Posted tagged ‘KM’

What I Heard at TSW: KM Culture, Social Knowledge, Gamification, KaaS

October 28, 2014

Last week was our Technology Services World Conference in Las Vegas. It was our biggest conference ever, with over 1,300 attendees. I spent most of Tuesday doing more than a dozen 1:1 meetings with members, answering technology questions, helping them create a short list of possible vendors for a planned technology purchase, or giving them a map of exhibiting partners to visit in the EXPO depending on the problem they were trying to solve. Since my Power Hour session on Monday was about the results of my August knowledge management survey, many of my member meetings were related to KM: what wasn’t working, what they would do differently next time, new technologies to invest in, etc. Based on questions asked during the KM session, and conversations with members and partners afterwards, here are some popular conversation threads I wanted to share with a larger audience.

Culture and KM

In my Power Hour presentation, I opened and closed with a focus on corporate culture and KM, and shared some results from my survey on how respondents rated their corporate culture, from a high of “Leaders set the example and reward knowledge sharing” to a low of “Share any knowledge and others will take credit”. We have very smart members, and Jodi McBride, Director, Knowledge & Content Management, Pitney Bowes Global Client Services, asked if there was any data correlation in the survey results between culture and KM success. Well, I hadn’t even thought about that. This morning I spent a bit of time slicing and dicing, and found a very interesting data story:

KM Culture and Success

As you can see in these charts, I sorted all the KM survey responses into three groups by KM culture scores: poorest KM culture (bottom third), average KM culture (middle third), and strongest KM culture (top third). Then I looked at the average scores for each group for the question “How do you rate your existing KM system?” and it appears that culture plays a big role in how well a company’s KM program is going. For both customer-facing and employee-facing knowledgebases, the stronger the culture, the higher the KBs are rated. This played out in many member conversations, and at this point, I see culture as a primary indicator of KM project success.

Social Knowledge

I’ve had a few eye rolls in the past when discussing crowd sourcing knowledge, but that tide seems to have turned. There was a lot of interest in how to incorporate customers into knowledge creation and sharing, with more companies saying they were using wikis or ‘tribal knowledgebases’ to build and curate a knowledgebase by and for customers (Jive Software, who exhibited at TSW, got a lot of booth traffic around this topic). The most telling story came from Scott Bideau, Regional Sales Manager USA West, Coveo, who also attended my Power Hour session. He said that when companies push back on letting customers create knowledge, he asks them: “How many of you truly know more about your customer than they know about you?” After a bit of soul searching, most companies admit that customers DO know more about them than they know about the customer. So why, if the customer does know so much about you (your products, your employees, your website tools, even your culture), why wouldn’t you want to tap into that expertise? Face it, customers who interact with your products in order to do their jobs have a different and likely deeper understanding of your technology than you ever will. Not taking advantage of that would be very sad indeed.


I also received multiple questions about gamification, mostly companies looking for some good examples of how to gamify KM to encourage participation in submitting new articles and maintaining older content. I have to admit I have not always been the biggest fan of this topic, and even once wrote that, regarding gamification, “if the emperor is not naked, he is at least scantily clad.” My issue is that many examples I’ve been given of gamification dashboards and contests have been around for 20 years, and are just being re-labeled. One audience member, Chris Hall, Chief Marketing Officer, Transversal, chided me for my ‘grumpy old man’ attitude on the topic, and said there are some very exciting developments in this area. Send me your best examples, and I will blog about them! The bottom line here is that if gamification can be leveraged to encourage employees to participate in what even I admit can be a tedious process, then I’m all for it. But some good examples would be nice. 😉

Knowledge as a Service

This topic was discussed during my Power Hour, and also in several 1:1 meetings afterwards. I wrote about Knowledge as a Service, or KaaS, earlier this year as a hot KM trend, and I think the topic is getting some real traction. After sharing my survey data on “Rip and Replace,” showing that nearly half of companies were on their 3rd, 4th, 5th or more employee-facing knowledge platform, clearly a lot of service organizations have yet to find KM success, with the technology being a scapegoat for what is almost always a process problem. If companies can outsource calls, maintenance renewals, product testing, etc., to a strategic partner who can do it better, why not  work with experts in knowledge management who can make your KM program a success? One of our KaaS partners, Klever,  exhibited in the EXPO, so hopefully they had some good traffic on this topic.

In addition to these themes, I had multiple conversations about KM staffing, how to kickstart a KM program, and who/how/how often to provide KM training for employees. I also explained the difference between federated search and unified search, and the difference between full text search and natural language search, so many times I finally have a fairly short answer to the question. (Short for me, anyway.)

If you would like more information on the results of my KM survey, I will be doing a free webinar this Friday at 8am PT going over all the content I covered in my Power Hour. Here’s a link to register for the event: 

TSIA members can access a copy of the research report detailing the survey findings here: 

If you aren’t a TSIA member, we are making a copy of the report available to all members of the Klever community for a limited time next month, so register now and you will be eligible to download the report: 

Thanks everyone who attended my session, scheduled 1:1 meetings, or sent emails about my KM survey results. And as always, thanks for reading.


The State of Knowledge Management: 2014

October 20, 2014

Today at Technology Services World I am releasing the results of my August knowledge management survey both online, and in my Power Hour session at 4:15. The data shows that companies continue to find enormous potential in knowledge management, but are often thwarted by corporate culture, and tend to blame technology for process problems. Also, there is growing interest in emerging technologies that are changing the approach and priority of knowledge capture and sharing.

To me, the single most compelling piece of data related to the untapped potential of KM. The survey asked, “If your organization was sharing knowledge as well as they possibly could, how much would it improve the productivity of your team?” Here are the results:

KM Potential

40% of respondents said that doing KM well could increase employee productivity by 20-30%, and a third of respondents said that KM had the potential of a 30-50%+ improvement. Every year KM technology tops the list of solutions companies plan to invest in, and this is the reason: they understand there is enormous potential for ROI by doing KM well, and they are allocating budget to make it happen.

However, as I have said for years, and wrote a chapter about in my book Lessons Unlearned, the reason most KM programs fail is not about the technology, but process. Usually a new knowledge management platform is launched, everyone gets knowledge centered support (KCS) training, and support organizations see immediate results in lower resolution time and higher first contact resolution rates. But then sometime in year 2, things typically start falling apart. Key resources are pulled off projects, project champions move on to other priorities, and the number of dedicated knowledge workers declines. Content becomes stale, there are a lot of outdated and duplicate articles, and both employees and customers stop using the knowledgebase.

According to the survey, only 35% of companies regularly update content on a daily or weekly basis, and 27% admit “We have not updated our content for a very long time.” Only 36% have a proactive process to identify content gaps, and 35% say they have zero tools or processes to find content gaps.

Although clearly there are holes in processes contributing to the downfall of many a KM program, as soon as problems arise, the first thing everyone says is, “We need to find a new KM tool!” According to the survey, 48% of Employee-Facing knowledge implementations and 39% of Customer-Facing knowledge implementations are on their 3rd, 4th, 5th or more solution in recent memory. “Rip and replace” continues to be the most common approach to fix what is almost always a process problem. And guess what? 2 years later, if the processes don’t improve, they are in the same position and shopping for a new KM platform once again.

A major shift to knowledge strategies in the last 5 years has been the number of content sources. It is a bit unrealistic to expect a large enterprise to have a single knowledgebase, but even if they do, they also have many other valuable content sources, including online communities, online documentation, release notes, etc. For this reason, search technology has emerged as a cornerstone of a successful knowledge strategy.

I am a big advocate of unified search technology, which indexes all of your content sources–in any format in any location–and returns search matches based on concept (not key word) matching, as well as providing filtering options to drill down into exactly what you need. Federated search is less helpful; these search tools just leverage whatever search capabilities are inherent within each content repository and present a consolidated list of returns. The problem is federated search is usually a full text search, not a concept search, so if you search for ‘voice of the customer’ it won’t find ‘customer satisfaction’ or ‘customer experience,’ which are related concepts but different terminology.

KM Search

Only a quarter of companies have implemented unified search for employees and customers. More than half say that the search engine they offer for their knowledgebase ONLY searches the knowledgebase, meaning if there is relevant content in the community or online manuals, the user will never know about it. This comes up in the majority of my KM-related inquiry calls, so I’m hoping to see some movement in these numbers in the 2015 KM survey.

For TSIA members, you can download a copy of the report detailing the survey findings later today on For those of you attending TSW, you can pick up a copy of the report in the TSIA EXPO booth.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. And, as always, thanks for reading!

Technology Services World: Knowledge Management Content and Exhibitors

October 7, 2014

Capturing, sharing and maintaining knowledge is always a popular topic at TSIA Conferences, and at our upcoming Technology Services World in Las Vegas, October 20-22, there will be a lot of great content on this hot topic. Our 2nd annual knowledge management survey was completed in August, and I’ll be revealing the findings and publishing the results at the event. I’ve had mulitple inquiries over the last week asking what KM content will be featured at the show, and what exhibitors in the Expo offer knowledge management tools and services, so here’s a peak at KM-releated sessions and exhibitors so you can start planning your time now.

First up are the breakout sessions focusing on knowledge management. For detailed sessions descriptions, see the TSW agenda online.

  • Transforming Knowledge Management: Hot KM Trends. In this Power Hour session on Monday at 4:15, I’ll walk through the results of the KM survey, including information on KM across service divisions, and emerging technology areas such as mobility, video, unified search, expertise management, etc.
  • Three Months, 300% Productivity Improvement: Transforming Customer Success Using Rapid Knowledge Sharing. Phil Verghis, Klever; Mitchell Spence, Tyler Technologies, Inc. Tuesday, 2:00 PM.
  • Using KCS and Discovery Based Consumption Analytics to Generate Proactive Support Deliverables and Guaranteed Customer Outcomes. Rob Baker, Akamai Technologies, Inc. Tuesday, 3:30 PM.
  • OK, We’ve Done KCS. What’s Next? David Kay, DB Kay & Associates; Sean Murphy, Riverbed Technology, Inc. Tuesday, 3:30 PM.
  • From Knowledge Hoarding to Solve-Once: Aligning Support around a Knowledge Culture. Linda Hartig, Avaya; Dan Pratt, Avaya; Joey Fister, Avaya. Tuesday, 4:45 PM.
  • Knowledge: Experience Sharing of KCS Implementation. Nicolas Brunel, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise. Wednesday, 11:30 AM.

Here’s a look at KM-related partners participating in the Expo:

  • Aptean/Knova. Knowledgebase, search
  • Coveo. Unified search, expertise management
  • DB Kay & Associates. KM and KCS assessment and training
  • GeoFluent/Lionbridge. Translation services
  • Klever. KM and KCS assessment and training, Knowledge as a Service
  • Jive. Employee and customer collaboration, crowdsourcing KM
  • LivePerson. Self-service knowledgebase, multi-channel service
  • Radialpoint. Knowledge management, search, mobile self-service
  • Stone Cobra. KM implementations, assessments, training
  • SYSTRAN. Translation services
  • Transversal. Knowledgebase, self-service, collaboration
  • Verint/Kana. Knowledgebase, self-service, multi-channel, crowdsourcing KM

If you are attending TSW and would like to discuss your KM strategy, I have open slots for 1:1 meetings on Tuesday, 10/21. When you arrive at registration, ask to schedule a 1:1!

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas!

Top Knowledge Management Trends for 2014

February 27, 2014

Today I co-presented a webinar with longtime partner Coveo, “Top Knowledge Management Trends of 2014.” We had a huge response to the event, and the largest live audience I’ve seen for a webinar in quite a while. KM is always a hot topic with TSIA members, but interest continues to grow as we see knowledge strategies moving beyond customer support to include field service, professional services, managed services, and more. So what are the biggest trends in KM today? Based on TSIA data and member conversations, here are the top 3 trends I highlighted in today’s webinar:


  • Legacy search tools failing. My colleague Ken O’Reilly completed TSIA’s first “knowledge management practices” survey in December, and the results will be published in the next couple of weeks. I shared a couple of proof points in the webinar today to illustrate how existing KM implementations aren’t keeping up. The lion’s share of respondents to the survey have had both their customer-facing and employee-facing KM platforms in place for 4 or more years, which should indicate they are mature, highly adopted, and delivering value. But, when asked to rate their current KM implementations, the largest percent of respondents indicated the worst option: “Needs a lot of work.” So why are these mature implementations failing? In my experience, inadequate search is often at the root of the problem. Legacy search tools don’t do well outside a proprietary knowledgebase, and according to my annual tech survey, SharePoint is now the top installed knowledgebase tool used by service organizations. Not a specialized tool built for support knowledge, a generic content warehouse. With customers and employees now expecting to search content anywhere in the enterprise, in any format, requirements for search have evolved dramatically. Today, companies need a search tool that provides context, intelligence, dynamic taxonomies, and multiple filtering options.
  • Enterprise collaboration. I have a report in editing right now calling enterprise collaboration “the third wave of knowledge management.” Another factoid from the recent KM survey is that less than half of customer issues are resolved by content in the knowledgebase. If you don’t have the answer at your fingertips, the most direct route to the answer is to ask an expert. I’m seeing huge planned spending on enterprise collaboration tools to enable this. But the missing element–and this is a BIG missing element–is how to know who the expert is to ask. This is where expertise management comes in. I have blogged before about the importance of expertise management, and I’m hoping more companies begin to include requirements for this in their KM/enterprise search plans. The same search platform that can analyze all the content in your enterprise to create dynamic taxonomies, can also create relationships between content topics and people. So, if you are trouble shooting an install script, the system can prompt you with the developer who wrote the install script, the Q&A person who tested it, and the Tech Pubs person who documented it. Armed with this information, you know exactly who to reach out to for an answer.
  • Mobility. I tend to refer to this trend as “The Connected Customer” and “The Connected Technician.” The mass adoption of smartphones and tablets has revolutionized the way we retrieve and interact with information. While the majority of mobile devices may be originally designed for consumers, we bring our consumer experiences into the workplace with us. Today’s customers and employees expect–if not demand–that they have ubiquitous access to corporate content at any time, from any place, using any device. But to enable this, you need the right mobile infrastructure. When shopping for KM/search technology, include requirements in three areas. First, the system should support all devices, not just Droid or Apple or RIM. Ideally, this means HTML5. Secondly, the system should offer optimized displays for mobile devices–the same user interface that works fine on a desktop web browser will not work effectively on a 2″x 3″ smartphone screen. And third, the system should be able to retrieve and display a wide variety of formats. I’ve heard complaints from companies whose mobile search tools displayed some file types like ASCII characters–completely unreadable.


For those of you who missed today’s webinar, here’s a link to the OnDemand version: It is only 30 minutes, and worth a listen if you are interested in what’s new with KM. Thanks to everyone who tuned in today. We didn’t have time to answer audience questions, so if you asked a question during the live event, we will be following up with you afterwards.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Finally: A Community for Knowledge Management Best Practices

August 20, 2013

I’ve been giving advice on knowledge management for support since the mid 1990s, and the list of FAQs about successful KM programs hasn’t changed all that much:

  • What staffing levels are required? Dedicated resources? Rotating positions? What skills are required for good knowledge workers?
  • How long should it take to publish new content, and how many approvals are normal in a publishing process?
  • How do I convince laggards to participate?
  • How do I get techs to check the knowledge each time in case something has changed?

Those are just a few of the common challenges I hear from companies again and again. When TSIA first looked at launching an online community platform back in 2006, this was the use case I kept talking about. Everybody seems to struggle with the same issues related to KM, so a discussion forum seemed the perfect vehicle to allow people to post questions and chime in on what worked and didn’t work at their companies. TSIA has many members with very mature knowledge practices, and they are willing to share their expertise at our conferences and on our webcasts, so why not in a discussion forum?

Seven years later, our online community never took off. Most of that blame I place on ourselves, due to issues with tools, focus, staffing, etc. But I still think the use case of collaboration around KM best practices makes sense.

So I was very pleased to checkout the progress of Klever, the new KM think tank offering low cost advisory and coaching services for support knowledge management, the brainchild of Phil Verghis and his impressive team of KM experts. Klever offers *free* assessments of your KM practices, with low cost subscriptions to content and coaching. Currently, the Klever community is free and open to everyone (for now), and you can see threads around topics like creating effective article keywords, KM mission statements, program manager job descriptions, training techniques, key KM related metrics, and more. For only $100, you can signup to be part of the Klever community and have access to all of the content, invitation only webcasts, and can post questions on the forum and interact with Klever’s experts. There is also very low subscription pricing if you want to signup your KM team.

Klever’s motto is “knowledge sharing for all,” and the open, sharing and collaborative feel of the website and participants is refreshing, instead of the usual “we know everything and you don’t” attitude from large consulting groups. So checkout the Klever website, and especially the community, and cough up the $100 and get started. If you’d like more information or a 1:1 conversation with Phil Verghis, he and some of the Klever team will be exhibiting at our upcoming Technology Services World Conference in Las Vegas, October 21-23. Hope to see you there!

And as always, thanks for reading!

93% of Service Organizations have a KM initiative in progress: Separating “Big K” and “Little k” KM

June 7, 2013

In the last few weeks something has become very clear to me: I needed a new vocabulary for knowledge management. As I blogged previously, I noticed at our recent Technology Services World conference that the questions around KM seemed to be shifting. I’ve thought more about this, especially in light of a 2 part webcast series we are doing on knowledge management–both webcasts from very different angles. In the first webcast yesterday, we asked a poll question to see how many audience members were in the middle of a KM project, and the results surprised me:

Are you working on a knowledge management initiative currently?

A full 92.7% of the audience said yes. Actually, the follow on poll question, a bit tongue in cheek I admit, asked, “Are you ALWAYS working on a knowledge management initiative?” and 65% of the audience said “Yes, it sure seems like it.” So I went back and reviewed the KM inquiries I’ve received over the past few months, and they seem to logically break down into 2 categories, which I’m calling “Big K KM” and Little k KM.” Here’s what that means:

  • Little k: By little I certainly don’t mean less important or strategic, so let’s get that out of the way up front. Little k knowledge management is the tools and processes around capturing tacit knowledge, as defined by knowledge centered support (KCS). This is how support organizations (and increasingly field service and professional services) are capturing new knowledge gleaned through solving customer problems and sharing them with employees and customers. This has traditionally been the “hot” area of KM with TSIA members, with companies looking for best practices on getting support techs to contribute, how to incent workers to participate, publishing processes, and tools to easily capture the content and make it easy to find later. This is the focus of an upcoming webcast with RightAnswers.
  • Big K: Separate from capturing tacit knowledge is the whole concept of how to easily index and search your explicit knowledge: all the product manuals, release notes, test plans, development notes, case histories, community and social content, etc.  In the past I referred to this part of KM as content management, but I n0 longer think that is accurate, and here’s why: the goal of content management projects from IT is typically to establish a data warehouse where all corporate IP is stored. The problem is, these data warehouses come with basic full text search capabilities, so if you know what you are looking for (project plan for release 3.2.1 in July, 2009) it works great. That is content management. However, if you are trying to mine that data warehouse to solve a customer problem (Error 204 during the create process) you need a concept-based search engine to research content as you don’t necessarily know what you are looking for.

The technology side of Big K KM is about intelligent/faceted search technology that does 4 things: 1) indexes the content to supplement the basic or nonexistent indexing in the data warehouse, 2) add additional layers of meta data around each piece of content to allow concept based searches,  3) automatically prompt the employee/customer with contextual data, eliminating the need to search, rephrase, search, rephrase, search, etc., and 4) provide the user with ‘facets’ so they can drill down into the data based on filters like data, content source, author, related product or release, etc. This was the topic of yesterday’s webcast with Coveo.

The third poll question in yesterday’s webcast asked: “Do you believe your organization is getting the most from all of its knowledge assets, across systems, the web and social media?” Not surprisingly, 87% of the audience said, “Not even close to all of it.” Technology service organizations are increasingly understanding that while they must continue to focus on knowledge fundamentals (Little k), they also need a separate but equal focus on mining the rest of corporate content (Big K). I used to lump all of this together into one big KM category, but no more. The companies I see being highly successful at KM–with reduced talk times, resolve times and higher first contact resolution to prove it–are tackling both Big K and Little k. And moving forward, that is going to be my recommendation for members.

What do you think? Which do you see as the biggest challenge, successful Big K or Little k? Are you tackling these challenges as one big problem, or as separate issues? Feel free to add a comment and let me know your thoughts. And as always, thanks for reading!

Are you REALLY KCS Compliant? David Kay Documents Common Departures from the Standard

February 11, 2013

I consider myself an expert on knowledge management for support. But when I have questions, I go to someone with even more expertise than I have:  David Kay of DB Kay & Associates. I recently had a conversation with David about how everyone seems to think they are KCS (Knowledge Centered Support, the recognized standard for support knowledge capture, publishing and maintenance) compliant, but they clearly have practices that are not true to the spirit of KCS. David has created a list of questions to ask yourself to see if you have strayed from your KCS training. I was going to use this in a webcast a couple of weeks ago, but the webcast content took a turn in a different direction and I wasn’t able to use it. But I thought the list was important enough to include in a blog post.

Here is the list from David, with some comments from me:

Does your customer-facing staff:

  • Consistently search for knowledge while resolving cases? If techs don’t search for content every time, they rely on how they solved the same problem in the past. The problem here is that the knowledge article may changed, due to a product revision or new release, or maybe someone found an easier approach to solve the problem. Encourage even senior techs to search every time and be on the lookout for article updates, especially after a major product release.
  • Link cases to relevant content, new or reused? Linking support incidents to knowledge articles gives you accurate data on exactly how many times each known problem occurs, which not only allows you to put an ownership cost on each problem, but helps product management and development prioritize bug and enhancement requests by targeting issues impacting the most customers.
  • Universally contribute to the knowledgebase, if they have knowledge to share? I get so many questions on how to encourage everyone to contribute to the knowledgebase, and my answer is you have to leverage both the carrot (incentives, rewards) and the stick (performance reviews), making knowledge everyone’s responsibility, and reward those who participate and penalize those who don’t.
  • Capture knowledge in the workflow, while working cases, rather than later? It should not take a degree in creative writing to submit knowledge. With templates and process flows, techs should be able to easily submit new articles using incident notes while working on the problem. The key here is to capture and share the knowledge as quickly as possible. Especially after a new release, many customers may report a bug at the same time, and you don’t want multiple techs investigating the same problem. By submitting an article about the problem as soon as possible–even if the fix is pending–anyone else who encounters the problem won’t waste time reinventing the wheel on a solution.
  • Improve knowledge as they use it? How many times have you read a knowledgebase article and noticed a spelling error, a leap in logic, or a missing step? Support techs should be encouraged to submit suggestions to improve content, always with an eye toward making the article as easy to consume as possible by novice techs and customers attempting self-service.
  • Self-approve their content, if they have the right KCS license? The key is getting new content available as soon as possible, to avoid the reinventing the wheel problem mentioned earlier. Senior techs should be able to publish articles visible to all front line workers, even if an additional layer of review is required before publishing the content to other departments or customers.
  • Understand that knowledge is a big part of their job? Every single employee runs across new information in their jobs. The knowledgebase should be the braintrust of the entire support organization, not just senior techs or designated knowledge experts. As I said earlier with the carrot and the stick, use whatever means necessary to get EVERYONE to participate. This means coaching some reluctant contributors that if they will share their hard-earned secrets, it means they can spend less time solving the same problems over and over, and begin tackling some new and more interesting problems.

For more information, you can find the original list at, and David has a video discussing the list on YouTube:

Thanks so much to David Kay for the great content, and thanks to all of you for reading!

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

October 29, 2012

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.

Knowledge Anywhere Strategies Raise the Stakes for Search: Webcast Thursday

September 21, 2011

One of the major trends I’m tracking for 2012 is the evolution of knowledge management from a departmental problem to a corporate problem. With CIO’s all on alert that baby boomers are retiring over the next 3 years, taking with them the lion’s share of corporate wisdom, knowledge management is hotter than ever. But what I’m hearing from TSIA members is that the CIO doesn’t want to fund departmental solutions, they want to implement an enterprise KM system. As a proofpoint, enterprise content management tools like EMC’s Documentum is now showing up on my survey on KM products in place, and MS Sharepoint is now the most installed knowledgebase by TSIA members, outside of using the KM tools in

The challenge here is how to locate and leverage content wherever it is stored across the enterprise: knowledgebases, communities, databases, applications, CRM customer history, billing and payment systems, EVERYTHING!

If this sounds a like a challenge you are facing, please attend our webcast this Thursday, “How Leading Companies Power Customer Service with Insight Through the Confluence of Enterprise Search 2.0, Knowledge Management.” I will be interviewing a panel consisting of Coveo, an enterprise search vendor whose motto is “Stop moving data,” and Tina Yarovsky, Vice President, Online Support Services,Trading Technologies International, Inc., who has gone through the process of implementing enterprise search and had dramatic improvements to support operations as a result.

Another key trend for 2012 is increased mobility, with mobile tools and applications driving field service automation and education, as well as productivity tools for support and professional services. Search is a big element of this trend as well, letting both customers and employees have access to content from anywhere at anytime on a smartphone or other mobile device. This ‘just in time’ knowledge access is already proving valuable with field employees, and giving customers ubiquitous access to content is certainly a way to improve lackluster self-service results. Coveo was one of the first search vendors to offer a mobile product, and I will touch on this as well during the webcast.

Hope to see you Thursday for a great webcast!

Convincing Reluctant Knowledge Authors to Contribute: The Carrot and The Stick

May 31, 2011

Way back in the late 90s when I first implemented a knowledgebase during my time at JCPenney tech support, I ran into a problem that has come up on just about every KM project I’ve been involved with, and continues to be a FAQ on any KM webcast. Here is the question, posed most recently by an audience member for our May 19th webcast, “More Reasons You Love to Hate Your Knowledgebase–Keeping the Spark Alive.”

Q: We have a maintenance process that works well when knowledge owners participate.  Any recommendations on HOW to get reluctant knowledge owners to participate?

Here are my thoughts, but I’m hoping all of you KM experts out there will add some additional suggestions. From my perspective, it comes down to two options: the carrot and the stick. The carrot means rewards, the stick means the threat of punishment. Employees tend to prioritize activities that are clearly linked to performance reviews, bonuses and raises, so if knowledge base contributions are highly valued in the employee review and recognition process, most employees will participate. However, check out this data from the TSIA benchmark:


5 = greatest impact, 1 = least impact. As you can see, KB contributions have the least impact on employee reviews of any element surveyed, so companies are not doing a good job today of making KB activity a priority in the minds of employees.

The alternative is the stick, meaning employees who do not contribute, or who regularly contribute garbage, must receive some sort of disciplinary action, typically a lower score on their performance review which impacts raises and bonuses.

But beyond these basic employer avenues, here are some other hints.

  • From drudgery to challenging. Many people who don’t want to contribute to your knowledge efforts are coming from a place of insecurity. They’ve worked hard for their knowledge, and they fear if they share it with everyone they will no longer be valuable. As a manager, I could usually solve this easily by coaching them that documenting their knowledge means someone else can now solve those redundant issues, leaving the employee to work on more interesting and challenging problems.
  • Sell them on the ROI. One of the biggest employee complaints about new technology is it “shoved down their throat.” Be sure everyone is on board with the KM project BEFORE it goes live–let employees sit in on demos and participate in beta tests. If they understand the value of KM to the organization, and how the tool improves performance AND makes the support tech an expert on every problem, it is easier to get them on board and participating.
  • Learn from high achievers. When you identify top contributors to the knowledgebase, don’t just reward the high achievers, share their secrets. Have them talk at staff meetings about how they write articles, give examples of good and bad articles, use analytics to show the impact of good knowledge (linked to solved incidents, for example), etc.  Be sure you have good editors in place, and templates that make writing easy–even for those who find writing a chore.

What else have you tried that works? Please add a comment on how you tackled this issue in your environment. And as always, thanks for reading!