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I am a passionate advocate for establishing a repository of information relating to all aspects of contact and interaction with the customer to help collect and extract information that is pertinent to the improvement of product/service design. Often insights about customer pain points and viewpoints don't come from a single channel or source. Although different parts of the organisation will independently collect and analyse these types of information, it doesn't seem to be common practice to share or analyse this information holistically.

I am wondering if it is common practice to have a customer knowledge base that contains information from market research, user research, customer support and training as well as analytics that are cross-referenced and distilled to provide insight into areas of user experience improvement across the whole organisation.

If your answer is yes then I am interested in what you call this type of knowledge repository that is both an active collection of user information and source of knowledge for product/service design. If your answer is no then I am interested in why it is not something that is being considered or has been implemented.

  • Do you know of a product that does all that stuff? – paparazzo Dec 28 '14 at 14:46
  • I always tend to think that the approach/process has to come before the product/solution. If different sections of the organisation are not talking to each other or sharing information, putting in a software system is not going to help at all. But I want to know why this is the case since UX design is supposed to bring a common vision or goal to the organisation and encourage co-operation. – Michael Lai Dec 28 '14 at 22:05
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Many companies keep their user information in seperate "silos" and thus miss out on the advantages (and disadvantages) of "unified contact management". The silos come into being as the company grows, as individual departments address their own needs for contact management, independently.

The Sales department is usually very early in the game, buying or developing a leads/customers list in a Customer Relationship Management system.

Once the company starts billing clients and paying bills, Accounting will start maintaining a seperate list of customers and vendors in their Accounting program.

Already, with only two silos, there are obvious business reasons for keeping the data seperate. Accountants don't want to their list to include leads, while Salesmen shouldn't be allowed to see the company books or vendor lists. Prioritizing the features that serve each of them, the seperate departments have pride for their own systems and actively discourage any attempt to unify them.

Now add Customer Support, Human Resources, UX/Branding/Marketting and various other departments to the mix, each following the company culture of having seperate contact lists and management systems.

Then a PeopleSoft or Sharepoint/Dynamics salesperson walks into the President's office and the war begins! From presidential hieghts it is easy to see that the seperate "silos" are inefficeint, requiring redundant maintenance of the same contact information in multiple contact lists. It is also easy to see that cross-department analysis would be invaluable, but each department is entrenched in their own system, covetous of the features they rely on and unwilling to learn new software when their existing software is meeting their needs.

This is a very common scenario in the Enterprise Software world and like most common challenges, it grows from an issue in timing.

Unified Contact Management systems are expensive, so startups don't usually buy them. Instead, they use cheaper department specific solutions as described in the scenario above. Lacking integration, these department specific silos serve the growing company but eventually need to be replaced by an integrated solutions, costing massive amounts of money and causing disruptions in every department.

There are some pretty good (and cheap) online solutions to this problem; integrated contact management systems with modules for each department. A startup which uses one of these in all of its departments, doesn't have to go through the turmoil of transitioning to an integrated solution later in its life.

Unfortunately, these solutions are facing an "ants among giants" situation in advertising their products. Any web search on the terms "Integrated Solution" or "Enterprise Software" brings up page after page of dealerships for big players in the game.

The friend who taught me what I have shared here, found and reviewed many of the smaller solutions, and chose one of the cheaper solutions for his startup a few months back. Tomorrow, I will check with him and augment this answer with the solution that he selected.

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  • Do you think it is the software system that is making it more difficult, or the fact that there are competing interests among the different sections of the organisation? Having silos can help improve efficiency by separating areas of concern, but where there are mutual interest or benefit then there needs to be a system or process to share or collaborate. I think this is such as key to unlocking the value of a user-centric design approach. – Michael Lai Dec 28 '14 at 22:07
  • It is easy to believe, as dimitri states, that the departments deliberately become seperate empires. If that is true then the seperate softwares have little effect on a problem which is fundamentally one of human nature. I tend to see things more optomistically, believing that the individual directors would happily share with each other if their software encouraged it. Who can say which is right? Start with a capable software solution with modules for every department and an integrated contact list, and maybe you will find out. – Henry Taylor Dec 29 '14 at 3:54
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Within a corporation each department end up becoming its own kingdom, and if the deparment head is really good, its own empire! So any sharing or consolidation of information/knowledge although technically feasible, there are too many kings and emperors to consider how this may or may not affect their career or standing in the evolutionary ladder.

Take a look what has happened with support at Microsoft. There used to be a knowledgebase, and now we also have a large number of community forums, technet forums (plus all the extraneous private ones like this one you are reading right now).

Even here in the US, at some point they realized all the law enforcement agencies need to be able to "talk to eachother" and the solution was yet a new kingdom, called "Homeland Secuity".

Perhaps the problem is human nature. And there is probably a forum for that ...somewhere.

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