On May 1, 2019, we publicly announced the general availability of Vanilla Knowledge, the newest major feature by Vanilla. The innovation we are bringing to the area of knowledge management is through combining the power and wisdom of the online community forum with the traditional knowledge base. Vanilla Knowledge makes it easy to repurpose community generated content as KB articles.
That being said, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss why we chose to develop a knowledge base—why this was a priority for us and what factors shaped its development.
There are three primary reasons why we chose to develop this product:
Our customers wanted it
Documentation is difficult
Knowledge base and community integrate seamlessly
1. The Demand For Self-Service
The first and foremost reason why we chose to develop Vanilla Knowledge is simply because our customers wanted it.
Again, it’s a simple, yet important reason. Customers are increasingly demanding that businesses expand the availability of self-service support options so that customers don’t have to contact customer support. We’ve noticed that while this is a popular demand, there’s still a lot of businesses out there who haven’t made the move to implement a solution to these demands.
In fact, there’s a large number of companies who are failing to deliver on these demands all together. When it comes to self-service, customers look for businesses to deliver three things:
The tools to service themselves.
Access to a wealth of knowledge and information that they trust to solve their issues.
The ability to access this information whenever and wherever they are.
Let’s look at these facts and see how companies are stacking up.
Firstly, while 90% of consumers expect companies to have an online portal for customer self-service, only 40% of companies are actually doing this. To further add insult to injury, studies suggest that only 23% of these companies are actually taking this multi-channel approach and doing it effectively.
As you may have guessed from the stats above, in the cases where companies do offer multi-channel self-service support, most of them don’t do it well. Customers find it difficult to locate the answers they’re looking for, and when customers do find answers, 64% of them find it hard to trust this information since many of them have been misled before.
Lastly, while many companies look to improve the mobile responsiveness of their website and support options, statistically, only 30% of small businesses have actually done it.
It’s clear that there’s a gap between what customers actually want and what companies are delivering. As more businesses are coming to the realization that they are failing to deliver on customer demands, the desire for a knowledge base continues to increase since it provides remedies to all of these issues.
Essentially, a knowledge base helps to decrease the disconnect between companies and their customers. A knowledge base is so effective, in fact, that customers prefer knowledge bases over all other self-service channels.
Vanilla Knowledge, however, is unique in that it harnesses community wisdom to make it easier for both the company and the customer to use. Powered by those who know your product best and those who your customers trust even more than you, Vanilla Knowledge allows companies to add discussions from peer-to-peer community support into the official company respiratory of knowledge.
2. Documentation is Hard!
We know that documentation can be difficult to create and even more difficult for your customers to find. Herein lies one of the biggest challenges that companies face when it comes to delivering self-service support options—it’s difficult to actually do.
Some of the biggest reasons why documentation can be so difficult include:
It’s hard to keep up to date.
It's hard to capture all cases and variants for complex product and service issues.
Documentation teams drive up costs due to the need for constant maintenance.
It can act as a burden to value creators, such as Product Managers, when one small shift can alter potentially dozens of existing documentation.
In some cases, companies will have a full team dedicated to keep all their documentation up-to-date; this can be especially time consuming when products and services continue to change, policies shift and processes are altered. Then, after all these documents have been updated, they need to be adjusted to suit all devices (at least, if the company wants to make their customers happy).
Further, these team dedicated to documentation maintenance are extremely expensive and increases costs. A large portion of resources needs to be dedicated to content maintenance since a lot of this work needs to be done manually (sometimes maybe only a few sentences in a document will change). This is not only time consuming, but can be extremely expensive.
Now, let’s take a closer look at what companies who do have self-service support options are struggling with. The chart below illustrates research done by the Aberdeen Group, and shows the top reasons why support teams observe their self-service activities to deliver sub-par results.
Based on the data above, it’s clear that many organizations have issues providing self-service support options because they find that many issues are too complex to be addressed properly. A great solution to this issue is through combining a knowledge base with community; this helps to address more cases, and therefore, helps organizations cover more complex issues.
Before we continue, however, I just need to quickly interject one thought: many organizations struggle with measuring the success of self-support options due to poor planning, using the wrong/ lack of analytical tools, or failing to set and measure KPIs.
As a result, I want to stress that we should look at these results with a grain of salt, as it may be the case that some of these poor statistics are due to a lack of relevant information. Nonetheless, it’s apparent that many of the struggles with self-service support options are surrounding documentation. Whether it be issues explaining complex problems, keeping the documentation up-to-date with relevant information, or simply lacking the functionality for customers to successfully locate these documents, it’s something that many companies struggle with.
As mentioned, a knowledge base—specifically, Vanilla Knowledge—is a great solution to these issues, and is exactly why community and knowledge base go together so well: community can address the more complex, obscure cases, which can then be added to the repository of support documents in the knowledge base.
Combining community and knowledge base is a great way to address some of the common issues that companies have with documentation.
A community forum is home to a wealth of product and service information that is always up-to-date, fuelled by the biggest fans of your brand. These fans dedicate their time and energy to provide great peer-to-peer support and provide answers to customer inquiries that are often times, better than the ones that your support team can provide. Moreover, customers trust these responses since it comes from a peer rather than an employee.
Vanilla Knowledge allows you to harness the knowledge found in your community with a simple click of a button; any discussions or answers that you believe are relevant can become part of your official documentation and is added to your knowledge base.
Further, it’s even easier for your customers to find documentation since Vanilla Knowledge has a federated search function. One of the best things about fuelling your knowledge base with community discussions is that your customers will likely search using community jargon—this means that they’ll be able to find what they’re looking for quickly.
3. Knowledge Base and Community Integrate Seamlessly
This feeds into the last reason why we’ve created a knowledge base; it just goes well with community. Knowledge base and community go together like bread and butter. They complement each other, and together, they form a powerful self-service support duo.
This is because together, knowledge base and community form an intersection, where, in our opinion, the magic happens.
When community and knowledge base work together, a number of great things are made possible:
Provide amazing customer self-help: Users are able to search the community and the knowledge base at the same time, providing them with a large range of knowledge. The more options available, the more likely your customers will be able to find helpful content.
Cover all bases: Adding to the point above, the ability to search the community and the knowledge base at the same time ensures that customers have access to a wide range of knowledge. This allows them to access either more formal information, provided by the support and development team of the organization, or information written by other customers. It’s like an all-in-one solution.
Share responsibilities: With the intersection of community and knowledge base comes the intersection of multiple teams throughout the organization. This means that internal resources that monitor and work on providing support are able to share responsibilities, which frees up time across the board.
Deliver what customers actually want: As we’ve touched on earlier, people expect self-service support options, so why not mix both of these together to deliver the best solution possible?
Make the most of SEO: How can you not benefit from the maximum coverage of both customer generated content asked in their own voice and your own official answers in the knowledge base? This coverage is excellent for SEO, which is very important, especially since according to the TSIA, 91% of people say that Google search is their preferred support channel.
We’ve been doing community, and doing it well, since 2009. We know better than anyone that the knowledge within a successful and vibrant community is limitless. Your community is a place of collaboration, information and peer-to-peer trust. This is the best fuel for a knowledge base—why let all this information and knowledge go to waste? Repurpose it to become the foundation of your knowledge base, and you’re sure to deliver the best that customer self-service support has to offer.