Social Breathes New Life Into Knowledge Management For Customer Service

You have to admit that knowledge management (KM) is hard — it’s hard to explain, hard to implement, hard to do right. It’s not just technology. It is a combination of organizational realignment, process change, and technology combined in the right recipe that is needed to make KM successful. And when it is successful, it delivers real results — reduced handle times, increased agent productivity and first closure rates, better agent consistency, increased customer satisfaction. Check out the case studies on any of the KM vendors' sites to see real statistics. Yet despite these success stories, and despite there being commercially viable KM solutions on the market for over 10 years, I am unsure whether KM really ever crossed the chasm.  

Why is it then that we are seeing renewed interest in KM in 2011? I believe it’s attributed to listening (and acting on) the voice of agents and customers, coupled with loosening the strings of tightly controlled content that has breathed new life into KM. Most common trends include:

  • Using more flexible authoring workflows. In the past, knowledge was authored by editors who were not on the frontlines of customer service, who foreshadowed questions that they thought customers would ask, and who used language that was not consistent with customer-speak. Authored content would go through a review cycle, finally being published days after it was initially authored. Today, many companies are implementing “just-in-time” authoring where agents fielding questions from customers, not backroom editors, create content that is immediately available in draft form to other agents. Content is then evolved based on usage, and most frequently, used content is published to a customer site, making knowledge leaner and more relevant to real-life situations.
  • Letting customers and agents contribute to knowledge. Customers are able to interact with knowledge, flagging knowledge that is incomplete or inaccurate and recommending changes to it. Agents with authoring privileges can make updates on the fly to correct inaccuracies and push updates out instantly.
  • Adopting a reputation model for contributors and content. Many companies now allow content to be rated. Agents can also be identified with, for example, a five-star reputation model, as can customers who recommend knowledge. Highly ranked customers can be given limited authoring rights to the knowledge base. A reputation model exposes the best content and contributors and also unintentionally puts a collective responsibility on a  customer service organization, pushing them to do the best job that they are able to.
  • Using a folksonomy. Customers don’t always think in the language that a company uses. Companies are now allowing their content to be tagged so that customers can find content not only by navigating the company-driven taxonomy but by also using a tag cloud.
  • Using multimedia. Sometimes words don’t adequately describe a problem, and it is better to see or to hear the problem. Multimedia content is becoming more prevalent in knowledge bases, helping with usability. Multimedia content can also be extracted from the KB and posted on YouTube or support sites so that it can be accessed by users on sites that they actively engage in.
  • Adopting social media tools to broadcast changes. Companies, like VMware (@VMwarekb), are using Twitter to broadcast changes to knowledge base content to their followers, proactively pushing out workarounds, new tips and tricks and new content to customers before they encounter issues, and as a result, they are able to deflect calls from their contact center.
  • Making your knowledge base a step in the support cycle, not a dead end. Customers want to help themselves and interact with peers sometimes even before interacting with a company. Companies are enabling this behavior by offering forums tightly integrated to their web self-service site. Customers searching for answers can view forum threads and knowledge base content in search results. And if they are unable to find what they are looking for, they can escalate to assisted channels like email, chat, or voice and have their session history passed to the agent.

Not all industries can adopt these trends, but all industries can adopt some form of feedback system to gauge the effectiveness of content and use agent and customer impressions to fine-tune the content that is delivered to users.


Excellent points Kate. We are

Excellent points Kate. We are in the process of implementing a KM, KCS initiative at our company, so I understand the complexity. I will definitely consider this advice.

KM for social customer care

Thanks for some great insights. KM is often overlooked within a social context, and yet in my opinion it's one of the most important components of any social customer care proposition that a company must consider. The whole way content is being generated, curated, consumed and distributed is changing, and new ways of thinking about how it is stored, made accessible, governed etc will have to come into play.


I have 3 case studies and a best practice report for KM that will be published soon - 2 companies implement variations of KCS whose details I can share with you. KM is very complex, and it amazes me how some companies are able to nail their programs to deliver real returns.

Knowledge Management

Definitely be interested in the case studies that you can share. Increasingly, I think that the ability of a company to 'get it' is about its culture, the way it approaches challenges and opportunities, the way it approaches its customers and employees etc. Complexity, and its flipside - simplicity - which may be just as difficult to achieve, is a reflection of a company's culture as well. All too often, we intepret or define opportunities and challenges in terms of technology or budget. But that is a different discussion for another time.

Traditional knowledge bases are dying a slow death

Hello Kate:

It is great to see you and others place focus on this important merging of ”social” and knowledge management.

Traditional knowledge bases are considered old school by many and for good reason: their content is NOT being perpetually evolved by relevant stakeholders based on real-world experiences surrounding the underlying product or services the KB content supports. Without this perpetual evolution that places content in real-world context, the KB is really just comprised of information and not knowledge.

However, knowledge bases can and should serve a vital role in supporting stakeholders across an organization’s entire ecosystem.

For many types of inquiries stakeholders want to quickly get to content that is accurate, well written, understandable, thorough, and that a brand will stand behind – which requires the editorial control generally inherent in a KB — while still evolving by incorporating relevant stakeholder insights. Who has the time or interest in searching through online community content where the same question is answered 20 different ways and no one takes any responsibility for the content’s accuracy?

The common approach utilized today of merely building community activity around the KB can certainly generate new KB content, but does absolutely nothing to evolve existing KB content, which is vital for providing sustainable value.

To get people to engage and evolve existing KB content requires usage of a reputation engine that measures and motivates desired contributions directly within the KB and across other community content. What’s more, if the reputation engine provides granular measurements by specific subject matter, the reputation metrics can be used to selectively identify and engage stakeholders who have demonstrated relevant knowledge to the task at hand.

Systems that provide “guru” status across an entire community are better than nothing, but have limited value for all but those communities that are so narrow as to only cover a single subject matter.

Chuck Van Court

Social brings focus back to the distributed Knowledge challenge

Rapid changes to release cycles, broader ranges of product delivery, and deeper complexities of integrated solutions have shown a greater amount of knowledge being splintered across an organizations entire ecosystem (agents, knowledge managers, sales, customers, development, partners... even analysts! ;) - so the accurate, consistent and timely delivery and management of the distributed knowledge has been the challenge for many organizations.

While social technologies have been implemented as a tool to assist in gathering and sharing of this peppered SME model, it also has created a critical mass of duplicated content, function and record silo's, mainly due to the bolt-on solutions that were delivering inefficient or ineffective integrations back into existing business processes and back end systems, preventing the blending of native and collective wisdom. Ragsdale called it right a few years back "The Perfect Storm" ~ well that storm has been brewing a while and "social" brought it to the doorstep of SMB's, Enterprise and everyone in-between.

There are no quick fixes, although many of your points above are well stated. Start with a robust knowledge platform, then apply the minds of some of the new school social and old school thought leaders in KM, the work of the leading technology vendors in customer experience, and the guidance from Consortium for Service Innovation folks.

I agree with Guy Stephens - "KM is often overlooked within a social context" it is essential part of the customer experience and should be treated as so within a Social Strategy. Knowledge is the foundation of any business, not an after thought, or a bolt-on. 2011 will unfold the next level of best practices for addressing this social critical mass and the next generation of Knowledge Management ~ Social Knowledge Management.

JP. Saunders
RightNow Technologies.

What's it all mean


What are your specific thoughts on the importance and best strategies (assuming you agree it's important) for organizations to get active and broad stakeholder engagement and collaboration to create new KB content AND evolve existing KB content, while retaining the editorial controls necessary for the organization to retain ownership and accountability for the KB content?

Bests, Chuck

Hi Chuck

100% agree its important - to that end you need to apply an understanding of the industry, organization, resources, processes, assets and strategy. Technology is only a part of the solution, but selecting the right technology that establishes a foundation and platform for best practice enablement, and a vendor that can assist in guiding your organization through those decision paths can make all the difference in the adoption, costs and measurement of success.

This is why at RightNow, we have a practice management that we are continuing to invest in and mature that addresses everything from the broader applicability of generalized best practices, to more tailored methodologies for an organization based on these characteristics. Combined with audits and assessments to assist in the communications and strategy development of where to invest.

At a high level, when it comes to social, it should be embedded into what you do around knowledge - into your existing business processes and resources around knowledge management, and not (as many fall into the trap of) implemented as a splintered and orphaned side of your business.

Remember back when organizations treated "the internet" like this? and even before that "email" was seen as the black box of communications ~ as opposed to how it is now clearly a part of everything we do. It has been through matured best practices and technology solutions that we have learned how to embed and embrace new ways of communications into our lives, businesses and organizations.

Repuation matters

Greetings JP:

Thanks for responding and for sharing your thoughts. I miss seeing HelpStream in the space.

We totally agree that technology is only a part of the solution and that success is completely dependent on the people and supporting processes to execute and embrace the technology as intended and to evolve it as necessary. However, one thing that is worth reiterating is that without metrics to measure and motivate desired participation and to identify and validate specific expertise an organization will be missing a critical component for achieving sustainable success.... and that includes direct integration with knowledge bases!

What's more, this common thinking that systems either support internal stakeholders (E2.0) or external stakeholders (SCRM) needs to change and instead embrace the practical need to selectively engage and measure internal and external stakeholder contributions across an organization's entire ecosystem. Reputations and knowledge cannot be soloed.


Note: Other vendors should be aware of FuzeDigital's related patent application before engineering a reputation engine into their knowledge base or other content that goes through editorial controls. or . Contact me directly if interested in discussing potential early licensing options.

Reputation Scoring

Thanks Chuck. Yes, as you noted, Helpstream had invested heavily in the reputation scoring side of the best practices to identify it on two levels, collaboration and expertise. Most vendors focus on one scale for "contribution" but that is somewhat limiting, IF the problem you are trying to solve is to identify, recognize, and incentivize expert participation within a community. Great to see you guys continuing to drive that work around reputation forward - it is one of the key best practice tools for promoting collaboration throughout an organizations ecosystem.

To quote the teaching of the Helpstream CEO Anthony Nemelka, "you must identify and gain consensus around what problem you are trying to solve. In order to do that, you must step back and ask yourself if you are asking the right set of questions". Within the subject of Social Knowledge Management, that mind set should lead you to questions around "Customer Experience and Brand strategies", and not any single minded thoughts on the right technology, as there is more then one way to skin that cat.

If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.

Any reputation metrics used absolutely must measure expertise and motivate contribution,and if the metric is designed to vary based on the level and focus (specific subject mater) of the contribution, we believe a single metric can provide both. From our perspective the biggest challenge with any reputation metric is finding the balance to make it so people can clearly understand how they can earn "ponts" while having sufficient controls to protect against them gaming the system to create inflated reputations.

To quote Andy Grove from Intel: "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it." Whatever the approach taken, I absolutely believe that granular reputation scoring is a requirement for business-focused knowledge sharing to work.

Off to ride my bike and enjoy some sunshine.

Hi Kate: I would love to get

Hi Kate:

I would love to get your thoughts on what role reputation engines can and should play in "socializing" knowledge management.

Also, many companies have told me that their customers want them to provide content that they will stand behind while still facilitating open discourse that is used to evolve said content. What are you hearing and do you believe that traditional knowledge bases that only evolve via back-channel feedback facilities can survive in any material way?

Thanks again for starting this dialog.

Chuck Van Court

Reputation models for knowledge

Hi Chuck-
Here are quick answers to your question. I am available to discuss further!

1) I firmly believe that reputation models put a collective responsibility and pressure on an organization as a whole to create the best knowledge possible. Top-rated contributors are recognized, and the organization as a whole aspires to do better. The knowledge centered support organiaion ( has data on this, and a reputation model is a key pillar to their knowledge program

2) There are many ways to engage in content feedback from customers and users, and the ability to "open up the knowledgebase" to feedback will depend on your business. For example, heavily regulated industries such as financial services and healthcare will not be able to open up their knowledgebase in the same way as a hi-tech company because of regulatory requirements. Not every organization needs to think that they need to adopt a "social knowledge" program, and traditional feedback loops are effective and have great success in many organizations.

The best of both worlds

Hi Kate:

I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

Opening up the knowledge base for collaborative commenting should in no way preclude any suggested changes to the knowledge base from going through the editorial controls for the content as warranted based on who is using the content and how it is used. Regardless of any regulatory or other potential legal consequences, I would think that all companies would only take ownership and accountability for content that they have complete editorial control. In addition, for some types of content the consumer would not care much if the brand takes ownership for content provided....things like online game play, for example.

Using our community knowledge base our customers can elect to moderate (not edit) comments and all comments that get through moderation are viewable by community members given access to view the KB article, but all KB article content always goes through relevant editorial controls before being published.

Other than FuzeDigital, are you aware of any other vendors that have integrated a reputation engine directly into a knowledge base while still preserving all editorial controls relevant to each particular piece of content?

Have a super weekend.

Bests, Chuck
P.S. Please feel free to contact me directly if you are interested in learning more about FuzeDigital. Esteban Kolsky recently completed a product review of our offering.

Building on the Past Success

Agree that KM is hard work. However, it has been and will continue to be worth the effort.

First, let’s remember that many of the successful knowledge base systems deployed over the past decade have ‘earned their keep’ by enabling more effective self-service delivery of tech support and even online transactions over the Web. They were and are today about efficiency, lowering the cost of service delivery and providing better, faster solutions/answers/insight to customers and the staff that served them.

Social is definitely driving the future of KM for customer service. We see the blending of collaboration and community support models (chat, forums, workspaces) with knowledge management and business rules becoming a new technique for filling remaining gaps in traditional KM approaches while also enhancing the self-service experience. This ‘mashup’ of Web 2.0, self-service (Web 1.0!) and KM principles is a compelling combination and is an excellent stepping off point for companies to re-energize/socialize their KM initiatives.

Ann Reichert
Director of Communications
Moxie Software

Welcome KM 2011...I Hope

Kate, I agree that somehow KM has seldom grabbed hold as it should have. It certainly is not just buying a KB and telling everyone to author. We have witnessed many false starts and outright failures in our practice. I too am hopeful that KM in 2011 will gain the tools and momentum that it needs to really get off the ground. Things like KCS help a lot but what I have seen through the years is that the best combinations of process and tools seem to get their own momentum. We see a ton of energy put into things like Quora, Stack Overflow, Facebook Questions, Linkedin Forums etc. on a social level and they gain momentum from the crowd. No one is "editing" those posts for accuracy, grammar, etc. yet meaningful knowledge is created. Corporations get obsessed with ensuring accuracy of KB articles, spelling, grammar and logos and inhibit the process. My favorite question for these support organizations is whether they have an SME vet phone responses before they are given to customers. The answer is always NO...then I ask "Why are you worrying so much about the KB articles?".