In our interconnected world, almost every piece of knowledge is just a few keystrokes (or mouse clicks) away. In theory, your employees should be able to find anything they need to get their job done in a matter of seconds.
They should, in theory.
In reality, collective company knowledge is often scattered. Half of the knowledge workers have trouble locating the documents they need, and the average employee spends up to 5.3 hours per week waiting for assistance or insights from coworkers.
These delays are no surprise, considering that email is the most commonly used method for knowledge sharing. Good luck finding the email that contains a file called 45524842.zip and has no subject or text.
Per this calculator and the accompanying report, the average U.S. company loses $47 million a year, while a startup with ten employees loses about $50,000. All due to inefficient knowledge sharing.
But it's not just money that's at stake.
Employee turnover is notoriously high these days, and it can be extremely damaging to startups. What happens if your only marketing person leaves? How much time will it take to figure out what they did and how they did it?
Knowledge management (KM) can help you save both money and time. Even better, it can help you step ahead of the competition.
How Knowledge Management Gives Your Startup a Competitive Advantage
In the words of Arie de Geus, founder of Royal Dutch Shell (the fifth-largest company in the world),
"The only long-term sustainable competitive advantage is to learn faster than your competitors."
Case in point, here are the specific competitive advantages your startup can develop through effective knowledge management:
- Higher employee productivity. Employees at companies that stimulate workplace learning are 37% more productive.
- Higher business value. Again, when workplace learning is a priority, employees have a 26% better track record of delivering quality products or services.
- Faster issue resolution. By providing just-in-time knowledge to employees and customers, companies can reduce issue resolution time by 20 to 80 percent.
- Lower support costs. A business can reduce its customer support costs by 25% or more with a proper knowledge management discipline.
- Better talent retention. According to Jenny Dearborn, the chief learning officer at SAP, companies that invest in creating strong learning cultures are more productive, innovative, and profitable. They also attract more talent and retain them longer.
- Innovation. According to Darroch, (2005), companies that have well-developed knowledge management practices are more likely to innovate.
So, how can you implement knowledge management?
Knowledge Management Solutions and Systems
Any piece of software that makes it easy to store, organize, and find information can be a knowledge management solution. A few examples include wikis, knowledge base tools, and internal chat tools.
Now, let's take this a step further. Suppose that you already have three KM solutions in place—a knowledge base, a live chat tool, and a ticketing system.
What if you integrated these stand-alone systems into one?
You'd be able to transform ticket replies into knowledge base articles. You'd be able to pull articles directly from your live chat tool. You'd be able to continue a chat conversation over email.
That's a tiny glimpse at what a knowledge management system (KMS) can do. Unlike a KM solution, a KM system is one centralized location to store and retrieve knowledge, locate resources, collaborate and automate business processes.
How to Make Use of Knowledge Management at Your Startup
Nowadays, customers prefer to use a self-service portal instead of speaking to a company representative. So, it's a good idea to create a self-service knowledge base with enough supporting content to pre-answer the most common customer questions. By the way, to decide which topics to write on, just look at your support tickets.
A self-service portal with FAQs
Speaking of questions, customers now use multiple channels to request support—social media, web, mobile, etc. The problem is, they get frustrated when they have to explain their issue over and over again. So, when shopping for KM tools or a full-blown KM system, choose a solution that integrates all of your customer support channels into one.
Finally, keep an eye on the stats your KM tools provide. Make sure to follow up with each customer and ask if they are happy with your product or service. Studies show that customers form a positive image of the company when customer representatives are proactive.
Geckoboard, a UK-based SaaS company, had to hire a remote customer service team to cater to the needs of customers in the USA. To ensure their distributed team could resolve issues quickly, they used the following KM tools:
- Help Center: To reduce support load
- Developer Community: For developers who are building Geckoboard integrations
- Social Support Tools: To make it easier for customers to reach them
- Chat: Targeted messages both in-app and on their site to provide a better experience during the free trial
Marketing content can be used throughout your sales process, e.g., a case study can help convert a lead into a customer. To make it easier to repurpose content, you can create an internal knowledge base or a wiki that contains your case studies, brochures, white papers, and other marketing collateral.
Internal knowledge base
Even in 2019, more than half of salespeople still learn on the job, directly from their peers. Unfortunately, this kind of 1:1 training isn't scalable. So, how can KM help you solve the problem? Document your process so you can easily hire new salespeople and grow your business. You can set up an eLearning system or a knowledge base with step-by-step tutorials.
Mars Inc. uses a knowledge management system to allow marketing and sales to share lessons learned, tips, and best practices. As soon as a project is over, the company conducts a series of interviews to capture knowledge. The results include:
- A series of booklets containing top tips and advice;
- A website and a wiki containing detailed information, templates, examples, etc.;
- A series of modular training courses.
Back in 2011, Netflix lost 80,000 subscribers because it failed to listen to its customers. To avoid making such expensive mistakes, it's best to use customer feedback to inform your product development. Depending on the capabilities of the KM tools you use, you can gather feedback in different ways, e.g., send a satisfaction survey or create polls and ask customers to vote on new features.
Feature requests + voting
Another way to improve product development and reduce firefighting is to create a knowledge-sharing culture. Of course, a culture shift is easier said than done. You can encourage knowledge sharing through incentives, e.g., reward the people that published the most highly rated articles in your internal knowledge base.
Airbnb's Data Team uses an internal blog/knowledge base to scale the ability to make data-driven decisions. Employees publish their code together with a short description, which enables their peers to review, propose improvements, and advise on best practices. This helped the data team speed up onboarding and made it possible for other teams to learn about data science.
Onboarding is key to employee retention. So, how can you make it a great experience? Simply focus on how you want the employee to feel in the end. In terms of KM tools, there are no limitations. You can use an eLearning system where new hires can watch training courses or an internal forum where they can ask questions. You can even use VR headsets to recreate real-life experiences.
Some companies, like Walmart, have started using VR headsets for employee onboarding (Image source)
Considering that modern employees spend 25% of their time learning from peers, it might also be a good idea to promote social learning. You can use an internal social media site, a private chat tool, and video conferencing tools.
Percolate, an enterprise content marketing platform uses several KM tools to engage new hires. The process starts with a simple document called "Day One @ Percolate," which points to onboarding resources like the company's internal wiki, a vocabulary of domestic terms, and an employee manual.
Employees spend 1/5th of their workweek searching for information. How can you help them find the resources they need as quickly as possible? For data that doesn't change often, you can use a knowledge base, e.g., the description of your sales process. For information that expires fast, you can use an internal blog where each team can post the latest updates, e.g., HR can announce this year's official holidays.
Besides saving time, KM solutions and practices can also aid in decision making. To avoid making decisions on a gut feeling, business leaders can establish a routine to share lessons learned, e.g., After every important activity, event or project, they can review assignments, discuss successes and failures, and identify ways to perform better.
GE's Corporate Executive Council (CEC) conducts two-day sessions where the executives of GE's major businesses share best practices, successes, failures, and their vision for the future. The shared knowledge is used to make more informed business decisions.
Employees today spend a significant part of their time looking for information and waiting for information. Not only does knowledge management solve this problem, but it also helps you gain a competitive edge in just about any area of business—from sales to product development, to decision making.
There are various KM solutions on the market, including knowledge base software, live chat tools, eLearning platforms. It's important to note that a KM solution usually functions in its own silo. A KM system integrates all of your KM solutions, enabling you to manage them from a single dashboard.