The FT Word – August 2001

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the August 2001 edition of the FT Works Newsletter, a monthly review of trends in the support management arena. In this month’s issue:

·         Knowledge-sharing strategies

·         Supporting untested platforms

And a reminder that there are only 10 days left to take advantage of the introductory price on The Complete Guide to Hiring Great Support Managers. A new guide, The Complete Guide to Hiring Great Support Reps, is being released this month. Details at the end of this message.

Knowledge-Sharing Strategies

The smart support manager knows that knowledge management is the most important job of the support center (case management only makes it to #2: without good knowledge management, you cannot resolve cases efficiently). So here are 8 tips for encouraging smart knowledge sharing internally and externally to the support center.

1. Organize the knowledge

Unless the knowledge required to resolve your issues fits neatly on one page, you’re going to have to organize and structure it to 1) maintain it easily and 2) help users access it (this is not so much of an issue with a good search mechanism, but having a good structure can help construct the search)

The best way to organize knowledge is to create “buckets” (categories) tailored to your particular needs. Most centers should do just fine with two levels of categories. Aim to have a humanly manageable number of documents in each category (subcategory if you have them), say no more than 100 documents.

2. Designate a knowledge czar

Czardom is not a full-time job unless you have a very large organization, but there should be someone who looks after the knowledge base, makes sure the structure is working, and that documents are properly created and reviewed. This is a good job for someone with good organizational skills.

3. Designate category owners

The category owners are responsible for making sure that their categories (buckets) are full of correct, useful documents. If it’s possible for one individual to master *all* the knowledge in your knowledge base, then you can make the knowledge czar responsible for all categories. Otherwise, assign different buckets to different people based on their specialties. I like to use part-time category owners whose primary job is to work on cases so their knowledge stays “fresh”.

4. Create a large circle of knowledge contributors

Why not let everyone in the support center create documents? Sure, you may need to provide some grammatical help, but you can take care of that during the review process (see #5). You can even encourage individuals outside the support center to contribute documents.

5. Implement a swift review process

Unless you’re feeling very reckless, you should have a review process before you publish documents, at least externally to customers (I recommend a review before internal publication as well, but it is useful to let everyone see unreviewed documents, as long as they are labeled as such.)

A good way to proceed is to designate reviewers (typically senior reps) and to have a mechanism of alerts and reports so the reviews happen quickly. If you wish to have a professional editor work on the documents, insert that step as well, and have alerts and reports associated with it too.

6. Reward contributors based on usage and usefulness

Instead of rewarding contributors based on the number of documents they write, go for quality. If your tool allows it, track both usage and usefulness (ask the users to rate the documents) and reward the authors based on those numbers. So writing 3 documents that are accessed 150 times and rated useful 80% of the time is rewarded over writing 10 documents accessed 10 times and rated 70%.

7. Leverage self-learning

A good tool (see step 8) will make it very easy, but you can leverage usage of the knowledge base to make it more complete and more accurate by making it easy for users to rate the materials and to suggest corrections to it. For instance, good tools will display documents that match particular search criteria in the order of their rankings.  

8. Get a good tool

Ideally, you want to find a tool that supports all the steps above, but if your current tool is weak, don’t immediately conclude you need a new one. The most important steps in knowledge management are the process steps, not the tool, and I’ve seen many organizations do a great job with a not-so-great tool. If you can get lots of people to create documents and conduct reviews quickly, you will do quite well. Good luck!

Want to know more? Check out the booklet entitled “Knowledge: The Ultimate Frontier for Support Centers” published by the SSPA (or see here.)

Supporting Untested Platforms: Certified Platforms versus Supported Platforms

What’s a supported platform? More and more, it’s a platform for which customers are entitled to support and maintenance, but not necessarily one that was tested or explicitly certified by the QA organization. This creates an interesting challenge for the support team. Here are tips to cope

1) Be perfectly clear with customers on what’s supported or not, including version numbers, hardware platforms if that’s relevant, etc.

2) Spell out what platforms are actually tested/certified and what are not, at least for those customers who care to get to that level of details. Customers find it easier to deal with limitations if they know of them ahead of time, and some customers have a policy of only using platforms that are actually tested against, rather than merely supported. We in the Support team should help the information flow to them.

3) Determine the exact process for handling issues on supported, but not certified platforms. Typically, the process would start with reproducing on a “core” or “certified” platform. If the issue is reproduced, then proceed to a fix. If it does not reproduce, engage the Engineering team in a partnership to look into the problem.

If Engineering is not willing to engage until the issue is reproduced on a core/certified platform, then you don’t have real support for the additional platforms… 

FT Works News

Last call!  The Complete Guide to Hiring Great Support Managers is offered to newsletter readers (only) for the special introductory price of $100 through 8/31/01. 40 pages of no-nonsense tips and 566 pre-tested questions from which to conduct thorough and pointed interviews. Great for all of you who recruit for support managers and executives, and perhaps as a job-hunting tool too. For more information, including how to order, click here.

New this month: The Complete Guide to Hiring Great Support Reps. Tips and 444 questions to recruit and select fantastic team members. Special introductory pricing for newsletter readers of $100 through 10/31. Order today at your special price (click here.)

New article: Customer Support Management published a web site review I contributed to in their August, 2001 issue (

New booklet: The Service and Support Professionals Association published the Electronic Software Distribution: An Idea whose Time has come booklet. See

Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.

Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
650 559 9826

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