The collective knowledge that your employees have about things like your organization’s customers, products, and business processes has the potential to be one of your company’s most valuable assets. This knowledge is usually documented somewhere. It might be in a FAQ, a PDF, in your email, or a Slack channel. In fact, in many cases this knowledge is scattered in multiple locations.
Whatever the case, to be able to make the most of this knowledge, you need to do more than just document it. It’s also important that this knowledge can be easily found by whoever needs it - whether that’s your customers, employees, or both.
This is where a knowledge base comes into play.
A knowledge base improves your company’s ability to create, organize, manage, and share its knowledge and put it to good use will increase exponentially. In fact, as you continue reading this post, you’ll learn how creating and implementing a knowledge base can help your organization drastically improve its customer support efforts as well as its internal performance, regardless of company size or industry.
In this guide, we're going to discuss:
- What a knowledge base is
- Types of knowledge bases
- Why a knowledge base is important for your business
- How knowledge bases are related to knowledge management
- How to develop a useful knowledge base
- Knowledge base templates & examples
What is a Knowledge Base?
A knowledge base is a self-serve digital portal that is easily accessible to any user that is looking to get more information to any questions or problems that they may have.
- Vacasa delivers on-demand, self-driven customer support with its knowledge base
- Apptegy uses its internal knowledge base to streamline employee onboarding processes
- Valant’s knowledge base helps improve internal processes and deliver valuable content to their customers
A knowledge base can contain various types of content such as:
- User documentation and video walk-throughs to help users better understand how to use a particular product
- Training manual for employees to better understand a company's products and services as well as its internal processes and procedures
- Internal documentation such as standard operating procedures (SOPs), software documentation, process documentation, business requirement documentation, and any other documents that can help employees with a particular business task
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- HR related documents such as an employee handbook, employee evaluation forms, training templates, etc.
Types of Knowledge Bases
Knowledge bases are created for use by a company’s customers, internal team members, or sometimes both.
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. Essentially, the purpose of any knowledge base is to help end-users find a solution to their problem without having to rely on someone else.
External Knowledge Base
An external knowledge base (also known as a self-service library or customer service knowledge base) is where customers can go to learn anything they’d ever need to know about a company’s products or services, organization, and industry.
Internal Knowledge Base
An internal knowledge base, on the other hand, is typically utilized as a way to allow employees to collaborate and share all company knowledge and information internally.
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 having a knowledge base in the first place.
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.
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 several main benefits to creating a customer-facing knowledge base including:
1. Improved Customer Satisfaction
Did you know over 60% of US consumers prefer self-service for simple service tasks as opposed to contacting your support team via phone, email, or social?
An organized and user-friendly knowledge base essentially allows customers to dig into the information they're looking for 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. Improved Customer Experience
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:
Knowledge bases can help improve the customer experience as they provide customers with the ability to access help immediately.
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 expects immediate assistance when reaching out to a company’s online support staff.
Needless to say, this is a pretty tall order to fill for smaller companies and only gets more difficult as a company grows as 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 self-service.
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.
3. Improved Customer Support Abilities
The beauty of utilizing a knowledge base to help customers is that it's available 24/7. Customers can try to solve their problems at a time that's convenient for them.
Allowing customers to find solutions themselves provides a secondary benefit to your customer support efforts. As customers will be able to solve simple issues, you give your customer support team the bandwidth to handle more complex customer issues.
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.
1. Improve Business Productivity
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.
2. Improve Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Transfer
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 knowledge to be shared 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 free flow of knowledge will allow all departments to stay “on the same page” when engaging with customers, as it will guarantee the information they provide remains consistent.
3. Bolster Your Knowledge Management Capabilities
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.
(More on this later.)
4. Improve Business Efficiency
With all pertinent data and information being housed in a centralized, accessible location, employees can get what they need, when they need it, with as little downtime as possible in between. The less time it takes for your employees 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.
Deploying Knowledge Base Software
Developers typically take one of the following approaches when it comes to providing their software:
For a detailed overview of the benefits and potential negatives of each solution, check out the following article: Open Source Knowledge Base vs SaaS – Which is Better?
How Do You Develop an Effective 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. Determine the Purpose of Creating a Knowledge Base
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. Organize Your Content
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
The majority of people don't just browse around a knowledge base for the heck of it. When a user navigates to your knowledge base, it’s because they have a question that needs to be answered.
Perhaps it’s a first-time customer who wants to make a return and needs more information; or, it may be a long-time customer in need of technical support; it may even be an employee who is looking for additional information to help with their task at hand.
Whatever the case may be, you want to ensure your knowledge base user is 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 content 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 improve search functionality
- Internally linking 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).
By making your knowledge base easily accessible as well as navigable, you'll end up creating a user-friendly experience that ensures users are able to find the information they need, when they need it.
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 defining the purpose of your knowledge base—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.
Choosing the Right Knowledge Base Software
Figuring out which knowledge base software is right for your organization can be challenging no matter what size your business is. The right software can help you with improving your customer support efforts as well as improving employee efficiency. On the other hand, making the wrong choice can lead to a frustrating experience for your users that leads to a worse situation than if you didn't have a knowledge base in the first place.
So how do you choose the best knowledge base software for your business needs?
It starts with finding the software that comes with the right features to help you create a knowledge base that's user-friendly; it should be easy for your team to create and organize content as well as easy for your end-user to find the information they're looking for. Furthermore, the right solution should help you solve your initial reason for wanting a knowledge base, be that for improving customer support, helping with employee onboarding, etc.
Some features to consider when picking the right solution for your business:
- User-Friendly Content Authoring and Formatting. In order for you to have a knowledge base that provides value, you need to have content. And to have content, you need your team to be able to create content. This means your software should come with an easy-to-use editor that allows your team to add, format, and manipulate text as well as images and videos.
- Advanced Search Functionality. With so much content for users to go through, it's essential that your knowledge base comes with advanced search so that users can actually find the information they're looking for.
- Intelligent Analytics. Assessing how your content is being consumed can help you make improvements to your knowledge base content — in turn making the your knowledge base an even more valuable asset to your business.
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.