Knowledge is quickly becoming a company’s most important asset. Beyond supporting internal audiences, such as support agents and new hires, knowledge is often the medium through which companies attract, educate, onboard, support, and keep their customers. And today’s customers don’t simply want easy access to relevant information—they demand it.

This puts knowledge management square in the spotlight. Because prioritizing customer experience is one thing, but managing to deliver timely content in the various channels that comprise this customer experience is another challenge altogether. Accordingly, knowledge management—and specifically knowledge management tools—has emerged as a major organizational priority.

Table of contents

  1. What is knowledge management?
  2. What is a knowledge base?
  3. Knowledge management vs. knowledge base
  4. Stakeholders in knowledge management
  5. Knowledge management KPIs
  6. Initiatives supported by knowledge management
  7. Evaluating knowledge management tools

What is knowledge management?

Traditionally, knowledge management is defined as the process of effectively creating, capturing, distributing and sharing an enterprises’ information assets. This might include documentation, policies, procedures, and any other relevant expertise and experience provided by individual workers across an organization.

In today’s world, however, the scope and reach of knowledge management has expanded significantly to accommodate the evolving contexts, devices, and channels that internal (support agents, employees, etc.) and external (prospects, customers, etc.) audiences use to seek information.

Knowledge management is the process of effectively creating, capturing, distributing and sharing an enterprises’ information assets. This might include documentation, policies, procedures, and any other relevant expertise and experience provided by individual workers across an organization.

A customer support agent, for example, needs access to the right information that enables them to quickly deliver the best solution to the customer. This could be within their customer relationship management (CRM) suite, an internal-only knowledge base, or some combination thereof.

Customers, on the other hand, might seek information within their product (in-product contextual help content), using Google, or through a company’s website and chatbot interface. What’s more, this information-seeking can occur both before becoming a customer and long after the sale, indicating an expanding and more complex customer journey.

A robust, modern knowledge management platform has the ability to infuse all of these experiences with relevant and useful information.

Knowledge management as a single source of truth, extending content to all self-service channels

For high-level look at how organizations use knowledge, including implicit, explicit, and tacit forms, see Knowledge Management: Share the Wisdom.

What is a knowledge base?

Have you ever had an issue with your Lyft trip, gone into the app or website, and within a few clicks had your problem answered by a simple piece of content? This is an example of a good (and effective) knowledge base. A knowledge base is a self-serve repository of organized information that users can access through browse and search functions.

Well-executed, a knowledge base can empower customer self-service and minimize inbound calls, thus promoting customer success. It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. See our list for three knockout knowledge base examples from companies who have implemented great knowledge bases centered around their customers’ needs.

Knowledge management vs. knowledge base

Broadly speaking, knowledge management is the overarching framework or practice for creating and disseminating organizational knowledge. It is distinct from knowledge management tools such as a knowledge base or a more comprehensive knowledge management platform.

Each solution comes with its own challenges and benefits.

A knowledge base is often the first or default choice by organizations due to its smaller investment costs. It can be as simple as a flat folder structure housing various FAQs, PDF manuals, and articles (think SharePoint, for example).

Some knowledge bases are included as add-ons to CRM suites, such as Salesforce, offering options for both internal-facing and public-facing content. Though widely used, the traditional knowledge base can present certain limitations in terms of functionality and scale which fail to meet the complex needs of larger organizations (and modern customer self-service).

An enterprise-grade knowledge management platform, on the other hand, offers multiple features and capabilities that help overcome the limitations of a standard knowledge base. For example, a knowledge management platform can serve as a “one-stop-shop” or “single source of truth” for internal and external self-service and agent assistance. A knowledge management platform can enable organizations to segment information based on different user groups (including public vs. private). Often, these platforms are designed to integrate seamlessly with third-party applications.

Because the differences between a traditional knowledge base and a knowledge management platform are many, we’ve put together a thorough guide that compares the two solutions and considers how these differences affect organizational efficiency and customer experience:

Knowledge Management vs. Knowledge Base

6 critical differences that give knowledge management platform a competitive advantage

Stakeholders in knowledge management

A number of stakeholders are required for a knowledge management project, both during procurement and after implementation. There are the people involved with selecting, deploying, and interacting with the platform. Yet, there are also those involved with evaluating (and paying for!) knowledge management software or measuring the success of knowledge management initiatives. This group might include a combination of:

  • Practitioners, such as technical writers and knowledge managers, who live and breathe the tool to create and disseminate knowledge across the organization and to customers. Knowledge practitioners are often part of the procurement, deployment, and onboarding process for new knowledge management tools.
  • Contact center leadership, such as the Director of Support or Contact Center Manager, responsible for leading and supporting agents, enabling agent productivity, and driving efficiency gains. Typically, contact center leadership is focused on how knowledge management can help impact call center KPIs such as average handle time (AHT), first call resolution (FCR), and customer satisfaction (CSAT).
  • Customer experience leadership, such as the Chief Customer Officer or Chief Experience Officer, who consider the entire customer journey and strategize ways to deliver seamless customer service and drive loyalty throughout.
  • Information technology (IT) personnel involved in evaluating the impact of rolling out a knowledge management solution, including risk and cost assessments, integrations with other solutions in the IT infrastructure, and project timelines.
  • Marketing is often involved in the procurement and deployment process as stakeholders in anything that has to do with a brand’s website. The marketing team might have questions about where a web self-service portal fits into the overall site structure (subfolder vs. subdomain, for example), or how public-facing knowledge content will impact organic search traffic, click-through rate, and conversions.

Of course, there is one more “stakeholder” that ought to be in the room for any conversation about knowledge management: the customer. Essential to any knowledge management strategy is a focus on the customer’s needs. That is, how will the way an organization procures, deploys, and maintains its knowledge management platform help customers be more successful?

Knowledge management KPIs

To measure the success and efficacy of a knowledge management platform, organizations must look at key customer outcomes (internal and external!), as well as broader organizational KPIs.

Measuring a knowledge management practice

It’s important to track and evaluate different user activity and adoption, much of which can be measured using analytics functionality within the knowledge management tool itself. Others require third-party tools. Common KPIs include:

  • Self-service adoption rate and self-service success rate
  • Agent adoption metrics
  • Ticket deflection
  • Article linking, creation, reuse, and quality
  • Organic search traffic and keyword rankings

Measuring the impact of knowledge management on organizational KPIs

A strong knowledge management practice can be mapped to broader organizational KPIs that measure customer sentiment, retention, and loyalty, such as:

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures the extent to which a customer is prepared to put their personal reputation on the line by recommending a business to a friend or coworker. Successful knowledge management is not only about simplifying and alleviating pressure for your customers, but also supporting and supplying product enthusiasts and partners with comprehensive product information and documentation that helps create brand advocates.
  • Customer Effort Score (CES), which measures how easy it was for customers to find what they were looking for, or to resolve an issue. This includes finding self-service content in all the digital channels they use, as well as contacting support.
  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT), which measures the support experience after cases are closed and satisfaction with the delivery of service engagements. Knowledge management can help support agents be heroes in the eyes of the customer by helping them be proactive, not having customers repeat themselves, and quickly reaching a resolution by being able to find the documentation they need.

Initiatives supported by knowledge management

A knowledge management solution can help support a number of common organizational initiatives, such as:

  • Customer self-service, in which customers are empowered to find answers themselves easily on any channel, and only contact your contact center for complex queries.
  • Agent assistance, which ensures that agents have the right information on hand to quickly answer customer questions, providing a seamless customer experience. Learn more about agent assistance.
  • Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS), which allows agents and other subject matter experts from across an organization to contribute their own expertise from individual customer interactions and improve knowledge content on an ongoing basis. Learn more about KCS.
  • Training and onboarding to ensure new agents get up to speed quickly and receive a thorough induction that includes training and access to all of the relevant information required to deliver accurate answers to customers. Learn more about KM for agent onboarding.
  • Chatbots that can answer simple queries without human intervention, help customers find specific content, or hand off complex queries to a live agent. Learn how KM powers chatbots.
  • Internal documentation repositories that house organizational knowledge that employees need on a regular basis to be successful, including human resources (HR) documentation, compliance materials, and troubleshooting information.
A powered by MindTouch graphic depicting the various customer contexts and use cases that a knowledge management platform can support and enrich

Evaluating knowledge management tools

Here are four areas to consider when looking at a knowledge management tool or auditing your own knowledge management strategy:

1. Scalability

What works for your organization now must be able to continue working seamlessly as your organization changes and grows. This will vary depending on the limitations of the knowledge base or the performance of the knowledge management platform.

The key here is to look for solutions that can keep up with the ever-changing needs of your business in order to maintain consistent customer experiences across an ever-expanding variety of pre-sale and post-sale journeys. This might include adding more content, additional languages, or even new sites.

2. Personalization and permissions

This is how your solution organizes information for different audiences and controls who sees what and when. Done well, this can be a huge time-saver for agents and customers alike as it minimizes search time to ensure the user only sees content relevant to them. Look for solutions that serve both public and private content in one platform, support single-sign-on, and provide multi-leveled control over content.

3. Blended content experiences

A blended help experience brings together information from different areas of the business into a single body of content that can serve multiple goals and channels. Look for solutions that have the capability to centralize information from various sources into a web-native format that can be surfaced in the channels that customers are using.

4. Uptime

Often overlooked, but oh, so important. Uptime looks at what percentage of a given period of time a site or group of sites are available to users. Your users expect to be able to access your site 24/7/365, so it’s important to look for solutions that are able to provide uptime as close to 100% as possible. Anything less than 99.5% uptime won’t slide with customers and the low-effort experience they expect. Learn more about the importance of uptime.

Choosing the right solution is crucial to business success and the seamless self-service you’re able to provide customers. While these four noteworthy considerations are important to keep in mind, here is our comprehensive list of areas to evaluate when looking at a KM platform:

Guide to Evaluating Knowledge Management Platforms

9 areas to look at closely when you're deciding on a knowledge management platform