Knowledge is Power

Posted by Kevin Anderson on April 17, 2014

I’ve worked in the service desk industry for many years – first as a backroom tekkie, then a Helpdesk Manager, and finally a System Implementer. In all those years, every Service Desk tool or system I’ve come across has shipped with some form of Knowledge Base (KB) offering – either built into the system directly, or as a third-party integration (I’ve even been the SI responsible for some of those integrations), but not once have I ever seen it used with any degree of effectiveness/success.

Installed out of the box, each of the above flavours usually comes with an initial set of content. This content is supposed to provide your Service Desk operators (technicians) with some sort of “standard” Incident/Resolution data, that they can search against – the idea being that they can easily and quickly find the solution to the reported issue, provide that solution to the end-user, and so be able to resolve/close the newly-logged incident, logging it in the Service Desk tool as they go.

Simple, no? Correct, it isn’t nearly that simple. Ever.

For one, the data supplied as a default is often of little or no use whatsoever. The best thing you can do with it is just delete it and replace it with something meaningful. But of course, that’s either a time or financial investment, most likely both, and so it gets pushed back. Secondly, the overall solution, in terms of Knowledge Base, is rarely geared up to work well for your end-users. If you’re going to send them down the Self-Service route, then what they want is Google, plain and simple. And your Service Desk software isn’t Google (AKA the internet). Of course, many of your end-users just want someone to understand their issue and come fix it; plus, the overwhelming results returned by an internet search are often too numerous and varied to be of immediate use to your average end-user – hell, some are even wrong – they need refining (the results, that is).

So that’s where the in-built knowledge base comes in, I hear you cry – have the users perform a Self-Service search that interrogates the historical data of your recorded incidents and problems. That addresses the time/money constraints, as well. After all, the odds are that someone else has reported the issue previously, so the solution will already be available in your Service Desk tool. You could even publish a “Top Ten” on the Self-Service portal (“yeah, that’s my issue, wait – there’s my solution! w00t!”). That sounds great, but when they’ve diligently reviewed the top ‘x’, and only received a mixture of “fixed”, “sorted” and “done”, it isn’t really any help to anyone. The results aren’t what they’re looking for. The results aren’t Google. And here’s why: content.

Your technicians are under pressure to resolve issues (first contact fix, and the like), not write user guides, so the content suffers. Well, that might be (might be) OK for the short-term, but it doesn’t help with anything other than the immediate, and so the longer term simply goes for a burton – along with your customer satisfaction, might I add. Service Desk technicians – be they first line or otherwise – have an opportunity to add real value to your organisation, but only if you give them the time and the tools to do that.

First and foremost, your end-users want a quick and easy to find, accurate and relevant solution to their problem. Secondly, they’re not interested in classifying their issue for you – that demands up to date and in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of your Service Catalogue, which they won’t have (because they don’t need to – but perhaps we’ll leave that subject for another time).

Secondly, your technicians don’t want to spend hours typing up lengthy ‘how-to’ manuals for every end-user’s logged issues. They aren’t technical writers, and your organisation should have already equipped your staff with the know-how to do their jobs.

So, where does that leave us? In his Religious Meditations, of 1597, Sir Francis Bacon famously wrote, “Knowledge is Power”. I say “famously” rather tongue in cheek, because it’s probably the only quote by him that anyone knows – overused, but almost never attributed to him. My point, I suppose, is this… Old Frankie was right – knowledge is required before any real power can be exerted. And it’s as true of the Service Desk as much as anywhere else. Educate your technicians that succinct and informative, but publicly readable and digestible, solutions to the issues submitted are to be not only applauded, but mandated. Just make sure you give them the space to do it. Make sure that your organisation’s employees are equipped to do their jobs. It’s a stupidly simple thing to say, but you’d be surprised at just how many issues sent to the Service Desk are actually of the “how do I?” variety. Lastly, make sure your Self-Service portal is easy to use and informative (searchable FAQs, for example, that also record the search and use of one). Think Google, only without the chaff.

All knowledge starts with education. Educate your technicians, and educate your end-users. That’s where the power comes from. Just don’t use it for evil.