What is a knowledge management system?

A knowledge management system is a tool used by companies to help organize documentation, frequently asked questions and other information into easily accessible formats for both internal and external customers.

Using knowledge management software can help keep documentation up to date, assist customers in finding their own answers and manage knowledge access and permissions across user groups. It’s a tool that’s valuable to both small businesses that are just starting out, and global enterprises that need to distribute knowledge to a wide variety of audiences.

If you need more insights on knowledge management systems and how you get started with them, you are in the right place. Here’s an overview of what you will be looking at:

Knowledge management system

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management is the process of identifying, gathering, storing, evaluating and sharing all of the valuable information organizations create in their day-to-day operations. It involves capturing answers to frequently (and not so frequently) asked questions and documenting them in an easy to understand format, like step by step written articles, videos or images.

If we had to reinvent the wheel every time we wanted to drive across town, we wouldn't be getting in our cars very often. So, why do we feel the need to reinvent knowledge every time we run into the same issues within our businesses? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to already have an answer ready to share?

But if you just store all of that knowledge in a chaotic word document, no one will be able to find it or update it. Knowledge management is like the catalogue system at the library which helps you find exactly the right shelf and the right book to answer your question (and even keeps a record of when it was last checked out!).

Managing knowledge effectively means that accurate answers to common questions are easily accessible to both customer support agents and customers. Your team can act consistently with confidence, armed with answers from colleagues who have been there before. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel with every customer question.

Why use a knowledge management system?

A knowledge management system helps you stay well-organized and up-to-date when it comes to your organization’s documentation. Whether you’re a SaaS company supporting business customers, a consumer product shipping out retail items or a helpdesk manager dealing with internal customers, a knowledge management portal will help you effectively deliver information to the people who need it.

Help customers find their own answers

Your customers don’t always want to talk to a human to get their questions resolved. If they can search online and find the answers they need, they don’t have to wait in a phone queue.

Self-service, or customers helping themselves through documentation, is the most cost effective way of supporting your customers. Using a KMS is key in deflecting tickets away from the inbox and decreasing the ticket volume your customer support team needs to deal with.

A knowledge management software provides 24/7 support to customers, so they can find what they need and get back to their day, quickly.

Offer answers to frequently asked questions

Providing answers to the most burning questions your potential customers have can help convert website visitors into buyers. A KMS identifies the most searched terms and visited articles so you don’t have to guess what your customers want to know - they will tell you!

Plus, grouping your FAQs on a branded, easy-to-read page might even offer answers to the questions customers didn’t even know to ask in the first place. Sharing information proactively can help win business, and prevent support issues from cropping up later.

Keep information up to date and easy to find

A knowledge management system helps you identify out-of-date articles and update them with new information. This provides a big advantage over a file folder of documents. Where folders can become unwieldy and messy, a KMS will keep your valuable information organized. With clear organization and effective search capabilities, anyone (internal or external) can locate exactly what they need, when they need it.

With rating systems in place, customers can alert you to articles that are no longer helpful so your user education team can swoop in and make improvements. Out-of-date information can mislead customers and lose your company business, so it’s important to get that taken care of quickly.

You can also use a knowledge base article to alert customers to temporary workarounds while a fix is in the works. By categorizing articles as permanent or temporary, it’s easy to go back and review articles that need to be revised or taken down after a fix has been deployed.

Convert support emails to knowledge base articles

Do your agents spend a lot of time writing out thorough and detailed support emails to customers? If you’re using a modern KMS, you can capture that knowledge by converting the support email into a knowledge base article. While responding to the customer, just forward the reply to the email address of your knowledge base and an article draft will be automatically generated for you.

Save time by not needing to write out the same steps of instructions over and over again, and democratize the valuable information so that everyone in the company can access it.

How a knowledge management system improves customer experience

Not only is a knowledge management system great for business, it’s also great for your customers. When a customer runs into a quick question, they really don’t want to have to pick up a phone, wait in line and explain their issue to a customer service rep. What they really want to do is search online or in your app for an answer, fix it themselves and get back to their day.

Providing a thorough knowledge base is key to helping customers help themselves. A knowledge management system will help you improve the customer experience in three ways:

Reduce wait times

It’s much faster for customers to search for their own answer in a knowledge base than to contact customer support. Plus, an online help center is always open and available 24/7. No matter what time of the day or night your customers need help, the knowledge management system will be there to help.

With many of your customers being able to find their own answers, you’ll start to see the number of tickets submitted to your inbox dropping. This means even the customers that really do need to talk to your team will get helped faster. Deflecting simple how-to questions by using a knowledge management software is good for all of your customers.

Enable customers to help themselves

In 2015, Forrester reported that web and self-service help has overtaken all other forms of help, surpassing even phone and email. Customers using FAQs on a company’s website increased from 67% in 2012 to 81% in 2015, and we’re only getting started.

Customers repeatedly say they’d prefer to find an answer themselves, rather than pick up the phone to call support. To keep customers happy, the best thing support teams can do is provide an easy-to-use online help center. Continually improving the way you deliver information to your customers will reduce churn, improve customer loyalty and reduce costs for the business - it’s a win-win-win situation.

Provide more detailed help

There’s only so much you can communicate over email or the phone. Knowledge management systems allow you to pull together multiple types of media together to provide extremely thorough help.

All customers have their own preferred way of learning, whether it’s through text, videos or images. Providing all of these options in your help center will make sure none of your customers are left without help, no matter how they prefer to consume online material.

Plus, instead of relying on your agents to draft out super long emails every time, your agents can just link the customer to the right resource in your knowledge management system. It saves time and encourages the customer to help themselves in the future.

Internal knowledge management systems

A KMS isn’t just for managing knowledge externally, it’s also incredibly helpful for collecting internal knowledge. An internal KMS is only accessible to employees (or even a specific group of employees) and hosts private, internal information that customers shouldn’t have access to like policies, specific troubleshooting requirements or HR material. Putting an internal knowledge base together can help scale your customer support team more effectively, and help onboard new agents as you grow.

Scale teams more effectively

As your company grows, you’ll need to find a way to scale customer support effectively. There are two big challenges when you start growing; dealing with an increase in contact volume, and dealing with increasing complexity.

As more customers are contacting you, you will need to hire more customer support agents to help them. But labour is one of the most expensive parts of running a business. So ideally, instead of continuing to hire more and more agents, you should get more effective at supporting the customers you have. Using a knowledge management system helps customer support teams deflect more tickets by providing comprehensive online help and making sure customers do not need to contact your support team for every minor concern.

Secondly, as your team grows, there’s more information and processes required for the smooth running of the support organization. If this information isn’t documented, it’s tough to keep everyone on the same page with how you do things.

Onboard new employees quickly

When new customer support agents start, they need to learn a lot of information really quickly. If none of that information is written down, the only way for them to learn is to be told directly, often in a one-on-one setting. That takes someone else away from their day to day work, and it can also be very inconsistent. Not every new agent will get the same onboarding experience, meaning there might be gaps in their knowledge.

Creating an onboarding guide in your internal knowledge management system will help transfer knowledge to new employees much more effectively. New employees will have a go-to place to search for help before asking another team member.

An internal KMS helps your team grow more effectively by organizing all relevant knowledge in one place so new agents don’t have to run around for help.

Keep organizational continuity

If your best employee left tomorrow, suddenly, what knowledge would they take with them? If that sentence struck fear into your heart, it’s time to start making a habit of internal knowledge management. That means capturing the organizational knowledge that lives in the brains of long-term employees and making it accessible to the wider team.

An internal KMS can help with organizing and presenting all of this information in an easy to browse format, and also ensure that everyone has access to exactly what they need to know (and not more).

Essential features of a knowledge management software

When you think of a knowledge management system, you might be thinking of the tired, old file systems of the 90s. But that’s definitely no longer your only option. Modern knowledge management systems like Freshdesk are built for ease of use for global teams. They offer functionality to make it easy to customize the look and feel of your knowledge base, and to improve your content over time. Let’s take a closer look at some of the features of a knowledge management system:

Rich text editing and multimedia

Knowledge is more than just words. In order to get your point across, it’s almost always helpful to include screenshots, videos, and rich text - like bold and italics for emphasis.

Knowledge management software should offer easy to use rich text editing and file management that doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out. For example, is it easy to import images and resize them? What kind of tools can you embed to display video or code snippets in your articles?

Language controls

If you operate globally, or in multiple regions, you’ll likely need to offer multiple languages on your help center. A knowledge management system supports multilingual articles and helps manage a translation workflow.

Tagging articles with the right language will make sure that every visitor feels like you speak their language.

Reporting and analytics

In order to truly manage knowledge, you need to be able to measure the quality and the effectiveness of your efforts. This is why reporting and analytics are such a key feature of any knowledge management system.

Look for a system that offers robust reporting on documentation including:

  • Number of Views per Article
  • Search results
  • Feedback from visitors
  • Integration with Google Analytics for more advanced reporting

Being able to report on how many people are visiting your knowledge base weekly and monthly, and whether they are finding what they need will help you identify priorities for improvement. Detailed analytics can also help you show a return on investment for any knowledge projects based on tickets deflected.

Feedback collection

Just because an article has many visitors doesn’t mean it’s particularly effective at resolving their issue. Collecting user feedback on your knowledge base is an easy way to tell whether your articles are helpful and providing the answers customers are looking for.

For example, Freshdesk articles offer an option for readers to vote Yes or No to “Did you find it helpful?” at the bottom of each article. If they select No, they are given an option to leave free-form feedback about what could be improved.

For documentarians, this information is extremely valuable for focussing their work. If many customers report that an article is not helpful, it’s almost certainly time for an update.

Permission control

Especially if you’re just starting out, everyone on your team might be involved in writing and contributing to your knowledge base. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needs the ability to publish or update public articles. Having an editorial process means that you won’t have poorly worded articles or misinformation slipping into public view.

Look for a knowledge management system that offers fine tuned permission controls to allow agents to draft articles and lend a hand, but restricts publishing permission only to the people that you trust for final review.

Viewership Control

Not every piece of organizational knowledge should be fully available to the public. There’s a ton of different reasons why you might want to restrict certain articles from certain types of viewers:

  • Different plan types have different features
  • Managers might have separate internal process articles than agents
  • Logged in users might be able to see more than anonymous viewers

With a knowledge management system, you have full control over who can see each article, section or category of articles.

Customization

Keeping the same branding across all of your online assets (like your website, product and help center) helps build trust with your users because they can recognize who they are dealing with. Being able to customize your knowledge management system to look exactly as unique as your company makes your valuable documentation shine.

A modern KMS will let you incorporate your branding, logos and color scheme to customize exactly what your customers see when they navigate to your support portal.

Multilingual knowledge management systems

Going global? You’ll need to be available in more than just one language - and your knowledge management system needs to support that.

A multilingual support system doesn’t just shove all the “other” languages into a different category on your primarily English site. Instead, it offers every visitor a tailored experience in their own preferred language - which makes every customer feel like a local.

Keep translations up to date

Write content once, and then let your localization teams know that new content is ready for translation automatically. Instead of getting your Spanish, French and Arabic team into the product demo to write their own content, choose one language to be your single source of truth and update all translations to match.

A multilingual knowledge management system will highlight the articles that are missing translations and help your team manage the workflow of updates. Don’t give one region an experience that is anything less than your best!

Set default languages

When customers visit your help desk for the first time, they should be welcomed in a language they understand. Modern browsers track language preferences and a knowledge management system can use this setting to surface the right language without any manual input.

However, if you want every customer to see a primarily English site, it can be prudent to set default languages and avoid customers expecting to communicate in a language that you don’t fully support.

Knowledge management for small businesses and enterprises

If you’re a smaller business, you might think that you don’t have enough knowledge to require a system to manage it. But small businesses benefit just as much from using a KMS. Providing a way for customers to help themselves is even more important because your team doesn’t always have a ton of extra time - and scaling as you grow is important.

For enterprise companies, effective knowledge management has exponential returns as the number of customers that will receive help grows - but their knowledge base requires much more effort to maintain and scale. In the following table, we look at some of the biggest differences between KMS for small businesses and enterprise companies.

Knowledge management for small business
  • It’s all hands on deck, so having an easy-to-use tool that encourages team members to document their work is important.
  • Finding opportunities to surface relevant information is critical to helping a small customer support team manage customer contacts.
  • In majority of SMBs, customer support will primarily be done in one language, so multilingual support might not be that important.
  • As processes change regularly, keeping internal documentation up to date will help small businesses maintain order in the chaos of growth.
  • While analytics might be essential for revisions and improvement, it probably won’t be the priority of small business teams that are focused on getting things done. It will come into play as they grow.
Knowledge management for enterprise
  • Workflow management and permissions are more important as more people become involved in updating existing articles.
  • As the amount of knowledge grows, keeping it organized becomes more important. Enterprise teams will rely heavily on information architecture to organize content.
  • Global companies will require robust multilingual support to track translation completion and support customers in their native languages.
  • Internal documentation tools are essential for growing enterprise teams who have complex and large amounts of knowledge to share internally.
  • Analytics and reporting will be extremely crucial for enterprise teams who will likely want to integrate their KMS with Google Analytics for robust insights that will also be delivered to marketing and product teams.

Regardless of whether you’re a one person support team, or a team of 10 knowledge specialists, a knowledge management system can help you put your best foot forward when it comes to sharing information online.

Choosing a knowledge management software

If you’re convinced that a knowledge management system is for you, you might be wondering how to choose the best one for your business. There are so many different tools available today, and not all of them offer the same value.

To help you understand your options, look at the requirements your team currently has for a knowledge management systems, as well as what you think you might need in the future. While short term “right now” thinking might be tempting in order to make a quick decision, it could cost you dearly in the future. The cost of switching can be quite big in terms of time and money, so you want a solution that will grow with your team and customer base.

Once you have a list of the requirements that are important for your company, also consider the following aspects of choosing a selection:

Choose a helpdesk with knowledge base capabilities

Often the helpdesk your customer support team uses will come with a built in knowledge management system. Freshdesk does! Having your helpdesk integrated with your knowledge management system has a lot of advantages:

Keep permissions and access controls in one place

Instead of updating user roles and permissions for multiple systems, using an integrated helpdesk and KMS means you only have to think once about permissions.

Provide a consistent experience across tools

Agents and customers will have a consistent experience across the tools they interact with, from a ticketing system to a help center to reading or updating articles.

Pull knowledge into conversations

Having your knowledge base integrated with your help desk means that you can easily locate and reference articles in customer conversations.

When choosing a customer support system or knowledge management system it makes sense to look for a tool that offers both - they are a match made in heaven!

What type of support do you offer?

The kind of support you offer will make a big difference in the features you need in a knowledge management software. If you offer multiple products, you might need a multibrand help center that keeps everything separate for customers on the front end, but integrated for agents in the backend.

If you offer a simple retail product that only ever receives questions about shipping and delivery, a full KMS might be overkill - instead focus on providing a helpful and engaging FAQ page. Alternatively, if your product is highly technical and requires code samples in your knowledge base, you will want to ensure that the tool you choose embeds code nicely.

Finally, consider if your team will be expanding into other languages in the future. You might require the ability to track translations and display multilingual articles to your new customers.

Switching from one KMS to a new one is never a fun experience, so make sure you choose one that will expand with your team as you grow and add new support options.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

It might surprise you to hear that many of your potential customers find you through your help center content. Or at the very least, your knowledge base helped them to find you through a search engine. Optimizing your knowledge content for search engines can help elevate your brand’s visibility on search result pages.

Some knowledge management systems have SEO features built right in, like metadata editing, keyword tagging and properly formatted headings. Using a knowledge management portal that is online-first and set-up for search engines to crawl will help your company rank higher when it counts.

Ease of Use

How quickly can you get up and running with your new solution? Is it set up out of the box, or do you need to download and install software on your own server to get started?

Modern knowledge management solutions should be simple to use - just choose a theme, copy and paste in your existing articles and click publish. If you need to set up much more than that, you need to ask yourself if the extra hassle is really worth it.

Cost

Let’s be honest - the price tag is always a factor when it comes to choosing a new tool. Using the knowledge management app that is built into your help desk can help save those valuable dollars in your budget.

If you’re pricing out an entirely new knowledge management software, make sure to evaluate the price point of each plan and what features you get with it. While you might be able to use the starter plan now, the costs can grow exponentially if you choose a product that locks features you need to it’s Enterprise plan.

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