An external knowledge base, also called a customer service knowledge base, stores information your customers and clients can use, such as:
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers related to ordering, billing, shipping, returning, requesting help, recalls, your store or office locations, and/or troubleshooting tips
- Company background or history
- Other customer service resources related to your products and/or services
An internal knowledge base, also known as an intranet or company wiki, stores your company’s private or confidential information and is accessible only by employees. Internal knowledge bases help employees easily find the information they need to do their jobs well, which usually includes:
- Benefits and compensation
- Company strategy
- Analytics like company performance metric reviews
- Employee development resources
- Technical help
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- Organizational structures
- Teams and how to work with them
- Market and company research
- Templates for documenting and sharing information
- Brand guidelines
- Policies, procedures, and protocols (also called SOPs or processes), usually including standards to achieve
- Other documentation
Your company’s knowledge base will contain information that can help whoever is searching find answers to questions and resources to better understand a topic.
Any of the following can be considered a knowledge base:
- FAQs (frequently asked questions)
- Word documents
- Web portals
- Help center (content management system)
- Browser extensions that bring knowledge to the apps you love
- On-premise databases
Why you need a knowledge base
Companies create knowledge bases to provide their employees and customers convenient access to important information. Implementing a knowledge base can streamline service and ensure consistent support, all while helping employees do their jobs faster and more efficiently.
Knowledge management solutions let subject matter experts (SMEs) “brain dump” their expertise into an online resource that can be updated and edited as they see fit. That way, when team members have questions, they can go straight to the source for answers without having to bother the actual source. Plus, a verification feature like Guru’s tells users that the information available is trusted and up-to-date, eliminating any need to double-check with the SME.
Benefits of knowledge bases
Software that is intended to be used as a knowledge base has specific benefits over solutions that can be used many other ways, like long documents, PDFs, internal wikis, shared drives, or spreadsheets.
- Less time spent searching for information – Purpose-built knowledge base software makes it easier to surface specific knowledge when needed. This improves contact center efficiency by making it easy for agents to resolve customer issues on the first call. It also improves company-wide productivity by making it easy for everyone to find the information they need to do their jobs well.
- Faster onboarding – New hires no longer need to ask tons of questions in their first weeks. A quality internal knowledge base enables them to effectively self-serve and stops repeat questions from interrupting your most critical staff.
- Easy upkeep – Documents and spreadsheets can easily become outdated, and version control can lead to duplication and confusion. Knowledge bases allow users to update individual items as necessary (instead of having to update and republish an entire document). A quality knowledge base includes a simple way to quickly see whether information can be trusted, and automation to remind SMEs to keep their information up-to-date.
- Roles and permissions – Knowledge bases allow for granular access and editing. While some other solutions (like Google Docs and Google Drive) can also be limited this way, the settings often require more time to maintain.
- Designed to be used in-workflow – A quality knowledge base solution is designed to be used to provide answers where and when you need them, while other solutions require major context-switching and searching. For example, Guru’s Chrome extension, Microsoft Teams, and Slack integrations allow everyone to quickly access the knowledge they need without leaving the apps they use every day.
How to create a knowledge base
1. Conduct research to determine knowledge base need
Understanding the utility of a knowledge base is one thing. Deciding on the purpose your knowledge base will fill for your organization is another.
The first step in setting up a knowledge base is to determine the need your knowledge base will fulfill. Think about your audience. Do you want your knowledge base to support your employees, your customers, or both? Once you know which audience(s) you want your knowledge base(s) to serve, research where the biggest gaps in knowledge exist.
- What questions or topics do your employees or customers ask most often?
- What department is overwhelmed by requests for information on a consistent basis?
- What is your current response rate to employee and client questions and is that response rate getting longer?
- Is productivity within your organization falling because information can’t efficiently be shared?
- What serious gaps would exist if certain company employees left the organization and took their knowledge with them?
The answers to those questions will help you understand if you do need a knowledge base and to begin thinking about how it should be structured.
2. Determine what type of knowledge base you need
Once you know that you need a knowledge base, you must determine what type of knowledge base would best serve your needs. There are five common types of knowledge bases. To decide on the type of knowledge base you may want to create, think about the audience the knowledge base will serve, how accessible you want the knowledge base to be to the general public, and whether you will host the knowledge base on your company server or rely on a provider to host it.
3. Outline a simple knowledge base structure
You’ll want to ensure your knowledge base is organized so all users can quickly and easily find what they are looking for. Developing your knowledge base structure at the beginning will not only help you organize your content as your knowledge base grows, but will inform navigation design and help make it more intuitive for users.
There are a number of different ways you can organize your knowledge base:
- User Type or Role: When you have different users or customer types, organizing your knowledge base by role is effective. Your users would be able to quickly tap into the knowledge that would be specific to them. For example, an HR knowledge base could be organized by breaking out specific information about your company with designated sections aimed at contractors, full-time employees, and part-time employees.
Best for: Companies of all sizes
- Activity: If your audiences who will use the knowledge base need specific information about actions to take, organizing your knowledge base by activity works well. For example, a knowledge base for a large travel agency may be organized by activities like planning your trip, booking tickets, and contacting an agent.
Best for: Customer self-service, service offerings
- Stage/Experience of User: When you organize by stage or the experience of the user, the user of your knowledge base is quickly able to match their needs with your information. For example, a knowledge base for an online service may be organized by stages like getting started, upgrading service, and user tutorials.
Best for: Customer self-service for software, subscriptions, and tier or plan navigation
- Product Type: You could also organize your knowledge base by product type. For example, a furniture business may organize its knowledge base by living room furniture, bedroom furniture, kids’ furniture, and office furniture.
Best for: Internal product and support teams, and external customers of companies with multiple products
Your knowledge base will constantly change as your content expands, is edited, or archived. That’s why it is important to make your categories broad enough to encompass an array of content that can be subcategorized by topic or theme.
4. Gather content and establish who will maintain it
Your knowledge base requires a constant inflow of interesting and engaging content that specifically meets the needs of your audiences. SMEs should be responsible for developing the content to ensure the quality, accuracy, and efficacy of all content in your knowledge base that’s distributed to your employees and/or customers. Here’s how that process could work:
- Start by gathering the information you have already documented. Tools like Guru allow you to quickly pull together content from many sources and import it to launch your knowledge base.
- The knowledge base manager determines or delegates the creating the pages necessary for each category to SMEs with a deadline. They save teams time by using custom templates to save SMEs time and ensure information is shared consistently.
- SMEs are responsible for using their specialized knowledge to create and maintain content that follows the standards outlined by the knowledge base manager.
5. Upload resources to your shared platform
A shared knowledge base platform is a software system that makes it easy for information to flow from your knowledge base to those who need it. The shared platform you choose will include the tools that extend the functionality of your knowledge base. For example, the shared platform software could include search tools, file sharing, analytics and reporting, a user feedback system, and more. The shared platform you choose should also be able to scale with the growth of your knowledge base.
What makes a good knowledge base?
It doesn’t have to be a chore to keep your knowledge base in good shape. In fact, much like great pizzas, the best knowledge bases…
- use the freshest ingredients
- bring together everything you want and need
- are sliced into bite-sized pieces
- share easily with any number of people
- are delivered right where your team needs
- bring people together
- are easy to enjoy
- are so amazing that people love making them
1. Update content often
Updating content will be a regular activity in order to keep your knowledge base relevant and useful. Rely on your knowledge base software system’s built-in analytics to help. The data you review will help you better understand:
- The type of information people are accessing
- How search traffic to once-popular articles changes
- When an article was first published and updated
Plan to have your SMEs review all content (on a rolling basis) throughout the year in order to update, optimize, or retire content as necessary. In addition, you should plan to update relevant content any time your company policies, products, or changes to your services. Guru's verification engine ensures your knowledge is always up-to-date.
2. Make pages consistent
Because you will likely have more than one subject matter expert writing content for your knowledge base, you will need a style guide to make sure your content is consistent in look, tone, and feel regardless of who is writing or editing that content. Stick with a consistent structure and include (at a minimum) these elements on each page:
- Key terms (this empowers users to search and discover the information they need)
- Related information and references
- Call to action
If your knowledge base will be customer-facing, you will want to ensure you follow any style guidance from your marketing or communications team. Your marketing or communications department likely has a style guide that includes guidelines for punctuation, brand style, formatting, and more. See how a knowledge manager can help create and enforce guidelines.
3. Make consuming content convenient
You want to be sure your content is easy to understand and access. These writing guidelines ensure your content is clear:
- Clarity: Use action-based headlines to help your audience know at-a-glance what the content will explain. Explain all jargon or technical terms in clear language.
- Readability: Readers prefer content that provides information at-a-glance. That means paragraphs should be short and blocks of text should be broken up with headings, subheadings, bullets, or numbered lists where applicable.
- Engagement: Include images, charts, infographics, or videos within content or as stand-alone content to increase engagement.
- Utility: Be sure to link to related articles within your knowledge base. This will help your audience easily find other resources that fully answer their questions.
- Value: Every piece of content in your knowledge base should offer a valuable solution or insight.
For your internal knowledge base, consider a tool that brings your content right into the apps you love so you don’t waste time switching contexts.
Measure the impact of your knowledge base
So, how do you know if your knowledge base is actually working the way you want it to? The main impact metric you should be measuring here is usage. If your software offers them, take a look at your analytics and see how frequently team members are searching for, consuming, updating, and sharing information.
If your software doesn’t give you clear analytics, try to take stock of how new the information in your knowledge base is. At the beginning, this might be easy but check every month or so to see when information was last added or updated. If it’s been weeks with no changes, your information is going stale.
Another way to check is to see how frequently people at your company are asking questions in chat and how often your agents can resolve customer service requests at first contact. If you see the volume of questions relative to what’s been captured in your knowledge rise or you think your first-contact resolution rates could improve, people are ignoring or bypassing your KB, lowering its overall impact.
Audit your knowledge base
If your impact metrics show that your content isn’t having the impact it should be, it’s time for a knowledge base audit. The main goal of an audit is to improve usage by improving content. That can mean consolidating existing information or breaking it into smaller, bite-size pieces, getting rid of information that’s no longer needed, and updating knowledge that’s still relevant.
While an audit might feel overwhelming — especially if you have thousands of articles or pages — going through it methodically and intentionally will allow your company to function more efficiently in the long term.
Looking for a place to start? Discover how healthy your knowledge base is with our quick assessment.