Serving Customers Better with the Knowledgebase

Ring, ring, goes the telephone, its shrill twang bouncing off the basement walls of Reynholm Industries.

“Hello, IT,” answers a polite, but disconcerting, voice. It’s a bit off somehow, like it’s coming out of a socially-awkward alien reading from a script. “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”, the voice pumps out a second question before the caller can really answer the first. The caller on his end apparently turns on the computer, discovers it to be working, and thanks the voice. The employee who belongs to the voice sits at his desk, chewing on a sucker with a mixture of satisfaction and ennui.

No manager rages against the employee; no HR representative is brought in to discuss training. The inhuman voice was a reel-to-reel recorder and the real employees continue to sit around and stare morosely at screens.

The IT Crowd presents a laissez-faire approach to IT customer service that is wickedly funny. It is also, for the most part, untrue. We can see two bits of reality in this scene: the first is that, yes, turning things off and on again really does help, and the second is that “scripts”--or processes that we follow to solve common problems--are crucial.

In real IT support at the University of Illinois, customer support staff are always looking for ways to make it easier to get help. The Technology Services Classroom Technologies (or ClassTech) team have recently come up with a great way to help their staff answer questions more quickly and accurately. They moved all of their support documentation to the University of Illinois Knowledgebase.

The staff at ClassTech are real people (not recordings) who listen carefully to problems and work to resolve them. To do so, they design and use documentation that takes customers through steps that usually resolves the issue over the phone or email.

The technical documentation that they use is organized into two categories: technical problems and room information. The first kind identifies a series of common problems such as “The Resident PC isn’t working,” or “My Mac laptop isn’t connecting to the projection system,” and details the most likely causes of these problems and how to fix them. The second kind of documentation provides information on each of the approximately 300 rooms that ClassTech supports, complete with pictures of the technology in each room.

Staff need documentation to be clear, easy to read, and accurate--but perhaps the most important thing is that this information needs to be easily locatable.

ClassTech used to keep their documentation in two places: a website (for room documentation) and a wiki (for technical documentation). This meant that staff needed to keep two separate windows or tabs open at all times, and had to move as quickly as possible between these two sites--with their different content, designs, and keyword-search functionality--while working with customers to fix each problem within a matter of seconds.

But sometimes one thing is better than two.

ClassTech decided to take advantage of the Knowledgebase, a single repository for technical documentation, guides, and how-tos at Illinois. The Knowledgebase is used by nine groups across the three campuses, including University Administration and the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES), and has almost three million documents. ClassTech alone currently has 345 pages of documentation in the Knowledgebase, all locatable (and each searchable) with just a few keywords. No more multiple windows, no more scrolling in two areas to find crucial information.

The ClassTech migration took months but all that hard work is paying off. Support staff report that switching to the Knowledgebase has made support easier for them--which means that getting help is easier for Illinois faculty, staff, and students.

“The metric we used to measure the success for the effort was our student employees finding the KB no more difficult or time consuming than using the Website and Wiki for troubleshooting,” says Tracy Whittaker, Lead Technology Support Liaison at ClassTech. “90% said faster, 90% said easier and 100% said they are satisfied with the new tool.”

Other groups like the Office of the Registrar, who regularly use ClassTech’s room documentation to keep up-to-date on technology-enhanced classrooms on campus, can also easily access this information in the Knowledgebase. Most of ClassTech’s pages are open to the public, meaning that anyone--faculty, staff, or student--can go to the Knowledgebase and learn about their classrooms and how to solve common technical problems they might experience. If they have any questions, or just prefer to talk to a person, ClassTech staff are available to solve problems over the phone, through email, or in person every weekday.

“We can now serve our customers better,” Whittaker says.

To use the Knowledgebase, go to

To contact Classroom Technologies, call 217-333-8165 or email