Living and working in startup town…for a week

One might think the Knowledge Bird had flown the coop. Not so much. But, I did fly Stateside to spend last week in the office with my Zendesk homies.

I figured, why not take advantage of Mr Knowledge Bird’s trip to Startup Town (aka San Francisco) and go meet-and-greet the people I’d been working with remotely these past few months?

My San Francisco desk.

San Francisco has been billed as a city not at all representative of the rest of the U.S. And Zendesk is not at all like the normal corporate environment. Though, as a well-known startup going through an über-growth phase, what else DO you expect? Truth be told, I was reminded a little of the early parts of my career working in tech support at One.Tel—a telco startup, of sorts—back when it was just a massively risky thing to do and not at all cool. The only things different in the modern environment are the free food and drinks, the social events and a building full of empowered 20-somethings. So, really, I guess the only things in common with 16 years ago is the open plan and long tables.

For a remote worker, like me, the time in the office is extremely valuable. With meetings, lunch, meetings, breakfast, meetings, and then more meetings, one can get a greater sense of what needs to be done in a shorter space of time. And having finally been able to interact in person with many of whom I’d only ever Skyped or emailed with, the boundless enthusiasm of the whole team is obvious, and being around a group of such skilled and capable people every day was intense. (We’ve come home to the cat and the kids. They have a lot to live up to. I’m also certain the 9 year old must learn how to touch-type as a precursor to building his first app.)

The city itself is a lot to take in, too. In only a couple of blocks, from the office to Union Square, you can witness everything from homelessness to Macy’s. But so strong is the calling, to tech entrepreneurs from all over, that they’ll throw a few clothes and a laptop in a backpack and commit three months or more to working hard on their startup, scheduling meeting after meeting, and sleeping in their cheap Tenderloin hotel with a shared bathroom. Then wake up the next day to hit the keys again, chasing the dream and looking for the next VC opportunity.

When you walk through the city, the signs of “tech boom” are everywhere. Digital Zynga billboards, a huge Mailchimp painted on the side of a building, and I could swear I passed a guy on Third street with a pair of Google Glass(es) on his head.

It’s insane that so many ideas, so much opportunity, and so much success could be incubating in one city when the same technology these startups are building on is what makes our communities and our knowledge work have global reach. But it all comes down to the face-to-face and the feel of a handshake. And for a startup, San Francisco is the only place you can possibly plan to be.

Adapting the KCS article lifecycle to Zendesk forums

Knowledge Centred Support (KCS) is gathering a bit of momentum out there in customer support land. I didn’t want to go too heavily into KCS, as I’ve only scratched the surface on it myself, but I did want to show you how to approach the KCS methodology using forum-based knowledge bases—in this case, Zendesk.

One of the KCS practices is knowledge reuse, and the mantra is to “search early, search often”. When you receive a new ticket from a customer, or you get a phone call, search your Zendesk for existing knowledge base posts or similar tickets first. The answer may already exist, which means you can respond immediately. If a solution doesn’t exist, you’ll need to start a knowledge base article where the title includes the customer’s own description of the problem.

Searching is a critical part of the KCS method. Monitoring the keywords and phrases your customers search for can also form the basis of new knowledge base articles where their searching has been unsuccessful. If you know an article on the topic does exist but it doesn’t present to your customer, then this is an opportunity to improve that article and add the search terms that customer used, so that it turns up next time. Zendesk provides excellent forum search analytics and here’s a great post explaining how to get the most from that functionality.

The other KCS technique I wanted to focus on is the article lifecycle and how we can work that into a forum structure. KCS articles start out as a Work In Progress (WIP). This is a question without an answer. When we do have a resolution, the article moves through to Draft, but is still being refined and improved. Once it’s been reviewed for accuracy and is considered good enough for reuse internally, it’s Approved. And finally, if it’s good enough for consumption by customers, it’s Published.

Each of these stages in the lifecycle can be adapted to the Zendesk forums structure. I have several categories in my Zendesk forums: News, Community Help, Knowledge Base, Internal. News is just announcements and Community Help is based around user interaction and is largely unmoderated. When I first started filling out my Zendesk knowledge base, I was disappointed there was no way to keep an article in draft. But, there are a couple of ways you can work around this. The first way is to create a forum for draft articles and make this visible to agents only. Here, I created a drafts forum under the Internal category, but you could also have draft, agent-only forums in any category.

When I’ve finished reviewing that draft article (and any others that might be in there), I can move them to the appropriate forum, whether it’s a forum for internal use (KCS Approved), or a public forum for customer self-help (KCS Published). It’s as easy as selecting the right forum from the drop-down box in the edit screen.

For articles that will only be used on an agent-only forum, you may decide to have them in the appropriate place but with *Draft* in the title.

When this draft article has been accepted as good enough, just edit the title and remove the *Draft*.

Have you adapted your forum-based knowledge base for KCS? Add your thoughts in the comments.

Zendesk Benchmarking & Analytics Workshop

Much like their blissed-out mascot, Zendesk have such a confident omnipresence on social media that I often forget they’re a startup. With over 15,000 users worldwide they’ve embarked on a lap of Asia-Pac with a series of bootcamp and benchmarking workshops. As the Knowledge Bird, I wear a few hats and one of them is as a Zendesk administrator and customer support manager for a client, so I thought I’d go along for a bit of schooling.