Reference vs. Resolution
Some KCS articles directly answer a question or solve a problem—they’re resolutions. Other articles are simply helpful—they’re references. Close most of your cases (or tickets or incidents) with resolutions.
This seems commonsensical, because the KCS Solve Loop is all about reusing or creating articles based on the specifics of the case. These case-specific articles must be resolutions. So why are we even talking about this?
One of the activities that we do together in our Knowledge Domain Analysis (KDA) Workshop is to examine the most-used articles in the knowledge base. As they’re doing this analysis, our clients are always surprised at how many of the most reused articles are references. In a recent analysis, we had to get past the eighth-most-used article before we found a single resolution.
This is a problem.
- Resolution articles tell the engineer and the customer exactly what to do. References don’t.
- Resolution articles tell the organization exactly what product or service improvements would have the greatest impact. References don’t.
- Resolution articles are valuable to share with customers. References aren’t nearly so.
Reference articles can be useful; it’s just that their primary value is in helping people get to the right resolution article.
No matter what, there will always be cases closed with reference articles. For example, if the real problem lies with a different vendor, you literally can’t deliver a resolution. Just ensure that resolutions are the usual case, and the references are the exceptions.
How To Shift the Balance Towards Resolutions
If you also find you’re closing lots of cases with reference articles, here are some actions that will help get you back on track.
- Are people linking to good KCS Evolve Loop references? Examples include Hub Articles and Resolution Flows that lead you through a process to navigate to the right resolution. If so, it’s fine to link to them, but coach your solve loopers that it’s more important to link the resolution they were guided to.
- Are people creating vague or unspecific articles in the Solve Loop? We frequently see articles that basically say, “Try this…didn’t help? How ‘bout this…no? Hmm…maybe this?” Your contributors and publishers should create Solve Loop articles about one cause and one resolution, not a collection of alternative approaches that might or might not work in various circumstances.
- Are people writing pseudo documentation? Documentation is wonderful, but it serves a different purpose from the knowledge base. If you see articles that explain a broad swath of functionality, or provide an overview of product capabilities, remind people to leave that to the technical communicators. They should focus on the cases they’re actually solving.
- Are there goals on link rates? In many cases, people link to references because managers focusing on the quantity of links, not their quality. And it simply takes less thought to link to a reference article. One client had several teams that were obsessed with link rates, and in those teams, the most linked article provided directions for downloading product documentation. That is perhaps the least informative reference article possible.
- Are your coaching and licensing programs effective? If the Solve Loop isn’t working as it should, coaches are your greatest assets. They need to ensure that people know how and why to drive to resolution before they’re licensed. The Process Adherence Review (PAR) is a great way to spark helpful coaching conversations about the importance of resolutions.
Advanced Techniques for Reference and Resolution
A few of our clients use methods recommended by the Consortium for Service Innovation to increase the number of resolutions. One method is to identify each article in the KB as a reference or resolution. Another is to classify each link from a case to an article as a reference or resolution link. This method provides more precise data, because the same article might be a reference or a resolution depending on the context of the case.
Doing this enables straightforward reporting of the split between reference links and resolution links. Also, it forces solve loopers to make more explicit decisions about the articles they link. This will help drive better outcomes.
Unfortunately, neither of these techniques is available out-of-the-box in any of the tools we’re aware of—please hit us up in the comments if we’re wrong. And they require at least an additional click. But our clients’ experience is that, to drive to resolution, it’s an investment worth making.
A note of gratitude: a number of these ideas, including the title of this post, were inspired by discussions with our KCS and Consortium colleague Ryan Mathews. Thanks, Ryan!