Raise your hand if you love waiting on salespeople, tech support, or customer service while they assist the customers who came before you.
Hand still on your mouse?
Yeah...we thought so.
In today’s fast-paced, interconnected world, the vast majority of consumers simply can’t stand waiting to be helped. When they want answers, they want them immediately.
Case in point:
As the above graph shows, the vast majority of consumers typically expect to be helped within at most an hour’s time. As if that’s not a small enough window as it is, nearly one in every three consumers actually expect immediate assistance when reaching out to a company’s online support staff.
Needless to say, this is a pretty tall order to fill for even the smallest of companies. The larger the company’s customer base grows, the more difficult it will become to provide immediate, one-to-one support on a consistent basis.
The next best thing, then, is for brands to give their audience the option of helping themselves.
This is where self-service knowledge bases come in.
In this guide, we're going to discuss:
- What a knowledge base is
- Why a knowledge base is important for your business
- Benefits of an external knowledge base
- Benefits of an internal knowledge base
- How to create and manage a useful knowledge base
- Knowledge base templates & examples
What is a Knowledge Base?
An organization’s knowledge base acts as a central hub of all knowledge possessed by the members of the team.
Knowledge base software allows users to easily collect, organize, access, and communicate information to a specific audience. Knowledge bases are created for use by a company’s customers, internal team members, or sometimes both.
When used externally, knowledge base software is where customers can go to learn anything they’d ever need to know about a company’s products or services, organization, and industry.
An internal knowledge base, on the other hand, is typically utilized as a way to allow employees to collaborate and distribute all company knowledge and information internally.
A few examples:
- HousingLink provides on-demand, 24/7 customer support with its external knowledge base
- DaVita is able to reduce employee onboarding by 50% with its internal knowledge base
- Valant’s internal knowledge base helps improve internal processes and deliver valuable content to their customers
While the content of specific knowledge bases varies based on numerous factors, most typically include information regarding how to get started using specific products, get more use out of advanced features, and overcome common problems or issues.
We’ll get more into how to go about creating a knowledge base that works for your audience a bit later on.
First, though, let’s talk about the benefits of doing so.
Why a Knowledge Base is Important
As we’ve already alluded to, the main benefit of creating and presenting a knowledge base to your audience is that it enables you to provide in-depth, instant, on-demand information and answers to your audience members without needing to do so individually.
This is important for a few reasons:
- Over 60% of US consumers prefer self-service for simple service tasks as opposed to contacting your support team via phone, email, or social.
- By allowing customers to find solutions themselves, you give your support team the bandwidth to handle more complex customer issues.
Now, let’s unpack that a bit by focusing on both the customer’s and company’s side of the equation.
External Knowledge Base Benefits for Customers
There are two factors at play, here:
1. The Immediacy Factor.
Today’s consumers want the information they’re looking for pretty much right away.
An organized and user-friendly knowledge base essentially allows them to dig into this information on their own terms, rather than the company’s; there’s no submitting endless tickets to a help desk, or waiting “for the next available representative” or anything of the sort when it comes to knowledge base software. This reduction in wait time when trying to resolve an issue can directly lead to improved customer satisfaction.
2. The Immersion Factor.
An optimized knowledge base provides both breadth and depth of information, allowing customers to dive deep into specific topics of interest. In turn, this essentially provides a better customer experience to your customers as it enables them to get even more out of the company’s products or services than they otherwise would have.
With all this in mind, it’s worth noting that knowledge bases benefit individuals at all stages of the buyer’s journey and sales funnel. Whether they’re looking for preliminary information about a brand’s products or services, aiming to get started with a new product, or trying to supercharge their efforts, a robust knowledge base will provide the exact information to help them achieve their goals.
Internal Knowledge Base Benefits for Employees
As a quick note that probably goes without saying, the above customer-facing benefits, in turn, benefit the company as well, as they inherently lead to enhanced engagement overall.
But there’s much more to the answer to the question “How might implementing an internal knowledge base benefit my company?” than that.
First of all, it allows your support teams to be more productive and efficient as a whole. Because consumers can easily take it upon themselves to solve a problem or answer a question they’re facing, your team won’t have to spend excess time fixing relatively simple issues. In turn, your team can focus on more pressing customer issues that do require a more hands-on approach.
Your various teams can also benefit from creating and using the knowledge base, themselves. Let’s break this down a bit more.
In the first place, creating a knowledge base should be an all-around team effort, requiring input from members of all departments.
Once your team has created the knowledge base (and continues to build upon it), they can then begin using it as a central database of information moving forward. This will allow all departments to stay “on the same page” when engaging with customers, as it will guarantee the information they provide remains consistent.
(Again, more on this later.)
Finally, your organization can also begin using your knowledge base as part of your overall knowledge management strategy. For example, you can upload documentation related to training and onboarding processes, proprietary software, and company policies that your staff can access as needed.
Basically, if we were to sum up the benefits of creating and maintaining a knowledge base into one word, it would be “efficiency.”
With all pertinent data and information being housed in a centralized, accessible location, both customers and employees alike are able to get what they need, when they need it, with as little downtime as possible in between. As we said earlier, the less time it takes for either party to get the knowledge they need, the more time they have to focus on actually accomplishing what they intended to in the first place.
The Role of Knowledge Base Software in Knowledge Management
As we mentioned earlier, making use of knowledge base software should play a role in your knowledge management process.
See, knowledge management refers to the systematic process of documenting, storing, communicating, and using organizational knowledge for a variety of purposes.
This definition of knowledge management should sound very familiar as it's essentially how we defined the purpose of knowledge base software.
The key difference is that knowledge management is the process of enabling the flow of information to the intended audience, while knowledge base software is the tool used to help these processes take place.
While there are many other tools that should be used to help with optimizing knowledge management related processes, it's your knowledge base that plays the most pivotal role.
Without a knowledge base acting as a central hub for your organizational knowledge, your efforts to gain full control over this info will be spread way too thin.
How Do You Create a Useful Knowledge Base?
As you probably have gathered by now, a knowledge base isn’t something you can just slap together overnight.
Okay, technically you could just upload a few informational documents into the database and call it a day. Needless to say, though, this certainly isn’t the best way to go about things if you want to improve collaboration and improve your customer support abilities.
So, if your goal is to build a robust and effective knowledge base that actually provides value to your audience, there are a number of best practices you need to follow.
This is what we’re going to dig into here by providing you with six in-depth best practices to help you create and manage the perfect knowledge base.
1. Be Intentional
Okay, so we’ve gone over some of the more overarching ways in which your customers (and your organization) can benefit from your creating a knowledge base.
But, before you actually begin creating your knowledge base, you’ll want to dig a bit deeper than this. In other words, you’ll want to have a clearly-defined purpose for your specific knowledge base.
For example, Shipt’s knowledge base was created with a focus on providing transparency to its audience:
Within this knowledge base, Shipt’s customers and prospects can learn more about what the actual service is, and can dig into the logistics behind the company’s processes, as well.
Now, take a look at the knowledge base Spamexperts created:
Here, the focus is on onboarding new users and enabling them to get started as quickly as possible.
The point is, the content you write for your knowledge base should revolve around the information your audience needs to know in order to enhance their overall experience.
To figure out what this information is, you’ll need to answer questions such as:
- What are some of the most common questions or problems our customers have?
- How do our customers use our products or services?
- What do our customers care about?
It’s also worth considering how your knowledge base can complement the efforts of your marketing and sales teams in terms of nurturing prospects toward a conversion. For example, Shipt’s knowledge base provides a ton of information that allows potential customers to further qualify themselves as a “good fit” for the company’s services.
Think about it like this:
If you don’t provide this information to your potential customers, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll simply navigate away from your site, never to return.
By providing the information they need upfront, you’ll continue to remove any doubts your prospects may have about doing business with your company.
2. Get Organized
While building a knowledge base with an abundance of information is important, it will all be for naught if the information isn’t organized in a logical manner.
Now, when we say “logical,” what we really mean is “in a way that makes sense to the people who will be using it.” In other words, what would be considered “logical” organization for your knowledge base will depend on your specific use cases for it.
For example, ZoomInfo categorizes its documents based on the “level” to which specific customers use the tool.
So, within “Getting Started,” there’s a collection of onboarding materials, while the “Mastering” section goes a bit more in-depth:
Essentially, your content categories should be based on a hierarchy, allowing your audience to dig deeper and deeper into a specific topic with little to no friction.
Along with the organization of your content, you also want to ensure your knowledge base’s appearance remains organized from page to page. That is, the structure, look, and “feel” of each page of your knowledge base should be consistent throughout.
We’ll revisit both of these topics in a moment. For now, let’s stick to the content of your knowledge base.
3. Develop Content Collaboratively
As we’ve discussed before on Appcues, the need for cross-team collaboration is huge in general by today’s standards.
And, as we mentioned earlier, this is no more evident than in the creation and maintaining of an effective knowledge base. That is, the creation of your knowledge base should involve input from team members from a variety of departments.
For example, your sales team will know what kind of information prospective customers need to know before they make a purchasing decision. With such suggestions in mind, your team can focus on writing knowledge base articles that proactively answers these pressing questions for your prospects.
(As we alluded to earlier, not only can prospective customers use your knowledge base on their own, but your sales team can also use it to find pertinent information when trying to close a sale.)
Focusing on customer service and support teams, these individuals will have direct knowledge of the most common problems and issues current customers face when using your product or service. In turn, you’ll know to develop content that provides guidance to individuals facing these common problems.
Similarly, since your technical teams have the most in-depth understanding of the actual process of using your products or services, their input is vital to the creation of your knowledge base. In fact, because knowledge base documents are typically more technical in nature, tech teams often take the reins completely when actually creating them.
Lastly, although knowledge bases aren’t meant to be used for promotional purposes, your marketing team should also be involved in creating them. First of all, in the same vein as the sales team, your marketing team will know what information to focus on to keep prospects informed and to build their trust.
Moreover, your marketing team will know how to best present your knowledge base to your target audience in a way that makes them feel welcome and comfortable.
Speaking of that...
4. Provide a Branded Feel
Now, where your marketing and design teams really come in is in the presentation of your knowledge base.
Basically, you want your knowledge base to have just enough personality for your brand to shine through, while not detracting from the more functional nature of the content with the database.
Take a look at the following knowledge base example from Gumroad:
Overall, the content of this document takes a more serious and informational tone. However, as shown in the second screenshot, the Gumroad team isn’t afraid to interject their humorous voice as appropriate.
(It’s also worth noting that they get right back to business after taking a quick “humor break,” as well.)
At any rate, as we mentioned in the previous section, your knowledge base’s content should be created collaboratively between your technical and creative departments. That way, your technical teams can ensure the information provided is 100% accurate, and your creative teams can ensure the content reads in a more conversational and calm manner (rather than as if written by a robot).
In terms of aesthetic appearance, you want to take a similar approach. That is, you want your knowledge base to be immediately recognizable as your knowledge base—but you don’t want your branding to overshadow the information held within.
Take PayrollPanda’s knowledge base, for example...
...and compare it to the company’s homepage:
While PayrollPanda’s knowledge base is much more “plain” (or, less “busy”) than its homepage, it’s pretty clear within a quick glance that the former is related to the latter.
Simply put, by including just enough branding within your knowledge base, the database itself will give off a much less “textbook-ish” feel—and will, in turn, be seen as much more welcoming by your audience.
5. Be User-Friendly
We’ve danced around this point throughout this article, but let’s make it crystal clear here:
For the most part, your audience probably doesn’t want to actually be on your knowledge base in the first place.
That is, nobody just browses around a knowledge base for the heck of it. When a prospect or customer navigates to your knowledge base, it’s because they have a question that needs to be answered.
All that being said, there’s a decent chance that most of the people visiting your knowledge base are at least somewhat frustrated in some way or another. Perhaps it’s a prospect who has looked everywhere on your site for a piece of information and hasn’t been able to find it; or maybe it’s a first-time customer who wants to make a return or exchange; or, it may be a long-time customer in need of technical support.
Whatever the case may be, you want to ensure they’re able to get exactly what they need with as little effort as possible.
The main area of focus, here, is navigation.
This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with organization—but it goes a step further. There are a number of ways you can make your knowledge base more navigable, such as:
- Tagging your knowledge base articles to enable search functionality
- Including links to other knowledge base documents (and other branded content) for further information
- Including hierarchical links, allowing users to quickly jump back to a broader section of your knowledge base
For a prime example of what we’re talking about, here, check out this page from Drop’s knowledge base:
Not only does this specific page explain exactly what first-time users need to do to get started with the product, but it also provides multiple opportunities for newcomers to dig deeper (whether it be to find the answers to further questions, clarify certain information, or mitigate any problems they experience along the way).
Like we said, your users may not exactly be in the best of moods when looking for answers within your knowledge base. Obviously, you don’t want to make things even worse by making it difficult for them to find the answers they’re looking for.
That being the case, it’s essential that your knowledge base is as accessible, navigable, and user-friendly as possible.
6. Iterate, Iterate, Iterate
One final piece of advice we’ll leave you with is that you should never consider your knowledge base “complete.”
For starters, you’ll need to continue creating and editing certain documents as your business evolves in various ways. For example, after introducing a new product, you’ll need to create content for your knowledge base regarding basic and advanced use and troubleshooting of said product. Or, if your company updates its policies in any way, you’ll want to reflect these changes in your knowledge base.
You also want to continue adding to and editing your knowledge base over time regardless of whether or not anything changes within your organization.
To do so, you’ll first want to take a look at your usage metrics and other important info.
- What information is sought most by customers
- Which topics are lacking in information
- How you can expand on even your more advanced materials
Now, when adding to a document or expanding on a topic, it’s important to avoid being redundant as best as possible. Your customers don’t want to read the same info on one page that they read on the previous one in the series. So, rather than repeating the same information again, just include a link to the document you’re referring to.
On this same wavelength—and coming full circle to our first point on intentionality—you want to be sure that every change and improvement you make to your knowledge base is done with good reason behind it.
And, whenever you do decide to make any improvements, make sure you do so with your customers in mind.
Knowledge Base Template
Now that you know what goes into creating a great knowledge base, we thought we'd share a few knowledge base examples to help you with creating something that's visually appealing.
SocialTables' knowledge base template is clean and super easy to navigate. SocialTables does a great job of laying out their topics so that they match with each of the solutions they provide.
Brixly does a great job of laying out their categories in an easy-to-navigate manner as well as makes great use of visuals with their icons. Additionally, Brixly includes questions that are asked frequently in their template, making it easy for people to find answers to their potential problems quickly.
Kajabi's knowledge base template includes a table of contents, making it easy for users to navigate their way to an answer.
What should a knowledge base include?
A knowledge base is a centralized 'hub' where all information related to a company as well as its products or services can be stored, organized, as well as shared.
What is the purpose of a knowledge base?
An external knowledge base allows you to scale customer support by allowing your customers to easily find solutions to problems without having to open a support ticket. An internal knowledge base provides employees with easy access to all the information they need about the company's product or service.
Why is a knowledge base important?
With a knowledge base, you can allow your customers to help themselves, thus reducing your customer support by up to 60%. Further more, you can also have your employees and team members get instant answers to the questions they need without having to email themselves all using knowledge base software.