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Stop Searching for the Right Answer!

When implementing knowledge management, it is important to remember that people are not searching for the right answer.  They are searching for the right question.  That is, they search for a question or issue that most closely matches the question or issue they want answered or resolved.  When they find the question, then they open the knowledge article with the expectation of finding the answer to the question.  This realization that people do not search for the right answers but for the right questions is key to developing a successful self-service knowledge base.

There are several tips and techniques for improving the findablity of knowledge.

1. Capture the Customer’s Context.

This concept is from the Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS) methodology from the Consortium for Service Innovation. It means that you should describe the question or issue description the way the customer describes it. When customers ask a question and you deliver them an answer, knowledge is created. That knowledge should be captured as a knowledge article for future reuse. Capturing the question in the knowledge article using the words of the customer is capturing the customer’s context. While you may not capture it word for word, it is important to capture the keywords used by the customer to describe their issue or question.

2. Add Symptoms

There are often multiple ways to describe an issue or multiple symptoms related to an issue. A single problem can result in various symptoms and the symptoms may even seem unrelated. Adding these different perspectives to the knowledge article improves the likelihood that future customers will be able to find the knowledge article.

When a person has a medical issue and visits a doctor, they rarely can tell the doctor what their issue is. They tell the doctor about the various symptoms they are experiencing. The doctor may examine them to identify additional symptoms such as high blood pressure and a fast heartbeat. It is the collection of symptoms that helps the doctor eliminate known issues and identify the specific issue to be treated. When capturing knowledge, add as many symptoms that are known as you don’t know which symptom the customer may report experiencing.

3. Use a Thesaurus

Some knowledge management technologies integrate a thesaurus with the search engine. This can identify additional words that are relevant to the issue description or question. The thesaurus should specific to your industry and environment. In technology, the word “screen” can be a synonym for a “display” or “monitor”. While in the human resources industry the word “screen” can mean “assess”, “evaluate”, or “interview”. Using the wrong thesaurus can result in poor search results.

4. Add Keywords

Another means of adding synonyms for important words in the issue description or question is to add a list of keywords to the knowledge article. Keywords are added when important words are not included in the description or set of symptoms. For example, the issue is “My car will not start.” If you know that many people will likely replace the word car with either the words truck, van, or automobile, then adding these words as keywords would be a better solution than adding a set of symptoms like “My truck will not start.”

5. Include Applies-to Content

When the resolution or answer to an issue or question can vary because of the situation or environment, then include that information in the knowledge article. A simple request like “How to open a door” can have multiple answers depending on the type of door. Is it a hinged door or a sliding door? Does it have a lock or latch? By clarifying what type of door the knowledge article applies to, you will help the user find the right article.

6. Add Knowledge Article Properties For Filtering

Adding properties or metadata about the knowledge articles can help the user find the right knowledge article. These properties can be used to filter the knowledge results or improve the relevancy ranking. For example: if every knowledge article is related to a service that is offered, then identifying the service during the searching process can filter the search results to include only knowledge articles related to that service.

7. Search the Right Content

Searching the right fields of a structured knowledge base will produce higher quality results than full document searches. When you are experiencing an issue with printing a document, you don’t need to see every knowledge article that has the word print somewhere in the resolution to unrelated issues. Don’t search the answers to find the right question. The search technology should be searching the issue or question description, the symptoms and keywords, the applies-to tags, and the service to help the user match their question or issue with the documented questions and issues in the knowledge base.

Remember that users who search knowledge are searching for the right question to find the answer they need. It is your responsibility to author and improve your knowledge articles to improve findability.

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