Amp Up Your Self-Service Online Community with Knowledge Management

Looking to take your online community to the next level as a self-service hub for your organization? Knowledge management tools can make it happen.

Online communities started as a way for customers to connect with companies and with each other. Today, they are much more than that. No longer simply discussion forums or listservs, they have evolved into self-service hubs, providing answers to customer questions, resolving issues, and deflecting calls from contact centers.

Knowledge management (KM) tools are playing an important role in this evolution. They can serve up the information customers want when they log in to an online community—information that can bolster a company's self-service. By the same token, KM systems are continually enriched by new content that originates in community peer-to-peer discussions.

This symbiotic relationship between KM and community is like a good marriage—each benefits the other, each is more valuable because of the relationship. Here are some basics on how to make the most of this combination in your company.

Enriching each community visit.

KM is a program and set of tools that make it easy to deliver the right knowledge to agents in the contact center and customers through self-service. In the contact center, KM arms agents with complete, reproducible, and accurate answers to resolve customer issues quickly and effectively. It also fuels self-service interactions on the web, mobile, or voice self-service channels and now in online communities.

KM can store and present knowledge in many sizes and formats. It might be a video or podcast, but most frequently it is a knowledge object that has been curated, groomed, and perfected by an organization. Typical examples include documentation for a new product, release notes, or FAQs. When KM is integrated with the community and artificial intelligence (AI) tools, the community can automatically search through these items while a member is typing a question and then present any relevant object alongside the member's conversation with a peer.

In this way, KM ensures that the one version of the truth maintained in the company's KM repository will guide the member discussion. It does so automatically, without intervention by support reps or product managers.

Creating knowledge doesn't have to be expensive.

It once was the case that support agents were the best sources for developing knowledge, noting issues customers raised during calls and handing them off to the appropriate departments or content owners to author an answer. After review and editing, the answer would take its place in the KM repository for future use.

Online communities have changed all that. For every customer call your company receives about a product or service issue, how many do you think you miss? 20? 50? 100? Communities help companies cast a much wider net for knowledge. They can help you know what you don't know—what's working, what's not working in your products, for example, or what customers love and what customers aren't so crazy about.

One global semiconductor company found that 24 percent of the issues customers brought during a given period were self-solved by the community. These weren't simple issues from consumers on how to set up a new printer, but hard-core, complex questions from IT professionals on such topics as processor divide instruction, filter algorithms, and execution speeds, and nearly one-fourth of them were solved through the peer-to-peer community.

This was a revelation for the company, of course. But it should also be a revelation for all of us involved in any form of customer service: The customers did the work. The company merely provided the place to collaborate.

Refining your products and your knowledge base.

Companies are using their communities to help shape product strategy. Discussions can help you easily prioritize what's needed and what your next steps need to be in product development. But communities can help shape your knowledge strategy, too.

By integrating with KM, original conversations between members can be stored in the KM system, so the full context of an issue can be referenced if necessary, while a version that has been edited by an internal community owner or subject matter expert (SME) can exist alongside it as part of the growing reference base for customers.

Customer comments on the knowledge they see are fed directly into the KM system and appear in a workflow back to the original author or SME for refinement and clarification. In so doing, the community provides a loop for continuous improvement in your knowledge base. And it's open 24 x 7 x 365.

For example, if members mark in the community that a KM object wasn't helpful, a dialogue box pops up. A member might write, "I'm in Germany, and this comment was clearly written for the U.S. audience." It's a conversation that wouldn't necessarily occur any other way. In the community, members feel safe and comfortable making comments they might not otherwise make. As a result, you frequently get information that is far more specific than what one typically sees in customer survey responses.

Strengthening the combination.

Another global IT company was averaging 7,500-8,000 new posts per month in its community. Nearly half of those—47 percent—were marked "verified" by someone other than a company employee, meaning the post answered another member's question or solved another member's issue. I've worked in online community technology for a long time, and I've never seen a rating so high. What a gold mine for an organization's knowledge base! The verified rate by community members other than employees is typically around 13 percent to 17 percent.

What made the difference? I think it's the company's attitude. It takes its community seriously. For example, it distributes post-engagement surveys to ask if the community had solved the member's problem. The surveys contribute to an environment in which it's clear that the voice of the customer matters. Customers sense that and respond.

It's a good lesson for anyone involved in online communities. Listen to your customers, and they will help you build a knowledge base that can make your self-service program more efficient than ever. It's an investment that will deliver dividends far into the future.

Jon Allen is vice president and general manager of Telligent, a Verint company, where his focus is helping Verint clients use communities to improve customer service while simplifying, modernizing, and automating customer engagement.