Price: Starts at $199
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Customer support is an essential part of any website that provides a product or service. Customers who do business with your company online expect fast, complete answers to their questions and timely solutions to any problems they encounter. To meet this need, InstantASP offers InstantKB.NET, a solution that lets ASP.NET developers easily incorporate knowledge base articles, FAQs, product documentation, inbound Help-desk inquiries, workflow management, and other customer-support services in their websites. Here I review the latest version of the product, InstantKB.NET 2011, which the vendor has extensively revamped to incorporate many new features since I last reviewed the product for DevProConnections.
Getting Started with InstantKB.NET 2011
To install InstantKB.NET 2011, you download the product package from InstantASP's website, upload the files, execute SQL Server database queries, and configure the web.config file with relevant database information. I'd like to see the vendor provide a web-based installation package in the next version of InstantKB.NET, to make the product's setup easier for first-time users.
I found it very easy to work with InstantKB.NET 2011 once I had mastered the basic functionality of the various settings. Figure 1 shows the product's user interface.
Figure 1: InstantKB.NET 2011's user interface
As soon as you log on using the administrator username and password, you will see that different system management options are provided for administrators and staff members, as Figure 2 shows. Admins and staff see the same interface as the default home page, except for different control panel access links.
Figure 2: InstantKB.NET 2011's administration home page
In InstantKB.NET 2011, administrators can control the various aspects of the site and assign staff members permissions to perform various tasks. Staff members can add and manage content in the form of articles, FAQs, and product documentation. Content developers for a site can either provide pertinent documents as downloadable PDFs or attach them to the relevant knowledge base articles.
By navigating InstantKB.NET 2011's administrator dashboard, you can see a number of settings, as shown in Figure 3. These settings enable you to control different site functionalities, such as enabling search-engine-friendly URLs, allowed file extensions, and much more.
Figure 3: Configuring InstantKB.NET 2011's settings
Additionally, the product lets you add your own custom fields, as Figure 4 shows, so that you can tailor your site's support to customer needs.
Figure 4: Adding custom fields
Content Management Features
With the release of InstantKB.NET 2011, the control-approval process has been divided into workflows. For instance, a staff member can place knowledge base or other support content in various phases until the admin approves the content for publication on the site, as shown in Figure 5. An admin can easily add more workflow steps if required, although I found the built-in steps to be more than sufficient for most purposes.
Figure 5: Workflow management of the control-approval process
An authorized user can add content to the knowledge base by selecting the Staff CP option. By default, a site admin also has staff member permissions and also can assign permissions to additional staff members as needed.
You can access the relevant links for managing content by expanding the Knowledgebase tab on the left side of the Staff Control Panel, as Figure 6 shows.
Figure 6: InstantKB.NET 2011's Staff Control Panel
Clicking the Add Article link displays a number of options for managing articles, including a large text editor and other relevant settings, as Figure 7 shows. As mentioned, the site admin can create new content management options, if needed.
Figure 7: Managing articles in InstantKB.NET 2011
In addition to providing a knowledge base, InstantKB.NET 2011 enables you to build a glossary list. To do so, you click the Glossary link at the top of the Staff Control Panel, then click Add Glossary Term to add a term and its related definition to the glossary, as Figure 8 shows.
Figure 8: Adding a glossary term
To view glossary terms as an external user would see them, you'll need to log out as an admin, then click the Glossary link. A selected glossary term is displayed along with its definition in a pop-up window, as Figure 9 shows. Ajax is enabled in the product, which should facilitate quick browsing through the list.
Figure 9: Viewing a glossary term
Creating Support Tickets
Even with access to the knowledge base and glossary list, at times your customers will need to contact your support team directly to obtain help. For this purpose, InstantASP has incorporated a new support ticket module in InstantKB.NET 2011, which your customers can use to submit queries. As soon as the user provides the subject for the ticket, InstantKB.NET 2011 automatically displays articles related to the ticket's topic by using the helpful Live Suggest feature.
An administrator can easily tailor the ticket form to organization needs by adding custom fields as well as define an approximate response time for issues, so that support ticket responses inform customers when they can expect an issue to be resolved.
InstantASP provides excellent ticket-based support and also maintains a discussion forum and hosts a live demo on the InstantKB.NET 2011 website, which you can use to test the product's features before buying it. I experienced an issue with the product, an exception I got after trying out various settings. I was able to fix the exception on my own after InstantASP support personnel provided a hint to solve the problem.
InstantKB.NET 2011 ships with many features not found in other ASP.NET-based Help desk products I'm familiar with. I highly recommend InstantKB.NET 2011 for web-hosting or other types of service providers, as the product provides many features that can improve the quality and efficiency of online interactions between business owners and customers.
Anand Narayanaswamy ([email protected]), a Microsoft MVP, works as an independent consultant based in Trivandrum, India. He is the author of Community Server Quickly (Packt) and runs www.learnxpress.com and www.dotnetalbum.com.