at which pieces have the most comments and ensure that all questions in that article are being appropriately and effectively answered.
Create different views when auditing your knowledge
A great knowledge base is searchable down to the finest detail. When you’re uploading your content, take the time to pull keywords and themes. You can use these keywords and themes to build filterable article lists. These lists help users narrow down their searches so that they can find exactly what they’re looking for without having to search through hundreds of pieces of content. After all, you want to reduce frustration with your KMS, not increase it.
Creating these article list views helps both your customers and your employees. Customers are able to refine their searches and your employees can section off certain types of content. They can even create an article list called “out of date” to keep track of any outdated knowledge that needs to be updated or taken off the server.
Additionally, these lists can be sorted internally by author, owner, review status, publication status, and assigned so that your content team can track what needs to happen next on each piece.
Keep your knowledge up to date
Just like your data and analytics, your company knowledge is only good for as long as it’s accurate. If you update a product, make sure you update everything in your KMS relating to that product. That means instructional materials, troubleshooting materials, pricing information, and purchase locations (if applicable).
The goal of your KMS is to enhance customer satisfaction and make life easier for your buyers and your employees. That’s hard to do if they’re arguing over inconsistent information. Keep your KMS updated. If there are significant changes, send out alerts to let your employees know. It’s all about keeping open communication to ensure accurate information across all departments.
Make your knowledge as accessible as possible
No two customers are alike, which means no two customers are going to have the exact same approach to or understanding of your KMS. You can’t control where a customer is coming from physically, technologically, or emotionally, but you can make your KMS as accessible as possible.
That means including as many languages as possible, segmenting information based on regions (not all regions will carry the same products depending on the company), and incorporating 24/7 chatbot technology. In the modern world, it’s smart to assume that your audience is global. If your reps are asleep, your international buyers still need access to customer support; that’s what your knowledge management system is for.
When it comes to knowledge management systems, there’s no such thing as a useless piece of information. You might need to restrict access to certain items, but start out with a full library. Make sure you add in:
- Company history
- Product details
- Product research
- Industry research
- Case studies
- KPI reports
- Fact sheets
- Marketing graphics
- White papers
Internally-facing and externally-facing, all information should be digitized, sorted, and searchable. This might seem like a bit of an aggressive organizational culture, but down the line, you’ll be thrilled when everything is accessible with the touch of a button.
As we mentioned earlier, your KMS isn’t just one system—it’s a combination of systems including a help center, chatbots, and online forums. While the knowledge in all of them should be easily accessible, users should also be able to seamlessly switch from one system to another.
This is especially essential in chatbots that need to escalate. If your chatbot can’t redirect a user to answers, link to relevant information, or escalate them to a ticket, then it’s not doing its job. Make sure all your knowledge systems and tools are fully integrated for a seamless experience.
How to create a knowledge management system
Now that we’ve covered how KMS works, let’s take a look at how to create a knowledge management system by looking through Zendesk Guide.
Knowledge base structure
In keeping with the library imagery, knowledge bases need to be broken down into searchable sections just as a library is broken down by genres and authors. Knowledge bases are usually divided into three (sometimes four) cascading groups:
Categories are at the top of your organizational pyramid. Even if your knowledge base is small, you’ll need at least one category to get started. Some examples of categories are pricing, troubleshooting, products, services, and about us.
Sections branch off from your categories into more specific topics. For instance, if you click on the category ‘troubleshooting,’ it may open into sections like installation, upgrading, bugs, integration, etc. This lets users narrow down their search to the topics that are relevant to their question. Depending on how large your knowledge base is, you can further divide sections into subsections before moving on to the next branch.
Articles refer to any content within a section, even if that content is not structured like a traditional article—e.g. an infographic. Articles are like individual books in the library and contain the actual information users need. Technical notes, instructional booklets, and company histories are all contained in articles sorted into their appropriate section.
Not every knowledge base needs an accessible comments section, but it’s recommended as a way to keep all of your articles up-to-date. Comments are attached to individual articles and they allow users and employees to note additional information or indicate misinformation. It should be noted that comments are not optional if you’re setting up a community forum since commenting and discussion are at the core of the forum’s purpose.
All four of these areas should be pre-planned before you start building your knowledge base—you don’t want to get to the end of your build and realize you forgot a section or two. They can also all be organized visually according to different themes and your company’s branding materials.
Enabling and preparing
To ensure your knowledge management system is perfect before you send it out to your customers, it’s not automatically deployed when you start your system. Instead, you can build it, enable it in setup mode, prep it for release, and finally activate it. This happens over nine steps:
- Lay the groundwork: Plan out your categories, systems, and articles on a blueprint for your knowledge system.
- Adjust the look: Add your branding and logos before customizing your theme.
- Run your first test: Preview your system and then check the look on different browsers to ensure all users have a consistent experience.
- Set your display name: Depending on domain availability, you’ll want to make sure this is the title you want, even if it’s different from your domain.
- Set up your default language: You can include multiple languages, but you want to set your default based on where the majority of your customers are located.
- Add your content: You can import content, create new content, link to existing content, and then customize access to each article.
- Personalize your system: Adjust your system for local markets if you have a diverse audience.
- Add administrators: Make sure you have designated employees who are in charge of monitoring.
If you do end up making mistakes that can’t be fixed on the active system, you can always disable your system to make changes. Ideally, though, these steps will set you up for long-term success with zero system downtime.
Try a KMS for free
Zendesk is an all-inclusive CRM system that uses technology to help your organization capture and leverage institutional knowledge and information. And our knowledge base software works natively with our ticketing system, which translates to a better self-service experience and greater agent efficiency.
Find out how you can use Zendesk's knowledge management software to streamline processes and make more information and resources more accessible by requesting a demo or diving into our 14-day free trial today. Your customers — and your agents — will thank you.
Tap into more knowledge
Creating a knowledge management is just like building a help center for your customers. Kill two birds with one stone and learn how to do both.