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Low-effort knowledge part 2: for editors

In our previous post, we described how user effort is central to the success of knowledge management. A low-effort experience, in which the knowledge they want is seamlessly delivered, satisfies customers and encourages them to use self-service rather than phoning the contact centre. Low effort is equally important to maintaining content in the back end of the knowledgebase. If editors find the system easy to use, they’ll update knowledge efficiently and regularly. If they don’t, they’ll be less engaged. This has direct implications for keeping content fresh and maintaining the value of the knowledgebase long term.

Why User Effort Matters

Content editors are the life of a knowledgebase. If they are engaged with the project, knowledge will remain vibrant, accurate and up to date. If editors aren’t engaged, the knowledgebase will become somewhere content goes to die. The usability of the knowledge management system is an important factor in editors’ productivity and enthusiasm.

If the knowledge management system is easy to use:

  • Editors can find content, review content, and make changes with no more time and effort than are required to do the job well.
  • Editors are more likely to review content and feedback regularly. This helps keep content relevant, fix errors early, and respond to trending issues.
  • Knowledge can be shared freely within the organization, without technical requirements to participate.
  • Employees feel engaged and experience less stress.
  • Customers find quality information through self-service, which reduces calls to contact centres and increases customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores. Agents have knowledge ready to hand when dealing with enquiries that do reach the contact centre.

Conversely, if the system is time-consuming or confusing to use, editors won’t enjoy their work. They will need encouragement to update content through rewards or quotas, rather than making it part of their daily routine. The freshness of content suffers. Customer feedback accumulates and is reviewed only intermittently. The result is that self-service knowledge becomes less useful to customers, and instead of a virtuous circle of continual improvement and feedback, there’s a downward spiral of out-of-date knowledge and escalated calls.

Defining User Effort

While a low-effort experience in the front end is primarily down to intelligent knowledge retrieval, usability in the back end depends on the design of the interface. How easily can editors complete their daily tasks? How many steps, for example, does it take to correct a typo – is it the work of a few seconds or a major operation? 

Factors That Affect Effort

  • Sense of focus. Is the application’s purpose clear? Are there distractions? Are there features that are extraneous to the core purpose (because someone thought they were a good idea at the time)?
  • Clarity. Is navigation clearly labelled and consistently placed? Are interface controls easy to understand? Are labels, advisory text, etc. written in simple language and without jargon? Are there icons to aid understanding? Is there inline help?
  • Number of clicks. Is each step in a task necessary? Could some steps be condensed? Could some be eliminated altogether?
  • Sense of progress. When going through the steps of a task, does the user have a sense of where they are in the process and how much more there is to do? Is the complexity of a task proportionate to its interest and importance?
  • Accessibility. Can users with disabilities access all the functions of the application?
  • Entry level. Do editors need specific technical expertise, e.g. “knowledge engineering”, or does the application prepare content for search and retrieval behind the scenes?
  • Integration. Does the knowledge management system connect with other applications editors use in their work? Can data be imported and exported easily? Do users have to switch between applications to perform simple tasks?
  • Emotion. What’s the user’s emotional state at the end of a task? Satisfied? Frustrated? Worn out?

Assessing Effort

User effort in the back end can be gauged using similar methods to the front end. Best practice guidelines. Testing. User observation and surveys. An advantage is that back-end users are a captive audience, so can be canvassed regularly about their experience with the knowledgebase.

Knowledge health is also an indicator of usability in the back end. If you have a knowledge management strategy in place, and expect to see continual improvement, then stagnation could mean editors are having practical difficulties keeping up. Try to ascertain if the problems are caused by the system or some other factor.

User effort is hard to judge when first choosing your knowledge management software. While the usability of the front end can be assessed from existing examples, the back end is often a closed box until the contract is signed. Until editors start using the system in real situations, issues that might affect their productivity are hidden. There’s no easy way around this, but you can at least query the vendor about their commitment to usability, and request testimonies from existing clients if allowed under privacy rules.

Making Effort Our Priority

At Transversal, our goal is to serve knowledge with as little effort as possible. Our Research and Development team works to improve the algorithms that retrieve content in the front end. We conduct user observation and testing to identify usability issues in the back end. We don’t just sell software but help our clients transform the way they manage knowledge, answering questions more efficiently to reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction.

User effort is vital to long-term success because if effort is onerous, there will be little participation. And without participation from customers and editors, a knowledgebase is just a collection of articles rather than a living, responsive resource. If your system provides the right knowledge with minimal effort, then people will use it willingly, its value to your customers will increase over time, and it will pay for itself in lower support costs.