When end-users send support requests on similar issues repeatedly, often we frequently find ourselves solving the same issue over and over. In the ideal environment, one should be able to share knowledge with other team members so that everyone has the same understanding and are communicating the same message when asked about specific issues. This is when a knowledge management system comes very useful in the organization, where all the known incidents and fixes, best practices of your businesses, operations and assets are documented, and are accessible at the enterprise level to all members of your team.

In SharePoint, the easiest way to have a basic knowledge base or FAQ is to build a custom SharePoint list with custom metadata (E.g., Column1 as Question, Column2 as Answer, Column3 as Category etc.). The main benefit of this approach is its simplicity and ease of setup, view, group, sort questions/answers/categories any way one like. And being a list, you can do a keyword search to find a particular question/answer.

A more advanced method to implement a Knowledge base is to use a discussion board web part, which is essentially a SharePoint list, but provides better user interface capabilities and ability to list conversations in a forum-style format. The main advantage of such approach is its open nature where others can chip in their contributions or replies to behave like a ‘social media’ site.

Limitation of SharePoint based Knowledge base

Many IT managers resort to using SharePoint to document best practices and solutions to common problems, in the form of list items as KB articles, because of the easy accessibility, search and collaborative capability. So, when a support request email is received in Outlook, support staffs would generally go to the SharePoint lists and browse or search through the tier of KB articles. If a relevant article is found, either the staff would rewrite the solution from scratch into the email or copy the contents from SharePoint site to the email reply, download attachments locally and re-attach back to emails – all in a crude and time-consuming fashion. In the midst of this, the formatting, inline images and other attachments of the particular KB article may not at all make it to the email. After putting much effort and time, you still didn’t get the complete KB article inserted into the email reply. Moreover, the frequent switching back and forth between the email client and SharePoint site tends to loosen the focus of the support staff, leaving him/her frustrated. Evidently, organizations and teams that leverage SharePoint as knowledge base would need to reinvent the wheel and implement an efficient way of importing SharePoint based article or document, to outgoing email reply.

Linking Outlook to SharePoint based Knowledge base

To exploit the sharing and collaboration features of SharePoint, there should be an easy way to make knowledge base articles from SharePoint accessible and available for insertion into email replies in Outlook without losing any formatting, content, images and attachments etc.

And this is one of the main feature of this Microsoft Outlook add-in ‘Team Knowledgebase for Outlook & SharePoint‘. This add-in enables support team to maintain a link between Outlook and SharePoint lists, in a way that you and other staffs can easily access and use KB articles stored in SharePoint in Outlook without switching back and forth between multiple applications, navigating and searching, copying and pasting contents in crude fashion.

How Does It Work?

From within Outlook, using the administrative add-in for Team Knowledgebase, manager can choose the destination SharePoint lists where KB articles are stored. This configuration would be then available in the Outlook application of each member who installs the User add-in for Team Knowledgebase. Now, you are ready to access any KB articles stored in any of the chosen SharePoint lists and insert to email replies from the comfort of your Outlook in a click.

Inserting a KB Article to a new email when composing

Your customer writes to you on a recurring issue, for which a KB article was already being available in your SharePoint. You compose a new reply in Outlook addressed to your customer. From within the compose window, you can insert a KB article directly by clicking the ‘Insert a KB’ button available in the Team KB toolbar.

Alternatively, you can select the email send by your customer in Outlook Explorer window and directly hit ‘Reply with a KB’ button.

A KB selection box (above) will pop-up where you can search matching KB articles from the chosen SharePoint lists and choose that particular KB article to insert it as file attachments (e.g., PDF attachment) or as inline content in the body of the email reply. Notice, KB articles are arranged in a tree, with each SharePoint list representing as the root node, and category and type as child nodes. KB articles are then grouped by their types and categories, making it much easier to find an appropriate one by means of the context of the issue.

To further refine the result, you can search by entering a keyword as filter. And KB articles matching that keyword(s) will be highlighted in red color. For instance, if the keyword was ‘iPod’ as filter, the entries matching ‘iPod’ are highlighted.

You can insert selected KB article in 3 ways to outgoing email:

1) Inserting chosen KB article as PDF, MSG or XPS file attachment to the email reply

Selected KB article can be applied or inserted into the replied email in varied format. You can choose to insert as attachment in the form of a word document (*.doc), Adobe PDF (*.pdf), Microsoft XPS (*.xps) or as single file MHTML (*.mht).

2) Inserting chosen KB article as inline content to the email reply

You can also embed the selected KB article directly into the body of the email reply. Any inline images and formatting are preserved in its original state in the reply also.

Notice the actual KB article item (below), along its formatting and its attachments. They all make it to the inline content that is embedded into the email (above).

3) Inserting chosen KB article as hyperlink URL into the email reply

Alternatively, if your SharePoint site is opened (i.e., accessible via the web), then you can also insert the hyperlink or URL of the selected KB article into the reply, so that the recipient can simply click the hyperlink to open the relevant article in their web browser.

Optionally, you can choose if to send the reply containing the inserted KB article directly to the recipient or display the inspector compose window, so that you can add further information such as attachments or tweak the content.

Lastly, you can customize the reply template headers that are used in the email reply from Outlook > Team KB toolbar > My Options > Reply Templates.

Generating new KB Article to SharePoint from an email

Most often, you might have already written solutions and workarounds to certain issues from your customers through email communications. Such emails in your archive could potentially be a goldmine of knowledge of your organization.

But mining such information at the time of needs can be tedious tasks for workers. They might have vague recollection of it. Another problem is navigating to such existing document libraries and past emails and searching for the right information at the moment of need often takes time and effort, not to mention the delayed response to the support request.

Instead, with Team KB Add-in, you can raise new KB articles from such emails, assign a unique ID, catalog and tag it with metadata such as category, type and other information specific to your business and store it to one of your SharePoint list where it is available for use by your knowledge workers.

Once KB articles are mined from your archived emails and documents, what you end up is a series of well documented, organized articles that can be easily referenced, searched, cataloged and shared with your support staffs.

Benefits of SharePoint Knowledge base

The good thing about a SharePoint based knowledge base system is the accessibility, not only for the staffs, but also for the end users. Over time, the knowledge base repository would have enough solutions on common problems and issues. You can exploit this wealth of knowledge, by allowing your SharePoint knowledge base site accessible on the web. Such that your end-users and customers experiencing technical challenges can self-service the answer to their problem by accessing this web-based knowledge base. They can even make use of the SharePoint inbuilt search functionality to query KB articles by keywords. This can eliminate unnecessary phone calls and allows your customers to quickly get answers to questions and maximize the use of your knowledge base.

Summary

By maintaining a seamless integration of Outlook to SharePoint knowledge base lists, this add-in makes it very easy for support staffs to search and locate a knowledge base article (from SharePoint) relevant to a customer issue from within Outlook and insert it to the outgoing email reply as PDF file attachment or embed as inline content or as hyperlink URL. All these without requiring switching back and forth between Outlook and SharePoint, thus helping your support team to reduce service response time, improve staff productivity and eliminate time wasted searching for information across disparate systems such as shared folders and paper documents.

On the cost front, as Team Knowledge-base leverages your existing Outlook and SharePoint resources, there is no extra hardware/software cost that you will have to incur in implementing an enterprise-wide knowledge base for your team. As your team members are already familiar with Outlook, there is no requirement for any elaborate training, further lowering the cost. As you have network and SharePoint administrators in place, you don’t require dedicated personnel for maintenance. And the bigger advantage, in long-term, is the reduced number of inbound customer support questions, which will reduce the amount of time it takes to respond to support issues. This can reduce the number of support engineers needed, thereby reducing costs to your support desk at the long run.

To get more info about the tool, you can visit – https://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamKnowledgebaseSP/

 

Technology is driving and transforming business every day, but the ultimate goal is all about maximizing knowledge wealth and enhancing human intelligence. And for any organization, this acquired intelligence is the single most valuable asset. When such intelligence is utilized, shared and factored in, innovation and inventions take precedent, spiraling the business and profit level of the company. Therefore, in today’s competitive world, companies take a great deal of efforts to implement an effective knowledge retention and management policy, to prepare and compete for the future. This is where, a knowledge management system or what we popularly refer to as ‘knowledge base’ can make all the differences in aiding productivity and operational skills of the people of the company.

Besides, enabling knowledge retention for future, a knowledge base system can be effectively used for addressing recurring issues reported by your end-users. Consider a scenario, where you and your support team frequently find trying to solve the same issue over and over. Your end-users send you emails on similar issues repeatedly. And if you are already aware of the solution, typically, you will try to compose the solution or if you have vague recollection of it, you would try to navigate to your existing document libraries, past email conversations etc. Just consider how much time and effort you had wasted in trying to find the right information at the moment of need, not to mention the delayed response to the support request. If there was a knowledge base system at place in the organization, you could have shared your knowledge with other team members so that everyone has the same understanding and are communicating the same message when asked about specific issues.

There are many ways of implementing knowledge management systems. One of them is using Microsoft Exchange folders such as Public Folders or shared mailbox folders as KB repositories. In most likelihood, you and your team members are already using Exchange based mailbox accounts in your Outlook, either from on-premise Exchange server or from cloud service such as Microsoft Office 365, which is becoming quite popular for small businesses. And one of the great capabilities of Exchange folder is its collaborative and sharing feature. This makes it very versatile for storing knowledge base articles, which can be shared among the staffs and personals, especially those involve in customer service.

Limitation of Knowledge base folders

Many IT managers resort to using existing emails in Inboxes and other Exchange folders to document best practices and solutions to common problems, in the form of KB articles, because of the easy accessibility and collaborative capability. So, when a support request email is received in Outlook, support staffs would generally go to these folders and browse or search through the tier of KB articles. If a relevant article is found, either the staff would rewrite the solution from scratch into the email, or copy the contents from article item to the email reply, in a crude fashion. Moreover, the frequent switching back and forth between the email and KB folders tends to loosen the focus of the support staff, leaving him/her frustrated. Evidently, organizations and teams that leverage Exchange folders as a knowledge base would need to reinvent the wheel and implement an efficient way of importing folder-based article or document, to outgoing email reply.

Link Folder based KB articles to Emails

To exploit the sharing and collaboration nature of Exchange folders, there should be an easy way to make knowledge base articles from folders accessible and available for insertion into email replies in Outlook without losing any formatting, content, images and attachments etc. And this is one of the main feature of this Microsoft Outlook add-in ‘Team Knowledgebase for Outlook‘. This add-in enables support team to maintain a link between Outlook and KB Folders, in a way that you and other staffs can easily access and use KB articles stored in folders in Outlook without switching back and forth between multiple windows, navigating and searching, copying and pasting contents in crude fashion.

How Does It Work?

From within Outlook, using the administrative add-in for Team Knowledgebase, manager can choose the Exchange folders where KB articles are stored. This configuration would be then available in the Outlook application of each member who installs the User add-in for Team Knowledgebase. Now, you are ready to access any KB articles stored in any of the chosen folder and insert to email replies from the comfort of your Outlook in a click.

Inserting a KB Article to a new email when composing

Your customer writes to you on a recurring issue, for which a KB article was already published in one of your Exchange folders. You compose a new reply in Outlook addressed to your customer. From within the compose window, you can insert a KB article directly by clicking the ‘Insert a KB’ button available in the Team KB toolbar.

Alternatively, you can select the email send by your customer in Outlook Explorer window and directly hit ‘Reply with a KB’ button.

A KB selection box (above) will pop-up where you can search matching KB articles from the chosen Exchange folders and choose that particular KB article to insert it as file attachments (e.g., PDF attachment) or as inline content in the body of the email reply. Notice, KB articles are arranged in a tree, with each folder list representing as the root node, and category and type as child nodes. KB articles are then grouped by their types and categories, making it much easier to find an appropriate one by means of the context of the issue.

To further refine the result, you can search by entering a keyword as filter. And KB articles matching that keyword(s) will be highlighted in red color. For instance, if the keyword was ‘iPod’ as filter, the entries matching ‘iPod’ are highlighted.

You can insert selected KB article in 2 ways to outgoing email:

1) Inserting chosen KB article as PDF, MSG or XPS file attachment to the email reply

Selected KB article can be applied or inserted into the replied email in varied format. You can choose to insert as attachment in the form of a word document (*.doc), Adobe PDF (*.pdf), Email MSG file (*.msg), Microsoft XPS (*.xps) or as single file MHTML (*.mht).

2) Inserting chosen KB article as inline content to the email reply

You can also embed the selected KB article directly into the body of the email reply. Any inline images and formatting are preserved in its original state in the reply also.

Notice the actual KB article item (below), along its formatting and its attachments. They all make it to the inline content that is embedded into the email (above).


Optionally, you can choose if to send the reply containing the inserted KB article directly to the recipient or display the inspector compose window, so that you can add further information such as attachments or tweak the content.

Lastly, you can customize the reply template headers that are used in the email reply from Outlook > Team KB toolbar > My Options > Reply Templates.

Generating new KB Article to Exchange folder from an email

Most often, you might have already written solutions and workarounds to certain issues from your customers through email communications. Such emails in your archive could potentially be a goldmine of knowledge of your organization.


But mining such information at the time of needs can be tedious tasks for workers. They might have vague recollection of it. Another problem is navigating to such existing document libraries and past emails and searching for the right information at the moment of need often takes time and effort, not to mention the delayed response to the support request.

Instead, with Team KB Add-in, you can raise new KB articles from such emails, assign a unique ID, catalog and tag it with metadata such as category, type and other information specific to your business and store it to an appropriate centralized folder where it is available for use by your knowledge workers.

Once KB articles are mined from your archived emails and documents, what you end up is a series of well documented, organized articles that can be easily referenced, searched, catalogued and shared with your support staffs.

Benefits of Knowledge base folders

The good thing about knowledge base folders is the accessibility, not only for the staffs, but also for the end users. Over time, the knowledge base repository would have enough solutions on common problems and issues. You can exploit this wealth of knowledge, by publishing your knowledge base articles to your company’s website. Such that your end-users and customers experiencing technical challenges can self-service the answer to their problem by accessing this web-based knowledge base. This can eliminate unnecessary phone calls and allows your customers to quickly get answers to questions and maximize the use of your knowledge base.

Summary

By maintaining a seamless integration of Outlook to knowledge base folders, this add-in makes it very easy for support staffs to search and locate a knowledge base article relevant to a customer issue from within Outlook and insert it to the outgoing email reply as PDF or MSG file attachment or embed as inline content. All these without requiring switching back and forth between multiple windows and applications, thus helping your support team to reduce service response time, improve staff productivity and eliminate time wasted searching for information across disparate systems such as shared folders and paper documents.

On the cost front, as Team KnowledgeBase leverages your existing Outlook and Exchange folder resources, there is no extra hardware/software cost that you will have to incur in implementing an enterprise-wide knowledge base for your team. As your team members are already familiar with Outlook, there is no requirement for any elaborate training, further lowering the cost. As you have network and Exchange administrators in place, you don’t require dedicated personnel for maintenance. And the bigger advantage, in long-term, is the reduced number of inbound customer support questions, which will reduce the amount of time it takes to respond to support issues. This can reduce the number of support engineers needed, thereby reducing costs to your support desk at the long run.

To get more info about the tool, you can visit – https://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamKnowledgebase/

 

It’s simple! Computers are so much engraved in today’s businesses, but in the end, the ultimate goal is all about maximizing knowledge wealth and enhancing human intelligence. And for any company, this acquired intelligence is the single most valuable asset. When such intelligence is utilized, shared and factored in, innovation and inventions take precedent, spiraling the business and profit level of the company. Therefore, in today’s competitive world, companies take a great deal of efforts to implement an effective knowledge retention and management policy, to prepare and compete for the future. This is where, a knowledge management system or what we popularly refer to as ‘knowledge base’ can make all the differences in aiding productivity and operational skills of the people of the company.

Besides, enabling knowledge retention for future, a knowledge base system can be effectively used for addressing recurring issues reported by your end-users. Consider a scenario, where you and your support team frequently find trying to solve the same issue over and over. Your end-users send you emails on similar issues repeatedly. And if you are already aware of the solution, typically, you will try to compose the solution or if you have vague recollection of it, you would try to navigate to your existing document libraries, past email conversations etc. Just consider how much time and effort you had wasted in trying to find the right information at the moment of need, not to mention the delayed response to the support request. If there was a knowledge base system at place in the organization, you could have shared your knowledge with other team members so that everyone has the same understanding and are communicating the same message when asked about specific issues.

There are many ways of implementing knowledge management systems. One of them is using Microsoft SharePoint repositories. In most cases, you might already have a SharePoint based site already running in your company’s network, or may be using one of the hosted SharePoint services, such Microsoft Office 365, which is becoming quite popular for small businesses. And we already know, one of the great capabilities of SharePoint is its collaborative and sharing feature. This makes it very versatile for storing knowledge base articles, which can be shared among the staffs and personals, especially those involve in customer service.

However, there is one crippling limitation of SharePoint based knowledge base, which is its isolation state and lack of integration with email clients such as Microsoft Outlook. This is at disadvantage for customer support team that relies on email as the primary mode of communication. Because when a support request email is received, support staff would need to refer to the SharePoint site and search for the relevant knowledge base article, and if they manage to find it, there is no direct and effective way of using that article along with its associated documents and files in the email reply. One can copy the content from the KB article to the email, however, that is time consuming and cumbersome, and often not all information and files make it to the email. So, after putting much effort and time, you still didn’t get the complete KB article inserted into the email reply. Moreover, the frequent switching back and forth between the email client and SharePoint site tends to loosen the focus of the support staff, leaving him/her frustrated. Evidently, organizations and teams that leverage SharePoint as knowledge base would need to reinvent the wheel and implement an efficient way of importing SharePoint based article or document, to outgoing email reply.

Because of such limitation in SharePoint based knowledge base system, it made me thinking on how to bridge this gap and come up with a solution that offers a seamless integration of the SharePoint based KB articles in Microsoft Outlook. The effort of this work leads to the development of an Microsoft Outlook add-in, called ‘Team KnowledgeBase for Outlook & SharePoint‘. Currently available as a beta offering, with Team KnowledgeBase installed, one can effortlessly locate a KB article (stored on SharePoint) relevant to an issue from within Outlook itself, and insert it into an outgoing email reply in a single click. All these and more making sure, the outgoing email retains all the actual files and the original formatting of the selected KB article. No more frequent switching between Outlook and SharePoint, no more copy-paste job etc. In fact, you don’t even need to type in anything into the email reply. Team KnowledgeBase add-in does that for you on the fly.

There are two portions of Team KnowledgeBase – an admin install and a user install. The former is for managers and administrators, who would perform the global configuration of the knowledge base, choose and setup SharePoint KB lists, and map fields between Outlook and SharePoint, whereas the later is for individual support staff that will be making use of the KB articles stored in one or more of the administrator chosen SharePoint lists, from Outlook. Even though KB articles are stored on your SharePoint list, every user can make use of it in Microsoft Outlook to reply to emails in a snap.

A pop-up dialog box allows you to browse through the existing knowledge base articles, and select the relevant article to be embedded either as attachment, inline or as URL into the email reply.

You can make use of a filter, to refine your search. For example, you can display the KB articles listing by specifying a problem category and/or a type. Alternative, you can also specify keywords for a full text search such that matching KB articles that meet the criteria are only displayed, for selection. Selected KB article can be applied or inserted into the replied email in varied format.

You can choose to insert as attachment in the form of a word document (*.doc), Adobe PDF (*.pdf), Microsoft XPS (*.xps) or as single file MHTML (*.mht).


You can also embed the selected KB article directly into the body of the email reply. Any inline images and formatting are preserved in its original state in the reply also.

Alternatively, if your SharePoint site is opened (i.e., accessible via the web), then you can also insert the hyperlink or URL of the selected KB article into the reply, so that the recipient can simply click the hyperlink to open the relevant article in their web browser.

The good thing about a SharePoint based knowledge base system is the accessibility, not only for the staffs, but also for the end users. Over time, the knowledge base repository would have enough solutions on common problems and issues. You can exploit this wealth of knowledge, by allowing your SharePoint knowledge base site accessible on the web. Such that your end-users and customers experiencing technical challenges can self-service the answer to their problem by accessing this web-based knowledge base. They can even make use of the SharePoint inbuilt search functionality to query KB articles by keywords. This can eliminate unnecessary phone calls and allows your customers to quickly get answers to questions and maximize the use of your knowledge base.

On the cost front, as Team KnowledgeBase leverages your existing Outlook and SharePoint resources, there is no extra hardware/software cost that you will have to incur in implementing an enterprise-wide knowledge base for your team. As your team members are already familiar with Outlook, there is no requirement for any elaborate training, further lowering the cost. As you have network and SharePoint administrators in place, you don’t require dedicated personnel for maintenance. And the bigger advantage, in long-term, is the reduced number of inbound customer support questions, which will reduce the amount of time it takes to respond to support issues. This can reduce the number of support engineers needed, thereby reducing costs to your support desk at the long run.

Product Summary:
Name: Team KnowledgeBase for Outlook and SharePoint
Product site: http://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamKnowledgeBaseSP/

Video: Administrative Configuration


Video: Using KB articles to reply to emails in Outlook

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