An Interview with Evan Hamilton from UserVoice

I took a look at UserVoice a couple of weeks ago when a blog entry of theirs turned up in my RSS reader. As said on the website, they’re a San Francisco-based startup focused on helping companies listen to their customers through feedback and support tools. They’re passionate about understanding and engagement, which was obvious when Evan Hamilton, UserVoice’s Community Manager, responded to one of my tweets. He seemed like a nice enough guy, so I asked if he’d participate in an email interview about UserVoice and the role of knowledge management.

What was the reason for the development of UserVoice and how do you feel it differs from other service desk tools on the market?
We really build tools because we feel a pain and recognize that others are feeling it too. In the case of help desk tools, we really felt that everything out there was unfriendly for the customer, the company, or both. There was a focus on buttons and levers instead of just on making the question-to-solution flow as smooth as possible. We try to provide a very simple tool with an intentional process, rather than a bunch of pieces you have to assemble.

What are the industries that are well represented in your user base?
There are lots of technology startups and enterprise companies using UserVoice, as well as a variety of other industries (government, events, nonprofits) using our Feedback product.

Have you seen any innovative uses of UserVoice?
Definitely…especially our Feedback tool. People have used it for things like renaming public buildings to determining features for tractors to naming babies!

You describe UserVoice’s specialty as “Crowdsourced Feedback”. What are the mechanics it employs to do that?
We have two tools, the Helpdesk product and the Feedback product. Our Feedback product is designed to save you and your customers time by helping them give you prioritized feedback and you respond to that. We do that through a forum where customers post ideas, vote for ideas they like, and comment on these ideas. Instead of 20 emails telling you to build feature X, there is one idea page with 20 votes. We also limit the number of votes each user has, forcing them to prioritize what they want to request. These votes are returned when the company marks an idea as closed (either completed or declined)…which also emails all the idea voters, handily keeping them in the loop.

Can you tell us how the knowledge base feature fits into a typical implementation?
The Knowledge Base is part of the Helpdesk product. The basic implementation is fairly standard: a page with various sections full of articles about your product. Where we are unique is that we try to actively surface these to customers. As they write you a support ticket, we pull up matching articles, giving them a chance to get an answer without emailing you. It saves you and them time, and our reporting features help you optimize this even further.

With the evolution of Web 2.0, we’re dealing with a greater dispersal of corporate knowledge and customer experience—Twitter mentions or hash tags and Facebook wall posts, and so forth. Does UserVoice address that or do you have any advice for businesses who are wanting to manage that better?
We have a Facebook app but other than that our tools aren’t really focused on social media at this point. That said, we love social media and spend a lot of time on it. My advice for businesses who want to manage social media better is: think of it as a conversation, because that’s what it is. You don’t go to every networking event and you don’t talk to everyone there, and it’s the same with social media. You go to the parties you’re invited to and try to leave a good impression, so people tell their friends how nice you were.

Knowledge management (and service management) wonks everywhere claim that one of the biggest hurdles is cultural change within the organisation. How does UserVoice approach that obstacle?
It’s a big challenge, especially when you see an inbox full of customer issues that seem much more pressing than documentation. That’s part of why we pushed hard to get some great analytics features built this year…if you can actually see the number of customer issues you are and aren’t solving through documentation, you’re much more likely to write it. So seeing the effect is a big part of it, and the other half is Just Doing It. That’s why we started the Knowledge Base challenge; we want people to see how much they can accomplish with just 10 minutes of writing a day.

Are you familiar with the Consortium for Service Innovation? They have developed an open source methodology called Knowledge-Centred Support. In a nutshell, the four basics it covers are:

  • Create content as a by-product of solving problems
  • Evolve content based on demand and usage
  • Develop a knowledge base of our collective experience to date
  • Reward learning, collaboration, sharing, and improving

How do you feel UserVoice covers those principles?
I hadn’t, but that’s great! And absolutely I do. We have a feature where you can turn ticket responses into articles, addressing the first point. Our reports will tell you which articles are preventing and which are resulting in support requests, addressing the second point. And our overall funnel shows you the rewards of spending time on this documentation.

Given how rapidly the Information Age has changed and progressed, what do you see for the future of managing all that information to make our lives better?
Search algorithms are going to be a big part of it. Nobody likes to dig through a big manual, and we need to make that easier. Once we do that, all the great content people have been writing for years will be able to do its job.

Thanks, Evan, for taking the time to respond.

Does your company use UserVoice? Have you taken the Knowledge Base challenge? Let me know what you think, in the comments.

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