Article

What is a knowledge base? The essential tool you’re missing

Help customers find their own answers by offering a knowledge base—a virtual library of information about your product or service.

By Stella Inabo, Contributing Writer

Published January 19, 2022
Last updated March 8, 2022

Customers want answers, and they want them fast. About 60 percent of consumers say quick problem-solving is a mark of great customer service. But how do you deliver speedy service without sacrificing quality? By creating a knowledge base.

Knowledge bases provide on-demand support by answering common questions and explaining how to use products or services successfully. With this resource, customers can solve problems independently. Agents can also use knowledge bases to swiftly find solutions, increasing their efficiency and reducing wait times.

Knowledge bases are indispensable tools for customer support teams, especially as companies scale. Use knowledge bases to minimize agent effort, decrease resolution time, and improve customer satisfaction.

What is a knowledge base?

A knowledge base is an online library of information about a product, service, or topic. There are two types of knowledge bases: internal and external.

Internal knowledge bases

Companies use internal knowledge bases to document and share their policies and resources. Only employees can access an internal knowledge base, so it’s an ideal place to store private company information.

Internal knowledge bases usually contain details about:

  • Organization structure
  • Onboarding
  • HR and legal policies
  • Tech support

Employees spend less time searching for information when resources are available on an internal knowledge base.

External knowledge bases

External knowledge bases are self-service portals for customers. They contain information about products or services so buyers can solve their own problems. For example, an external knowledge base for an ecommerce store might cover questions related to billing, shipping, placing orders, returns, and store locations.

The Zendesk help center is a good example of an external knowledge base. In our self-service portal, resources are categorized by solution, making it easy for customers to jump to the product they have questions about. Customers can also use the search bar to find answers right away.

external knowledge base

Image source

External knowledge bases usually include FAQ pages, process videos, troubleshooting guides, tutorials, and help center articles. Use a mix of content formats so your audience can consume information in the way that works for them. Some customers might learn best through a video, while others prefer to read an article.

Customer service, engineering, and product team members create external knowledge base content. Support agents speak with customers every day, so they know the types of problems users encounter most often. Engineering and product employees can offer the technical knowledge needed to solve those common issues.

What is the purpose of a knowledge base?

External knowledge bases are a cost-effective way to provide 24/7 support. Instead of hiring more agents or making your team work around the clock, you can empower customers to find solutions on their own.

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After creating an external knowledge base, the loyalty program company Smiles significantly reduced support tickets. Seventy-nine percent of customers resolved problems by themselves using knowledge base resources.

knowledge base purpose

Image source

Meanwhile, internal knowledge bases reduce agent onboarding and training costs, as new hires can self-train through relevant content. For example, new support agents at Polaris Adventures use knowledge base articles to learn the ropes.

79% of customers resolved problems by themselves using knowledge base resources.

“The internal knowledge base serves as a large part of our onboarding process,” says Nora Raisanen, R&D platform manager for Polaris Adventures. “New agents can get up and running quickly without having to comb through documentation on different platforms.”

How to build a knowledge base

There are different ways to create a knowledge base. Some businesses build slowly, adding one knowledge base resource after another until they’ve crafted an entire library. Others tackle everything at the same time—gathering the questions, finding answers, creating the content, and publishing the content. Despite the differences, there are a few best practices you can follow when designing your knowledge base.

  1. Identify the questions you want to answer. Talk to your support agents—they handle customer queries all the time, so they have a strong grasp on common customer issues. You can also surface recurrent problems by reviewing support tickets. When building an internal knowledge base, find out which departments are bogged down by requests and questions. Is your HR staff consistently fielding questions from new hires? Is your IT team always helping employees troubleshoot software?
  2. Purchase knowledge base software. The best knowledge base tools feature a self-service portal where customers or employees can find answers independently. There should be a search bar, feedback mechanisms, and AI technologies like chatbots. The right knowledge base software also makes it easy to upload, publish, revise, and analyze content. You can use FAQ software to enhance the knowledge base experience as well.
  3. Select knowledge base contributors—this usually includes customer support, product, and engineering team members. Each contributor can answer questions by writing an article, recording a video, or creating an in-depth guide.
  4. Set editorial guidelines to ensure quality and consistency. Provide contributors with a style guide and templates for articles, videos, white papers, and so on. You can add new guidelines as you go, but it’s best to lay a few ground rules from the get-go.
  5. Create the content. Assign deliverables to your contributors and hold them accountable to deadlines. Ensure content is jargon-free and easy to understand. You may want to provide a glossary of technical terms for customers, just in case. Consider adding visual elements—such as infographics, photos, and videos—to enrich your content and increase engagement.
  6. Optimize your knowledge base for SEO by inserting keywords that users will likely enter when they search for information. An SEO-friendly external knowledge base helps current customers discover relevant content faster and also improves your website’s visibility on search engines—bringing in new visitors.
  7. Upload and publish your content. Don’t just post it and walk away, though. Measure performance by reviewing metrics like page views and resolution times. Do readers spend a lot of time on the knowledge base or leave after a few seconds? Are customers asking fewer questions? Are wait times shorter? The answers to these questions will help you determine whether or not your knowledge base is helping customers.

Keep refining your knowledge base

No matter how helpful your knowledge base is, it isn’t set in stone. You’ll need to revamp your knowledge base as your company grows and your products or services evolve.

Regularly review resources to identify gaps or inaccurate information. Make the process easier by using help center software like Zendesk, which automatically surfaces outdated and ineffective content. Once you’ve found the areas that need improvement, get to work and update them. Your customers and customer service team will thank you for it.

2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center

The 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant report is available for complimentary download for a limited time.

2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center

The 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant report is available for complimentary download for a limited time.

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