Knowledge management systems allow you to tame the waves of data flooding your business to streamline training, customer support and other vital operations. We've written this buyer's guide to help you narrow down the many options on the market and find one that fits your needs.
Here's what we'll cover:
Basically, this kind of software transforms the raw data accumulated by a company into useful information. It accomplishes this goal by collecting data in a central knowledge base, contextualizing it and making it easily searchable, so that users can find the information they need on their own.
These applications help a company to build and maintain a knowledge base, which is essentially a specialized database that can be searched and browsed by customers. This allows customers to find answers to their own questions before they contact support agents.
Modern knowledge bases are generally components of company websites, with either intranet or extranet access. Many software packages allow you to customize the design of your customer self-service portal so that it fits with your brand. Employees can write content to publish in the knowledge base. The articles can then be indexed in popular search engines for easy access.
Knowledge bases can also be created for internal use, to assist employees with functions such as document sharing, training and resolving support calls. Employee self-service features can interface with other kinds of customer relationship management (CRM) software in order to optimize the performance of support agents.
The day-to-day activities of even a small business can produce a bewildering array of data. If this data remains unorganized, it isn't worth much to the company. By using software to organize this data, companies can vastly reduce the time that employees spend searching for answers to questions about their jobs and dealing with customer inquiries.
Enterprises and certain markets—particularly IT, telecommunications and finance—practically demand the use of knowledge bases to survive in the information economy. Small to medium-sized businesses can use them to eliminate cluttered filing cabinets and to help ease the transition to a paperless office.
Knowledge bases also have the potential to streamline training processes for companies facing growing pains. And companies that are contending with a high-turnover rate may want to utilize one in order to keep awareness of best practices alive and to ease the responsibilities of trainers.
Knowledge management software offers a diverse array of features. The following table lists some of the most important ones to help you focus your search:
|Publishing options||Look for formatting options for content such as rich text, hyperlinks and images. Workflow customization options can streamline content generation, as does the ability to publish emails directly to knowledge bases by CC’ing them to a special address.|
|Decision trees||Many knowledge management systems can help you create "Q&"-style decision trees, which enable customers to troubleshoot their own issues.|
|Advanced search and browse options||Look for search filters, auto-suggest capability, natural language search and search engine indexing options. Intent-based search, which matches keywords to common reasons why users search the knowledge base (e.g., how to clear a paper jam in a printer), is another powerful feature included in many knowledge bases.|
|Feedback options||Your knowledge base should have built-in feedback options that allow users both to vote on the relevance and helpfulness of articles and to add comments when necessary.|
|RSS feeds||Many knowledge bases feature RSS feeds to keep users on top of new and useful articles.|
|Self-service portals||Self-service portals or help Web pages for customers and employees are a major part of the foundation for knowledge bases. Make sure that your portal can be customized to fit your brand and the design of the rest of your company's website.|
Almost all customer service-oriented businesses can benefit from organizing their data for employee and customer access. Benefits include:
There are two basic market trends that you need to understand to make an informed purchase: inclusion of knowledge management applications in integrated CRM suites and the Web-based deployment model.
Integrated suites vs. “best-of-breed” systems. Knowledge management tools are frequently bundled, along with other applications, as part of an integrated CRM software suite. If you choose an integrated suite, consider whether the other applications in the package meet your needs. If you choose a standalone or “best-of-breed” application instead, you will need to ensure that it integrates with your existing software, such as your customer service, help desk automation and call center automation solutions. Here are some frequently requested applications among buyers we recently surveyed who chose an integrated CRM suite:
Integrated-Suite Buyers' Top-Requested Applications
Web-based vs. on-premise systems. CRM software can be licensed to users in two different ways: Web-based (meaning, the software is hosted in the cloud and accessed online using an Internet browser) or on-premise (installed on your company’s own servers). The Web-based deployment model, or “Software-as-a-Service (SaaS),” is generally more popular for CRM software, and is priced according to a monthly subscription model. With an on-premise model, on the other hand, you get a perpetual license—meaning you pay the licensing fee once for ongoing use of the software.
Pricing scales up based on functionality. No matter which package type and deployment model you choose, if you want a richer feature set, you can generally expect to pay more for the software. You may have to pay for an enterprise-level subscription to create and maintain a fully featured knowledge base on a large scale:
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