Internal communication: TSEs + R&D engineers case study

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Generally speaking, efficient internal communication is as crucial as it is difficult to achieve. But it is maybe even more true for the particular situation of support engineers communicating with the R&D team. This communication is a central aspect in most of the companies, since nowadays practically “every company is a software company”.

As a knowledge sharing solution software vendor, we’ve seen this challenging use case over and over again among our customers. We’ve discussed with them, understood the limitations of their current practices, and worked with them to improve the situation. We’d like to share with you some of the insights we gained in the process. Here are some of tools we frequently saw our customers using for addressing the communication between R&D and support teams (alone or in combination).

Task management tool

Under this scenario, TSEs (technical support engineers) are creating tasks corresponding to their questions, on multiple subjects: installation gimmicks, errors, configurations, etc.

R&D engineers are periodically sorting on-going tasks, the main priority being, as far as the support team – submitted tasks, the bugs. When bug fixing workload is at maximum capacity (as it is often the case), the questions-tasks from TSEs are rescheduled for the following cycle.

Drawbacks

  • Large amount of time needed for the TSE to get answers (sometimes months!);
  • Lack of motivation from R&D engineers to answer questions/tasks. As project management tools usually measures the workload as a productivity metric, “small-load” tasks like the questions are not as valuable for the users;
  • Restricted audience. Consultants sometimes need help with the same questions, but they typically don’t have access to the tool.

CRM knowledge sharing module

Some companies are using knowledge sharing modules available as plug-ins in their CRM product, with TSEs creating knowledge articles for questions that are somehow internally answered. It seems to make sense at a first glance, since a lot of business information of a company is found in its CRM.

Drawbacks

  • The biggest issue is precisely that it’s a business-oriented tool, not a natural and efficient environment for technical people. Very time consuming for them, with too many standards to follow;
  • Not addressing the need of collecting the answer in the first place;
  • CRM activity perceived as optional by technical people.

Enterprise chat

Another solution tried by companies who want to streamline the internal communication is the chat. An evolution from other solutions, it still has limitations as far as knowledge capitalizing is concerned.

A common approach is to create a channel structure that mimics the company’s product management organization: one channel per product, for instance. Someone having a question related to a specific product gets on the channel of their interest, and asks for help. The channels are usually open to everyone which is a good thing as it avoids the silos.

Drawbacks

  • Chat activity is hard to measure and to enforce;
  • Channels can become very noisy;
  • But most of all: the chat format has very poor discoverability of past content. A question may well have been answered before, users will ask it again by lack of easy finding options.

Internal forum

Some companies are using forums, used by both employees and customers or partners, to provide product support to their community. As people knowledgeable and experienced in company products, TSEs are usually encouraged by their managers to send questions to this forum. Moreover, they are often also the ones managing the forum, taking turns as admins.

The posts being available for a larger audience including the customers, this solution has the advantage of removing the need for some support tickets, since answers are readily available. But…

Drawbacks

  • The open-to-customers nature of this solution is also a disadvantage. Internal communication involves a lot of proprietary or confidential information.
  • Again, there’s an issue related to people’s incentive to spend time on this activity. Usually forums don’t provide clear metrics and KPIs to include in people’s productivity measurements. We’ve heard stories of managers going manually through hundreds of questions at a time to understand the team’s contribution. Not a sustainable solution, for sure.

Our proposed solution using Quandora Question & Answer

We believe all the above tools are very valuable in the landscape of the internal tools stack. They all have a different purpose they serve well. Just the same, Quandora has its main purpose, reason of being if you will, which is to facilitate getting answers fast within the company, and capitalize on those answers on longer term.

Actually, Quandora is successfully used together with any of those products. Depending on the company’s size, organization, industry and culture, it can either replace one or some of them, or complement them.

Quandora enables teams and companies to ask questions, get answers, and share knowledge in an efficient, secure and pleasant way. The questions and answers posted over time form a living knowledge base that’s searchable and accessible by any user, any time. Quandora is particularly easy to access thanks to tens of integrations with popular Enterprise tools: Slack, Google Apps, SalesForce, Yammer, ActiveDirectory, SAML2/OAuth, among others. Slack users, for instance, can post and access Quandora questions from Slack, and they can choose to be notified about new questions or answers from their area of interest.

Main benefits

  • Allows users to get answers fast, even when they don’t know whom to ask;
    -> versus: wait for months to hear from very busy and unmotivated people
  • Saves people’s time by letting them answer to the whole team instead of one-to-one, and capture the answers in a findable way
    -> versus: discussions on chat that get lost, even when posted on collective channels
  • Allows personalized following of users and topics of interest;
    -> versus: noisy chat channels or mailing list threads
  • Automatically qualify content’s relevancy through user ratings;
    -> versus: high maintenance knowledge bases (CRM, wiki…)
  • Offers a self-learning, centralized, searchable, integrated knowledge source for every day use;
    -> versus: having to access many different sources, potentially poorly searchable, to get answers
  • Provides clear, structured and importable metrics regarding user’s activity
    -> versus: manual evaluation of people’s contribution to the knowledge sharing.

We want to learn from you

Are you part of a technical support team or an R&D one? Have some best practices to share or unpleasant experiences when communicating within your own team or with other departments? Let us know your point of view on the matter – tweet us at @QuandoraQA or just feel free to email me at viviana@quandora.com.

Happy Knowledge Sharing!

Looking for a great way to ask questions and build knowledge with your co-workers? Quandora enables simple, efficient knowledge sharing with your team, way more fun than a mailing list or a forum.

Try Quandora

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