What does it take to make knowledge a real priority within an organization? To find out, I sat down with Laura Teichmiller, Knowledge Systems Manager at SimplePractice, to hear how she identified the importance of knowledge and set about creating a knowledge-centric culture internally. Watch a recording of our conversation below or keep reading for key takeaways.
Pre-knowledge culture context
How did you identify an opportunity for knowledge optimization?
As I became more familiar with our company and our customer base, my teammates and I started identifying what seemed to be countless processes and resources that needed to be either created or seriously updated. Oftentimes, we came across these needs when we were working in-the-moment to help customers on emails, calls, or webinars. It wasn’t a good feeling not being able to easily find the information needed to help customers on calls or webinars, so I devoted any time I possibly could to improving our documentation.
During my second full month with SimplePractice, I created the process for and led an audit of our Help Center where everyone in CS pitched in on updating resources and identifying gaps, and this also led to big improvements in our internal documentation in Guru as well.
Where do you go from there?
I kept working to learn everything I could about SimplePractice and the health and wellness professionals we serve, and I actively dug into the different software at our disposal. I wasn’t afraid to try out or adjust different workflows, I spoke with colleagues across our different teams to better understand their needs, and I continued to add to our knowledge base as much as I could.
Operating in the healthcare space, how crucial is trusted information for your company?
It’s incredibly crucial – in the health and wellness space there are state, national, and international laws and regulations that we must always be acutely aware of and properly trained on to help our customers meet their compliance requirements. The stakes are very high for our customers, and we do everything we can to give them the tools they need to successfully and confidently manage their businesses under the unique regulations that govern them.
Our customers must always know that they can trust us to maintain the integrity of their data, and that we operate with compliance top of mind. Each interaction they have with our platform and with our team is an opportunity to build and maintain that critical trust, and we absolutely have to make sure that we address each of these opportunities with the care, attention, and confidence that we’re doing everything possible to help our customers.
We know we can address each customer in the ways they deserve because we actively use Guru. We use it to keep track of the most up-to-date information we have around these different laws and regulations, to house our security training materials, to document clear examples about how to address different situations, and to record guidance and next steps to offer customers based on their individual needs. Being able to update, verify, and share that information with our team quickly is critical, and Guru makes it easy to confidently stay on top of this knowledge.
What does your tech stack at SimplePractice look like?
While our tech stack is pretty substantial, we use Zendesk to effectively manage email and chat correspondence with customers as well as to house our ever-expanding external knowledge base; Solvvy’s AI to increase the rate at which customers self-serve; Asana for project and task management; Gmail and Slack for internal communications; and of course Guru to house our rapidly growing internal knowledge base.
So what was the impetus that made you decide to take action?
Last year we were actually looking to hire someone to manage our knowledge center and Guru account full time, but we were having some trouble finding someone who was the right fit and who could also quickly learn our product and be up-to-speed creating resources.
That’s when I decided I wanted to own our knowledge full time – my thinking was, “Why are we waiting around on this? It’s too important.” I knew I could do this and do it well.
So why knowledge?
We had a wealth of knowledge and resources spread across quite a few people in our company, but we were always having to tap shoulders to get that information or sometimes we would even have to do winding investigations to figure things out ourselves over and over again – this took up so much unnecessary time. I wanted to give back that time to our team and ultimately to our customers.
How did you go about making knowledge a priority all the way up to the C-level?
When I started as a Product Specialist, I kept building our documentation while at the same time politely annoying my team and superiors to make knowledge a priority. I made it clear that the more knowledge we build up, the quicker we’ll be able to help our customers and save them valuable time. I worked to get buy-ins from other teams in our company and thoughtfully worked to show them how significant an impact this would have.
No one at our company wants customers to have to spend too much time in our product, or even with our resources. We want them to be able to get what they need quickly so they can do the important work of tending to their clients. I was able to demonstrate pointedly that Guru allows this internal knowledge base to be possible.
I started my campaign to manage our knowledge bases with a presentation showing all of the knowledge initiatives that I wanted to launch, and making it clear that I knew how vital this function would be for our team and our customers. With careful planning, data reporting, and thoughtful conversations, I was able to show my team that I’m capable of taking on these responsibilities.
SimplePractice has grown a lot since you started. How do you recommend organizations scale their knowledge initiatives as they grow?
As with working to scale any initiative, you want to carefully chart your course. If you don’t know where you’re headed, you can wind up off track or even in the weeds. It’s important to identify both short-term and long-term key goals, milestones, and metrics to make sure you’re always headed where you want to go.
The key goals I identified for both internal and external knowledge management at the onset were to:
- Establish and document a protocol to regularly audit content for relevance and accuracy
- Reduce zero results search strings to less than 3%
- Increase customer self-service to 50%
- Ensure a 5-10% increase in monthly new content additions
- Increase our Help Center and Guru usage initially by 30% for both internal teams and our customers, and to decrease our ticket volume by 15%
You should absolutely use the data you have on-hand to plan and to measure its success along the way.
How do you think about the work you do to empower your internal teams with knowledge? At Guru, we describe this role as “revenue empowerment." Do you subscribe to that model in that you’re empowering your revenue teams with the knowledge they need to drive revenue?
Definitely – we’ve heard since we were little that knowledge is power, right? Not only do I see how true that is, but I also see that easily accessible knowledge = happiness. Because of how seamlessly our teams can operate thanks to Guru, we regularly hear through our Facebook community, NPS, and customer satisfaction metrics (CSAT) how much our customers love and appreciate the different ways we provide them with support.
They also regularly cite the helpfulness of our resources and that they enjoy being able to get the help they need quickly through any avenue they choose. Happy customers who have their needs not just met but also surpassed, are customers who will stick with you and get the word out to their network about your company.
So what did it take to effectively roll out a knowledge management system, specifically Guru? First with one team then across the entire organization?
First, it took actively digging into all of the great features Guru has to offer and thinking deeply about how we could best leverage them to meet our team’s needs to drive the impact we knew we wanted to see for our customers. Once we had a firm grasp, scheduling time to reevaluate our workflow, dig into our data, and to get feedback from our CS team was crucial to continuing to strive to meet our goals for knowledge documentation.
I worked through the best processes for documenting knowledge and cataloging our information with our CS team so we had a solid process in place. That also led me to create a style guide for both our internal and external knowledge bases because I became more and more aware that it’s not just important to have the right knowledge documented, but also to carefully document it in a way that’s most actionable across all teams.
We knew that we wanted the whole company to be able to take advantage of Guru, and once I had established a process that worked well for our CS team, we set a Q4 goal of rolling out Guru to 100% of our company.
Each team established a point person for collaborating with me to document their knowledge. I had meetings with them to determine how Guru would be most useful to them and we worked together to create collections, boards, and cards to meet their unique needs. We celebrated documentation milestones in our All Hands meetings each Friday and before the end of Q4 2018, we had successfully rolled it out to the entire company.
We now have over 400 pieces of knowledge in Guru. I do my best to keep the trust score at 100%, and the worst I’ll let it dip to is 97%. We’re getting to a point where we don’t need to rely on just one person to know a certain thing, because everything is in Guru.
Why is it important to give every team access to unified and verified knowledge?
To function like a well-oiled machine, you have to be able to supply your machine with the oil it needs. In this case, knowledge is that oil. Every team needs to be able to find the answers to the questions that impact their daily work to smoothly keep driving the team’s success, our partners’ success, and our customers’ success.
Each team needs to also feel comfortable reaching out for verification or to ask clarifying questions – establishing a culture where open communication and asking questions is valued from each person in your organization is critical. This is because often we learn even better ways to document or present information because of different team members' questions.
What does your day-to-day look like as a Knowledge Systems Manager?
Each day is completely different and it requires a lot of flexibility along with the ability to stay focused on our mission of positively impacting our customers, and there’s never a dull moment in my role.
At any given time you can find me collaborating with team members across the company working to understand how to best document processes or information in Guru, creating Help Center articles to better empower customers to self-serve, or providing guidance on legal or compliance matters. I also manage and train our AI, manage our Zendesk account and create more efficient workflows in it. Additionally, I work with our Product and Engineering teams to build the most user-friendly features and enhancements our customers need, consult on sensitive customer requests, determine the most meaningful messaging to customers around a new feature or enhancement, or you can find me designing or consulting on a new process to increase our company’s efficiency.
Obviously, I’m constantly busy, but it’s incredibly fulfilling work.
What gets you excited?
I feel like I constantly live in a state of excitement. I’m excited about all of the great work that my team and I have already done since I started and about how much great work is still ahead of us that I know we can accomplish together; I’m excited about the fact that I’m always excited to go to work and see my coworkers; I’m excited to see and hear about how our efforts are not only positively impacting our customers but also their clients, I’m excited about learning and growing. I didn’t think it was possible to be so happy as an adult or to be so happy with a career, but I’ve never been more excited to be wrong.
How has knowledge management impacted the following:
Customer satisfaction? CSAT has climbed 17% higher to 96%.
External NPS? It’s dipped a little recently to 50. We view NPS as a shared metric at our company, and customers of course can share the reasons for their rating. While our CS team’s NPS-related ratings have never been higher, we do know that our customers want to see certain additions to our platform. Thanks to the important feedback we’ve been getting from our customers through NPS, we’re better informed about which features and enhancements we most need to prioritize building.
Ticket handling? Since January, the median ticket handling time has decreased almost 3 full minutes (13 minutes to now just 10).
First resolution time? For tickets, it’s actually increased because the questions that are coming through from customers are harder – these are the ones they can’t self-serve and they often require some degree of investigation on our end. 46% of customer requests are self-served and 52% of our chats are fully served in less than 9 minutes.
Customer-based growth (number of customers)? 15k to more than 30k.
SimplePractice also measures NPS internally. How does knowledge management play a role in internal satisfaction?
We do measure NPS internally. Knowledge is part of our culture because we know how incredibly important it is for everyone to have the information they need to be able to perform at the high level that our customers expect. We couldn’t perform our jobs well if we didn’t have the knowledge and resources needed. I regularly receive feedback from teammates about not only the quality of our knowledge documentation, but also about how much happier and less stressed it makes them knowing that they can easily access answers to their questions in real time.
How do you think about empowering your internal customers with knowledge?
Investing in empowering your revenue teams with knowledge is an investment in your whole company.
You’re laying the foundation for decreasing turnover rates and churn rates, and you’re increasing satisfaction, trust, and loyalty from your teams and from your customers.
How do you think about knowledge in terms of internal- and external-facing information?
I like to think of internal knowledge as capturing information that’s only relevant to our teams here at SimplePractice or capturing nuances of our product. External-facing knowledge should be information that can pointedly help customers self-serve.
How does an effective knowledge management strategy impact your customers?
Our customers are getting targeted individualized support from our teams through the contact method of their choosing – email, chat, webinars, Facebook, our Community Forum, 1-1 onboarding, and phone or video calls. This saves them so much time because they’re not only able to get the answer they needed in that moment, but because our knowledge documentation is so strong, our team is often able to even provide customers with information that answers questions they haven’t thought of yet, but that they definitely would have later. Any time we can give back to our customers is more time they have to grow their businesses and do the important work of serving their clients.
How has knowledge become a part of your culture at SimplePractice?
Knowledge is practically part of every minute of every day at SimplePractice.
We use Guru to document all of our processes, what we use different tools for, and how we collaborate with one another. All of our knowledge lives in or is linked to Guru: things like our employee handbook, the nuances of our product that don’t necessarily belong in the Help Center, and anything else that may not be a day-to-day thing for every employee, such as the process for submitting an expense report. All of the things we need for our company to operate should either live in Guru or be linked through Guru.
It saves us time to be able to access any knowledge we may need without having to interrupt another team member with questions, or to have to pause and think “where do I go to figure this out?" or “who would know this?” – we’re more satisfied with our daily work because so much of the stress of having the phrase “I don’t know” cross our minds is removed – instead, we’re thinking “Hmm, I bet this is in Guru,” without having to skip a beat.
How can people go about implementing a knowledge-centric culture?
The best way to go about making knowledge documentation a part of your culture is to devote time to learning how to best implement this for your unique team. I devoted hours to creating a multi-page vision and roll out plan for knowledge documentation at SimplePractice. I wanted to make sure I fully considered how knowledge can directly impact each team and benefit our customers.
I started out with simple questions to drive my vision and planning, and I recommend using them to drive any change management strategy. The questions I used were:
- Why is this needed?
- What will be involved?
- What is the anticipated impact on and lift needed from each team?
- How will this happen?
- Who will drive this?
Planing for buy-ins, for your vision, for how to leave room to scale, and for your launch is key to making sure this process is sticky for your company. Get comfortable knowing that you and your process will need to grow and change to adapt and scale, that you'll need to work to build relationships with your teammates and your customers because they’re your biggest assets, that you'll need to familiarize yourself with tools that can help you reach your goals, and you'll also need to evaluate how you can best leverage them to empower your revenue teams and ultimately your customers.
When implementing change management that involves a new tool, how do you work with the vendor to make sure the launch goes well?
You of course want to reach out and ask questions, so with Guru in particular, I really love having the ability to chat with someone. Anytime I'm not sure exactly what to do in Guru, or I know there's something I want to accomplish but I don't know the best way to do it, I can quickly hop on a chat and just ask. It's really nice that that feature is there at my fingertips and I can quickly get answers to my questions.
Being able to devote time to dig into what the vendor has to offer is also crucial. There are so many ways in which Guru could be implemented in our workflow, so engaging with the vendor to make sure you get what you need is very important.
In terms of adoption, do you incentivize people to add knowledge?
One of our Q4 goals for our company was to launch Guru to 100% of our organization, so every Friday during that quarter I would shout out people who worked especially hard to get knowledge into Guru. So yes, we do give people shout outs for being good knowledge users, but we also understand that this is part of our jobs. This question referenced using financial incentives for knowledge documentation, but we haven't needed to resort to that because it's understood that documenting knowledge is just part of what we have to do effectively serve our customers.
How do you handle balancing content on your internal and external knowledge bases? Does all content need to be approved or reviewed prior to being posted and if so, by whom?
Typically if there’s something that needs updating on our external knowledge base, there’s also corresponding information that needs adding to our internal knowledge base. They both are important, and you have to make sure to think through what customers need and what your team needs on everything that passes across your desk. Building out a process that you can put in a template can be incredibly helpful with this – basically, a simple checklist for making sure you’ve covered all the necessary bases.
At SimplePractice, all content does have to be reviewed and approved by me before being made available and announced to our company. I will share that the style guide and the training I created and gave to our company has made this process so much faster - when people understand clearly what you’re expectations are, they’re willing to work with you to meet them.