Knowledge as a Service: A Conversation with Wade Pfeiffer, President and CEO, Safeharbor Knowledge Solutions

Last week I had an opportunity to catch up with someone I like and respect in the KM industry, Wade Pfeiffer, President and CEO of Safeharbor Knowledge Solutions. I first knew Wade when he was COO and CFO at Talisma, then became SVP and General Manager when Talisma was acquired by nGenera CIM (nGenera is now known as Moxie Software). Wade joined Safeharbor as CEO early in 2011. Safeharbor is at the center of a number of KM related trends, including being one of the original providers of what I think will be one of the hottest KM developments in 2013 and bey0nd: knowledge as a service. Here’s a peek at our conversation:

John Ragsdale: According to my annual member technology survey, companies are not happy with their knowledge management tools. In fact, the average satisfaction score for KM was 3.32 on a 5 point scale—the lowest score in the entire survey. Having been in this industry for a long time now, why do you think so many companies are unhappy with their knowledgebase?

Wade Pfeiffer:  The main issue I hear from folks is dissatisfaction due to low usage. The reason their knowledge base is underused is generally due to poor content, bad search results, or that the tool itself is cumbersome and hard to use. So, while companies understand that a knowledgebase is important, they may not put enough thought into their ongoing needs and therefore simply roll one out and hope for the best. Even companies that followed best deployment practices and placed all their data into a knowledge base may not go back to review and refresh their information.

We see a lot of prospects that have a significant amount of clutter and out of date information in their knowledge base tools, or even redundant data. For example, companies often duplicate information because they can’t find it using their outdated toolsets or other reasons and thus create unneeded data and further confusion. Many knowledge bases are huge and the cost associated with going through their existing content and “cleaning it up” can be daunting.

So, users do a quick search of the knowledge tool, find the interface difficult to use and get results that are not often helpful, so they don’t continue using it, and then it’s a hard sell to get them back in there again. Having a well-integrated, well designed, easy to use site, and taking the time to make sure the content you are sharing is relevant is a huge factor in ensuring satisfaction with the Knowledge base. As is continuing to optimize that content, and understanding that customer and business needs change, so the content you are giving them will also change.

BTW– this is where our Knowledge Management Services folks are great. They are inexpensive and specialize in quickly clearing out and improving old knowledge bases and have worked with most knowledge management tools out there.

Lastly, pricing has decreased a lot over the past few years and many knowledge management tools are often still expensive and/or lacking in feature/functionality and intuitiveness. In fact, many knowledgebase applications don’t deliver a user friendly experience. Employees might have access to a wealth of content that has been indexed and stored in the knowledge base, but searching and editing documents, setting up workflows and collaborating with the team, and other tasks are made difficult because the application is not intuitive.

Intuitive applications, such as SmartSupport – our new, state of the art, knowledge base and forum platform – offer solid functionality, ease of use, simple customization and great pricing.

John: We know KM is critical to improve efficiency and lower operation costs for support centers, which is the driver behind the unprecedented planned spending for knowledge management: 74% of our support services members have budget for new or additional KM tools in 2012-2013. With so many companies having been burned by a bad KM project, any advice on what they should be looking for to increase the likelihood of project success?

Wade:   First – start out with a good tool; make sure that you get the functionality you need.   Second – you need to review all your data. It is not rocket science but it does take time. Here is a list of things that need to be considered when deploying a new project:

  1. Look at your top call drivers and/or top questions that get asked, make sure as much of those questions and answers are available in your KB as possible
  2. Use the information you have in your surveys, if a customer suggests that a link be added to a piece of content or to your site, make sure that it gets added.
  3. Go through your existing content and remove outdated stuff, and review and update the rest of your content with all the most current information.
  4. Style guides and consistency; your knowledge base writers should be using the same terms and styles in all the content.
  5. Don’t over explain your articles, make sure that your content is easily comprehended without too much technical information. Most users don’t understand those terms. The average user of self-help sites prefers a 8th grade reading level.
  6. We use graphics, callouts, and we break content up into smaller bits of information so that it is easier to follow for customers and employees. We use numbered steps, notes and warnings.
  7. Once implemented, look at your data from your site at least monthly, go back through and address the concerns of your customers and try to find ways to improve your articles.
  8. Knowledge base success is a never ending process, it has to be continually looked at and improved.
  9. Use a product like our SmartTEST Article Optimizer to increase the performance of your knowledge base by systematically improving the articles and proving out ROI.

John: Let’s talk about knowledge as a service. Clearly, with so many companies having bad experiences with KM, we have to realize that not every company has the internal expertise to launch and manage a ‘best of breed’ KM program. I have been looking for a strong “knowledge as a service” player, but the few I’ve talked to seem more focused on IT help desk than external technical support. Could you talk about Safeharbor’s services and how you are helping some large companies reinvent their KM programs?

Wade:  All of our customers are looking to improve their internal and external knowledge bases. Our goal is to improve overall usage, call deflection (where appropriate) and customer satisfaction.  We offer an overall knowledge experience. It’s kind of like a smorgasbord. Customers can choose what they want, how and when they want it.

No matter which solution companies are using, we are available to help at any point in the support service process using our best practice first-hand knowledge. We help organize and manage the knowledge bases of complex enterprise Fortune 500 knowledge base environments as well as small and mid-size businesses. We provide various services from inputting information into a knowledge base toolset all the way to being a best practice resource for any existing knowledge management environment. In fact, we work with all different types of companies to help with some or all of the following:

  • Content assessment
  • Content creation and testing
  • Analysis and reporting
  • Knowledge base and contact center alignment
  • Taxonomy
  • Best practices

Depending on each customer’s needs, our knowledge management team can:

  • Examine some or all of their content
  • Test to determine if the content matches their service issues
  • Provide guidance on filtering out old articles
  • Assist with the development of new articles

We take care of our clients, and, even after initial set up we work with them based on their needs, even as often as on a daily basis to help them improve their content.  We usually meet with them at least once a month and go over the previous month’s reporting and look for trends over a trailing 3-6 months. We make optimization suggestions based off of the numbers, case/call data, and survey responses.

John:  Earlier your mentioned Safeharbor’s new SmartTEST™ Article Optimizer. I read about it on your website, and it seems to automate some of the maintenance headaches related to knowledge. How does the Article Optimizer work?

Wade:  The SmartTEST Article Optimizer is a patented application we built to help knowledge base administrators substantiate their hard work and maximize knowledgebase ROI with real data.  With SmartTEST, administrators set up basic or sophisticated content experiments to determine which version of the support-page performs better and why. SmartTEST analyzes a wide range of user actions and behaviors and systematically improves support content through A/B testing methodologies and article-to-article comparisons.

SmartTEST dramatically challenge assumptions about the “best” way to present knowledge base content and substantiates the work invested in a knowledge base with quantitative test data.  The experiments reveal vital information about user behavior and content performance and can be easily automated. This means that administrators can continually strengthen their knowledgebase portal without second-guessing their work or wasting time on areas of the knowledgebase that do not need improvement.

SmartTEST is a must have tool for companies that rely on knowledgebase software. An optimized knowledge base saves money by lowering support requests and also improves customer satisfaction. Most importantly, the optimizer allows administrators to prove out their hard work and justify current and further improvements in knowledgebase with quantitative test data.

John: One of the things that initially gave such visibility and popularity was their 30 day free trial offer, which convinced a lot of sales reps that SFA was more than a tool for management, and drove companies to select a tool that their employees loved. I see Safeharbor is now offering a free 30 day trial. With all of our members shopping for KM, do you think they should give it a try? Will the free trial give them a peek of all your capabilities?

Wade:  The 30-Day Free Trial gives new users access to most of the robust features of SmartSupport that current customers enjoy, including: custom templates, forms, alerts, forums, interactive troubleshooting guides, community forum management, SmartTEST and more. Companies looking for a knowledge base can get their hands on these powerful tools by visiting 

One of the strengths of SmartSupport is how intuitive and user friendly it is. This aspect is hard to demonstrate on paper. The free trial lets users see for themselves how simple and clean the application is.  Another unique aspect of our platform – which demonstrated that we are more than just a KB application – is our community forums management capabilities. SmartSupport offers forum integration and makes it really easy to manage both support channels from one place.

New users should definitely give the 30-Day Trial a try. We’ve made it really easy for new users to equip their site with a knowledge base and community forums application that is highly customizable, powerful, and easy to use.

John: It was great to catch up! Thanks for the information, and for sharing your thoughts on the KM industry.

Wade: My pleasure! Thanks for having me.

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