To Use KBs for Employee Self-Help or Not. When is a Paradigm Shift Required?

By Criss Marshall • April 25, 2019

A paradigm shift is defined as an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way—because the original way wasn’t working. However, people and systems resist change, so paradigm shifts can take a very long time . . . unless the change benefits the users themselves.

That’s what we are finding with the use of knowledge base articles (KBs) for employee self-service. Portals with KBs have been the standard self-service tool for over 10 years. However, when it comes to employee adoption of these self-help tools, research firm Intellyx estimates an average of less than 10%. Further, most estimate that less than 1% of service requests are deflected by an employee reading a KB.

Why are some vendors promoting KBs when employees won’t adopt them?

What happens when KBs don’t provide what employees are looking for? According to the Pulse Report on the State of IT Service Management Tool Strategies, 56% of employees find it easier to call or email the help desk than to use their existing ITSM tools (i.e., portals and KBs). And Gartner reports that, “nearly half of contacts made to the IT service desk take place over the phone, and nearly one-third take place over free-form email for the 73% of IT service desks that use it.”1 Those statistics alone provide a strong business case for a paradigm shift away from existing self-help approaches, but many enterprises are still unsure which alternative to pursue.

Unfortunately, some vendors are furthering this confusion by creating AI-based solutions that rely solely on leveraging existing KBs, rather than using AI-based technology to create a better experience. These vendors have released searchbots that learn by ingesting KBs. Searchbots provide a different front end that assists with the KB search, typically by being accessed via a collaboration tool such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. These vendors claim 100% adoption because they claim 100% of employees are using these collaboration tools. However, while your employees may be using Slack or Microsoft Teams, they are not using them to create tickets with the help desk. Despite collaboration tools, the above email and phone statistics hold—employees continue to reach out directly to the help desk for assistance.

Is the issue with the KBs or the overall employee experience?

Most searchbots deliver a very similar experience to today’s self-help tools. An employee asks a question or expresses an issue, and the searchbot delivers a number of KB links. The employee still needs to read every document presented and self-diagnose the issue. Although searchbots use machine learning to reduce the number of articles presented, I would argue that anything beyond one article is too many and recreates the existing poor self-help experience.

Searchbots typically work by ingesting existing KBs to create a “language model” that is used for matching purposes. However, KBs use very specific words to represent a given topic rather than using a variety of similar words to represent the topic. That means the searchbot’s understanding will be narrow. Here is an example:

  1. Searchbot ingests a KB article about “guest wifi”
  2. Employee asks, “Can my visitor have guest access?”
  3. Because the employee did not say “guest wifi” the chatbot serves a KB on visitor badges

This means your employees need to learn a new language in order to interact with the searchbot. Also, in a scenario like this, the searchbot will typically create a ticket on behalf of the employee. However, the employee must then shift to a different medium to interact with a live help desk agent (e.g., email, phone, separate slack channel). Doing so simply educates the employee there is a shortcut to get help, which leads to poor adoption.

What is the paradigm shift that would solve the self-help problem?

Today’s consumer mentality around increasingly personalized service and instant gratification has bled into the workplace. Employees are refusing to use traditional tools to get help at work when they have Alexa-like ease of use and immediacy at home.

Espressive Barista is an AI-based virtual support agent that redefines how employees get help. Barista provides employees with immediate, personalized answers to their questions, plus help resolving issues and completing tasks like password resets, vacation requests, distribution list management, etc. The Barista Employee Language Cloud (ELC) understands over 15 million phrases across 4 thousand topics out of the box and growing, so Barista speaks the language of your employees.  When Barista does not know an answer, a help desk agent is brought into the conversation. This immersive service experience is crucial to ensure employee requests are taken care of, which in turn keeps them coming back.

This exceptional experience is not limited to employees, but also your help desk agents. Most help desk agents are buried in tickets and rarely have the luxury of time to create new KBs. Barista understands this, which is why Barista learns as agents do what they do every day — resolve tickets. In short, Barista gets smarter while allowing the help desk agents to work as they always have.

But you want to leverage your KBs? Then do it—but in a way that gives you the best of both worlds.

All of this sounds great, but you already have content in KBs and may be worried about the level of effort in training Barista. The great news is Barista can ingest your existing KBs without sacrificing what is most important for all of us at Espressive—the employee experience.

With Barista you can have the best of both worlds. Unlike searchbots, Barista does not rely on the limited language in KBs. Barista easily ingests KBs and then maps them back to the Employee Language Cloud. That way Barista understands all possible permutations of an employee phrase for every KB. In other words, Barista relies on KBs to learn the answer—which is what most customers would expect.

Not only that, when an employee asks a question, in addition to understanding the context of KBs, Barista uses the Employee Language Cloud to understand the context of the question. If Barista has a KB with the answer, Barista provides only that single KB.  And just as important, if the employee requires additional assistance, they can ask Barista to bring a live human into the conversation – all part of the immersive Barista employee self-service experience.

Don’t let vendors use AI to keep you focused on the past. Use AI to achieve digital transformation of your enterprise.

1Gartner, “3 Simple Ways IT Service Desks Should Handle Incidents and Requests,” Chris Matchett, March 5, 2018.

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