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Extending Slack for better KM

Slack apps for KM

Slack is a great tool for just-in-time comms, but it hits a wall when it’s your only centralised knowledge source or when conversations and channels get so vast, you have no hope of finding something that’s already scrolled by. Thankfully, there are a few add-ons that are coming to the rescue. It’d be nice if collaboration tool vendors would put a focus on building/acquiring good search in the first place, but it seems to be a universal condition, so let’s take a look at your options.

1. Niles

Niles is a bot that lives in and logs channels to learn the answers to common questions, and can be referenced directly within Slack. Anyone that’s supplied an answer will be prompted via email to review and refresh, if needed. Bots like this rely on machine learning, natural language processing, and time, so it won’t work perfectly out of the box. However, a great thing it has going for it is that there’s no external apps or extra logins. Interaction with the knowledge is all contained within Slack. It can be hooked in to your Google Drive to search docs and into Salesforce, which is great for sales teams. It’s filed under HR in the apps directory but it serves anyone that does any kind of support. More info in this Techcrunch article.

2. Obie

Obie is similar to Niles but has hooks into its parent product, Tasytt. Tasytt offers a CMS, process flows, and a built-in reward mechanism for knowledge contributors; and it integrates with a whole range of apps including Google Sites, Dropbox and Evernote.

3. qPod by nimeo

qPod takes it up a level and hits the enterprise right where it hurts—Outlook, Office 365 and Sharepoint; plus all the cool kids. Nimeyo aims to eliminate any friction by surfacing what you need directly in whatever you’re currently using. Intended for enterprise, pricing is on an annual per user basis and the baseline config is email analysis only. Context is king when it comes to knowledge and nimeyo is all over that.

4. Tettra

Tettra is a simple wiki that bolts onto Slack. Invoked with a slash command, it’ll show you a knowledge article within Slack and provide an option to share it with the channel. You can also allow requests and assign page ownership to domain experts. You can see what it looks like just by checking out their own support page.

5. Guru

Guru offers a Slack bot and a browser extension providing easy accessibility from wherever you spend most of your time. Guru’s schtick is trusted content, so they provide functionality for domain experts to verify knowledge articles and for search results to be prioritised by popularity score and filtered by tags, categories and collections. This is my pick if you’re in a chat-ops environment and you need to level up your reusable knowledge assets.  Integrates with a bunch of sales and support solutions.

6. Notion

Notion is a unified workspace, rather than a knowledge repository. It brings together your dispersed systems into one workspace that you can then customise based on your team’s processes and workflows. It integrates with Slack, but it also accesses content across Trello, Confluence, Google Drive, Basecamp and more, allowing you to move things around in a drag-and-drop fashion in a way that makes sense to how you work and what you need to know about.


Why You Should Crowdsource Your Help Desk Response

Today’s post is a guest post from Ashley VerrillAshley Verrill has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, GigaOM, CIO.com, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others. She also produces original research-based reports and video content with industry experts and thought leaders.

 

Recently, I wrote an article for GigaOM about customer service software that doesn’t exist, but that I think someone should make. I argued basically that companies need technology for crowdsourcing their response to customer service questions on social media in order to scale, reasoning that in some cases it can be more efficient and cost-effective than paying for additional social media manpower.

After chatting with Aprill (the Knowledge Bird herself), I realized that business-to-customer support on social media isn’t the only context where this community problem solving concept can be applied. In this article, I will describe why I think companies should use this model to solve internal corporate issues – essentially, enabling employees to help each other.

The Customer Community Concept

In my GigaOM article, I suggested that this hypothetical software crowdsources social customer service responses to customer community users. The term ‘community’ refers to brand advocates (mostly customers) who answer other customer’s questions in discussion forums. In these communities, customers can post a question publicly, where other customers who had the same issue can chime in with how they solved it. It’s been used successfully by many B2C companies. Take this HP community member, for example. He spends upwards of 30 unpaid hours a week responding to queries in their discussion forums.

The reason why I thought this would be a valuable model for solving internal employee issues is because it can effectively deflect tickets from the help desk. As we all know, each new trouble ticket costs the company money. I’ve reviewed a handful of help desk services that can reduce these costs through automation, but the company still has to pay for both the agent and employee’s time while the issue is resolved. With the community, problems can be solved faster in some cases than with one-on-one communication.

Let’s say, for example, you have a company-wide server issue. Every employee needs to follow the same step-by-step process to resolve it, so you blast out a mass email to the team. But any agent will tell you, there’s always going to be questions and user errors. This creates the potential for a flood of tickets to the help desk at the same time. This could be more than your help desk is regularly allotted to handle, so a lot of people are waiting.

If your company had a community, the help desk could simply post the step-by-step instructions in a discussion thread. As there are follow-up questions and answers, other employees with the same issue can just read the thread, rather than calling or emailing the help desk.

How You Get Them to Use It

I know what you’re thinking. That sounds great, but employees have a job to do. Why would they take time out of their day to solve a coworker’s problem?

The answer is gamification. I want to point out a couple things on that customer community user’s profile I mentioned earlier. At the top of the page, “wb2001” has a badge that says “HP Expert:”

This is an indicator of how many questions this person has responded to, as well as how many of his answers received “kudos.” It shows other users that he is a leader in the community. This fosters competition and achievement among users. This is also monitored in real-time in the margin with “Recent kudos.”

 

These are the same kind of tools many help desk products use to increase agent productivity. They are just used to inspire employees to respond instead of agents.

Create a Sense of Unity Among Employees

My final argument for replicating the customer community concept for employees is the potential to foster team ideation.

If you spend time in any customer community, not all of the threads are about solving a specific problem. Many times, people use them as a soundboard for their ideas. The company can then use this for product development or marketing, based on which ideas receive the most comments and kudos.

In the corporate context, employees might start submitting their ideas for process development or inter-departmental alignment. Especially in very large companies, it’s difficult for marketing-sales-customer service and other departments to work collaboratively. The community gives them the venue for having these conversations.

The Technology Already Exists

Unlike the software I suggested in GigaOM, this kind of inter-office community platform already exists. Sometimes called “Social Enterprise Applications,” this includes products like Yammer, Chatter and Jive. Beyond potentially deflecting tickets from the help desk and solving problems faster, these systems have other benefits.

What do you think? Has your company effectively used community software to solve employee issues that normally would have ended up in the help desk? Join the conversation with a comment here.

 


In defence of forums

When I put “forums are” into Google, the first options that come up are: “dead”, “stupid”, “full of idiots”, and “a waste of time”. Granted, many of those are sensationalist titles for posts refuting exactly those things. Though the idiots are indeed plenty, online forums themselves are far from dead. Modelled on bulletin boards and UseNet of the 70s and 80s, forums are simply threaded discussions around a niche topic, with an invested core membership of subject matter experts. Usually. Naturally, a number of elements are needed to ensure ongoing usefulness, but as a framework for building knowledge and community, they’re pretty solid.

I’ve been an avid participant of different forums over the years. (Catching up on new posts is a great way to fill in time between those adrenaline-induced moments of “stuff is broken!” in a tech support job.) But when Facebook, Twitter, and other activity stream-style options appeared, forums suddenly looked a bit dated.

Online forums haven’t seen much innovation in that time. Some still look dated, while others like Vanilla, have improved the user experience somewhat. Game mechanics, forum analytics, search, curation and moderation functionality are all features that make forum management and engagement easier, especially when aligned with purpose. But the framework of the forum hasn’t changed much because it doesn’t have to. The structure is familiar, and versatile.

Let’s consider what forums offer:

Persistent topics – People can read and add to threads and topics any time, at a time that suits them. There’s more opportunity for a discussion to grab attention than in an activity stream where it might scroll by and escape notice.
Taxonomy – The structure of sub-forums and categories provides a browsable taxonomy. With thoughtful management, that taxonomy can grow as the community needs it to.
Deep engagement – Forums are an efficient many-to-many platform of communication, but they also allow for one-to-one and one-to-many conversations that add to the overall knowledge of the group.
Owned platform – Forums can be owned and managed by the organisations and communities who use them, which puts the security of the data in the hands of the owners; and they won’t be subject to changes at the whim of a provider.
Searchability – As long as relevancy and quality are part of the algorithm, forum searches can return related posts irrespective of age.

While I think forum software doesn’t need a whole lot of innovation, it’s the attitudes to adoption and use that do. Purpose is paramount. Clearly define and communicate the reason for the forum’s existence. Measure the engagement and the contribution to the related business outcomes. Moderation may be critical to a good experience, or maybe you’ll just need to set some guidelines for self-governance. With care and consistency, forums are fertile ground for long-lived relationships and ongoing learning, so don’t write them off yet.


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