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Does this knowledge article apply to my issue?

You may have noticed that some support knowledge bases use the term “Applies To” in their knowledge articles. Common questions from new knowledge authors are, “What is an Applies-to tag and why would I use them?”

In the Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS) methodology, the guidance is to include information about the environment as required information in the knowledge article structure. Applies-to tags are used to define the environment for which an issue exists and that which makes the knowledge article unique.

When using the term environment, the same question from new knowledge authors is asked. "What is the environment?"

The environment is the relevant information in the knowledge article that defines where the issue exists. This could be a product, process, platform, function, geography, or other attributes. The resolution depends on these environment attributes. These attributes are added as Applies-to tags to make the article unique. If you ask a question and the answer is it depends, then there is a high probability that what it depends on is the Applies-to tags.

 

Applies-to Tags can be used to define:

  • Product names, such as HP OfficeJet Pro L7590
  • Product name with version number
  • Application names, such as Microsoft Windows 10
  • Application name with version number
  • Demographics, such as locations or organizations
  • Or any other environment attribute

 

Example issues that need Applies-to tags

  • The issue relates to a printer jam and the resolution will vary depending on the type of printer. In this case, the type of printer for the article will be specified as an Applies-to tag. If there are three different printers in your environment and each would require a different resolution, then you should have three different knowledge articles. Having different knowledge articles will allow you to determine the frequency of issues with each printer type. In each article, the issue is the same "The printer is jammed." The Applies-to tag will be unique to the printer and the resolution will then be appropriate to that printer.

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  • The question relates to employee benefits and the answer will depend on the benefits plan the employee selected. The Applies-to tag will be the name of the benefits plan and the answer will be in the context of that plan.
  • There is a question on how to perform a task in a software product and the answer will vary depending on the version of the product. You would add an Applies-to tag for each version of the product for which the answer is the same. For example, The process for how to add a printer to a PC may be the same for Microsoft Windows 7 and Microsoft Windows 8 but is different for Microsoft Windows 10 and for the Apple Macs in your environment.

 

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Just add it to the Issue

Another common question is "Why not just include the content of the Applies-to tag in the issue description to make it unique?" Doing this will make the article unique. But using Applies-to tags can improve find-ability, reporting, and analysis. For example:

  • Users can filter their search results by Applies-to tags. Using the Applies-to filter will result in only articles that have the specific tag. If a user is searching for a solution to Microsoft Excel, they can eliminate results that relate to other products, such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint by specifying the Applies-to filter of Microsoft Excel.
  • Product managers can easily review the knowledge articles related to specific products. A user can filter all articles for a desired product, or set of products, and then sort the list by the Knowledge Article Uses count to quickly see the frequently asked questions or issues with that product.
  • When a product is no longer supported, a knowledge manager can quickly locate all articles related to that product and archive the appropriate knowledge.

 

Applies-to Tags should not be confused with Services, Symptoms, Keywords, or Search Tags

  • Services are defined in the service catalog and should be a separate property within the knowledge article. While the Service may be "Email", the Applies-to tags may be the specific technologies that enable that service, such as Microsoft Outlook, Google GMail, Microsoft Webmail, or a Microsoft Outlook Mobile App.
  • Symptoms are descriptions of outcomes related to the issue. For example, a person having a heart attack may have one or more different symptoms. By including the symptoms in the knowledge article, the article findability is improved as users often describe their issues based on the symptoms and they do not know the actual issue.
  • Keywords are additional words that are commonly used when describing the issue or symptoms. They are added to the content that is searchable by the search engine. These may be synonyms or phrases to keywords used in other fields within the document. Keywords improve findability and do not make the article unique. Keywords augment the searchable content and therefore there is no need to repeat a keyword used in other fields. If the issue describes a problem with a "monitor", you may want to add the keywords "screen" and "display" to improve findability.
  • Search Tags are like Keywords as they are added to improve findability. These tags can also be used to categorize the article and relate them to  similar articles.

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Keep Them Relevant

When problem solving a reported issue, you capture as much information as possible. You don’t know what is relevant until you can identify the issue. When capturing knowledge from this process, you cannot simply copy and paste information from a ticket to a knowledge article. Knowledge authors need to identify what information is relevant. The issue description and symptoms should be based on how the customer described their issue. The cause, if known, is why the issue occurred. The resolution should document the steps taken to resolve the issue. The applies-to tags capture the relevant information that defines the environment for which the issue existed.

For example, a customer calls about a printing problem. The support agent discovers the customer is printing from Microsoft Word 2013 on a HP Spectre laptop that is running Windows 10. They are printing to an HP OfficeJet 4650 printer. After investigating the issue, the agent determines that the printer is out of ink. The only relevant information is the customer could not print to an HP OfficeJet 4650 printer due to out of ink. The resolution to replace the ink cartridge is unique to the printer. The only Applies-to tag needed is “HP OfficeJet 4650”. If other printers follow the same steps for replacing the ink cartridge, then additional Applies-to tags for those printers can be added to the article.

Choose Wisely

When searching a knowledge base you can find knowledge articles with similar or even the same issue, but with different resolutions. It is the Applies-to tags the must be considered. Choose the knowledge article with the issue that matches your issue where the Applies-to tags match your environment. There is then a very high probability that the resolution in the article is what you need.

Applies-to tags improve the ability to find relevant articles while enabling the organization to analyze knowledge and identity continuous improvements in services and products.

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