D'Arcy Gue

5 Steps to a Top-Notch Service Desk Knowledge Base

September 14, 2016

IT Service Desk 7 Minute Read

Your hospital’s IT service desk knowledge base should be an information technology treasure trove. Literally. If properly managed, it is an invaluable resource both for your service staff and your IT users. But, if your hospital is like many, its service desk knowledge base provides little value, either because it is poorly maintained or rarely used.  Or, you may have no documented knowledge base at all. Either scenario is likely a major source of great dissatisfaction among your IT systems users, as well as a waste of money and resources.

The good news is that unlike some IT department challenges, building and maintaining a service desk knowledge base isn’t difficult. Yes, it does require a methodical time and effort investment. The ROI is that the knowledge base will keep giving back to your entire user community indefinitely. Here’s how your IT staff can make that happen.

In a nutshell, knowledge is power, and keeping your service desk “nut” filled with current systems solutions and fixes contributes directly to faster problem resolution and less duplication of effort by your agents. Acquiring data, turning that data into solutions, managing those solutions, and making them quickly accessible to your users are essential factors in providing exceptional and efficient IT service.

Ishutterstock_265507085-1000pxnitially, developing a well-organized, easily accessible knowledge base requires planning and a fair amount of ground work. Thereafter,  the knowledge base must be regularly monitored, scrubbed for outdated content, and updated with solutions to new issues and data about systems changes. This perhaps is the hardest part for many support organizations, given other work priorities, but maintenance needn’t be excessively time-consuming if there is a departmental commitment to keep it going.

Let’s get started with your brand new (or upgraded) knowledge base:

  1. Choose the right software for your needs. Most service desk systems today provide knowledge base functionality. (BTW, if your hospital is not using a modern ITIL-based service desk software solution, it should in order to meet the needs of increasingly automated healthcare environments — and save money.) This should include a robust database that enables assignment of roles, tagging, and search capabilities that will match text to any service desk ticket or article. It should be user-friendly, enabling service desk agents to quickly enter in new information, with options for administrative level editing and approvals,  as well as team notification functionality. Satisfaction survey capability is important too, as user input provides a check on the success of the solutions your agents provide.
  2. Designate one qualified person to manage the knowledge base. My prejudice is that this is the most essential component of service desk knowledge base management. Too often, knowledge base management and maintenance is ad hoc and inconsistent — a recipe for long term if not short term failure.The knowledge base administrator should be an experienced and strong member of your team. He or she should know your hospital and its systems.The administrator will not necessarily enter all information into the knowledge base, but will be responsible for reviewing and vetting input, editing for clarity and accuracy, updating out-of-date material, and retiring irrelevant old items. Ultimately, the administrator is responsible for the integrity and usability of the knowledge base. Regular activity should include bringing up and discussing new and reccuring incidents in weekly team meetings. The administrator also should be included in briefings about any new or changed systems the team will be supporting, in order to anticipate potential new user issues.Once the administrator approves and finalizes new articles, he or she should notify the rest of the team, either through a “new article page” or a notification system. The administrator also serves as the go-to person for any agents with questions or concerns about the knowledge base.
  3. Organize, organize, organize. Structure an intuitive knowledge base that makes sense to your agents, and will speed up resolution time. It should provide for both key text search and intuitive browsing. Plan ahead for new categories without overdoing it and eventually deluging agents with overlapping categories or unnecessary levels of minutiae.Try to assign no more than one or two categories to each article to simplify navigation. Be consistent in providing the same level of depth to the various categories. Easy key text search is important, but be wary of overly techie terminology. Words should be user-friendly. If new terms are brought into the mix, tag them properly, and link them to definitions. This approach will ease search efforts, as well as reduce the more time consuming activity of browsing.  Browsing via clearly named categories and logical subcategories is often needed when search terms are ambiguous.
  4. Populate with good data. The primary method for acquiring useful material is through the obvious: review of ticket data gathered from end-users.The administrator should look for the following:
    • Recurring or patterns of  issues
    • Uncommon issues
    • Time-consuming problems
    • Frequently asked questions

    When agents learn something new, they should record it immediately when possible, and include where the issue occurred, what the symptoms / error messages were, how it was fixed, and possible preventions. The knowledge base administrator should verify the resolutions and record and title the material clearly. For user-friendliness basic writing conventions should be adopted, including being concise and using consistent formatting, grammar and terminology. As changes evolve over time, standardized version control will become essential.

    The administrator should consider other approaches for populating the database, such as creating a list of the problem areas that are most frequently reported, determining where IT resources are wasted on re-working these issues,  and addressing the problems in the knowledge base. Another valuable resource is proactive inquiry of users in user meetings. Sometimes, plain old one-on-one QA is invaluable. This concept also applies to getting team feedback on published answers, and encouraging fine tuning by agents as they get more experience with recurring issues.

  5. Require agents to use the knowledge base and contribute to it.  Benefiting from this problem-solving treasure trove is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition for the service desk team, and ultimately for your IT users. Agents must use it, and be held accountable for doing so. Upon hire, every new agent should receive training that is specific about knowledge base capabilities, related procedures, and benefits for the agent and the hospital’s IT users.  Don’t stop there; the service desk manager and the knowledge base administrator should regularly reinforce its value in weekly meetings. One way to do that is to ask for successful case stories from agents. Another is to incentivize agents to contribute to the knowledge base by having contests, e.g. for creating best or most innovative solutions. No one minds an occasional cake and ice cream party held in a team member’s honor.

The importance of your service desk team’s consistency and thoroughness in  ticket-tracking cannot be overstated when managing a successful knowledge base.  The same holds for the consistency and timeliness of the administrator’s maintenance. Once a knowledge base gets bogged down by an uncontrolled mix of outdated material and current solutions, your agents will lose confidence and patience with it — and eventually stop using it. Resolution times and improper escalations will increase; service will suffer. Knowledge is THE power when it comes to quickly providing the right answers to frustrated users.

There’s just one way to ensure your team and your hospital will get maximum benefits from your knowledge base.  Nurture it lovingly as a living document — or it will die.

If you’d like more tips on managing your service desk, check out our other blog posts.

If you have thought about outsourcing your service desk — letting a professional, healthcare dedicated service desk relieve you of this concern and even help you cut costs — contact us. Phoenix’s onshore service team has been dedicated to its hospital clients for nearly ten years, and every client is an enthusiastic reference.

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