Knowledge base software is what powers web-based support articles, instructional manuals, and a wealth of different types of online documentation. It helps keep information consistent across a range of different specialities, from small eCommerce shops to international science projects.
A Knowledge Base is often explained as a repository that stores complex structured and unstructured information.
To us mere mortals who don’t speak in jargon a Knowledge Base is kinda like a database. Only instead of being filled with rows and columns of text, numbers, or raw 1s and 0s, it’s readable, accessible, and actionable content.
Think of them as a collection of knowledge-filled articles written by people for people.
There’s a few different ways to actually build a Knowledge Base. And how you build one depends on what you’ll use it for.
You could have an Internal Knowledge Base. Often these are used as a place for sharing proprietary eyes-only information throughout an organization behind some kind of login.
Internal Knowledge Bases are usually for things like company processes. Perhaps more sensitive information such as confidential research data.
You can also make an external public facing Knowledge Base. These are useful for things like customer service and support since they help customers help themselves.
In a nutshell a public Knowledge Base lets businesses and service teams deflect recurring queries super easily. And make a massive improvement to the customer experience in the process.
You could also decide to have a mix of both worlds. Hosting Internal and External Knowledge Base articles side-by-side. This is a pretty popular choice for established businesses with a bunch of customers they wanna encourage to self-serve. And with policies and procedures they wanna share internally.
For customers a Knowledge Base provides a way for product users to access procedures, manuals, best practices, and policies. Essentially any documentation that’ll improve their customer experience.
For businesses and product owners a Knowledge Base provides the opportunity to share vital information that will allow their users to have the best possible experience.
Knowledge base software is the technology that powers this experience helping unearth knowledge in the most readily accessible and engaging way for the end user.
A good Knowledge Base lets end-users access knowledge in their own time. They can get the answer they’re looking for when they’re looking for it.
No waiting for an agent to respond.
No lengthy email chain.
Imagine a customer desperately wanting to change their billing details but unable to find the right combination of buttons and inputs despite there being a way for them to self-serve.
The customer might contact the product support team.
Which is great.
Human touch points are important to build trust and make customers feel valued.
But what if the support team’s clocked off for the day?
All of a sudden what should’ve been a great customer experience has suddenly become a frustrating one.
Submitting a support ticket isn’t always going to help right away. But a Knowledge Base with an article that covers how to update billing information just might.
Of course it goes without saying that everyone wants to deliver a great customer experience. Let’s face it nobody’s ever said “oh I really wanna disappoint my customers”.
But some studies claim less than half of U.S. consumers say companies actually provide a good customer experience. And it’s not just product speed or convenience that’s the issue. Helpful and friendly service proved to be among the most important considerations too.
Customer Service and the overall Customer Experience are closely tied. Failing to provide a good service is one of the main reasons for customer churn. Over half of customers admit to switching services as a result of it.
The thing is, poor experiences have serious long-term impacts. One in three consumers said they’d walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience.
That’s one time a customer couldn’t find the information they were looking for.
One time they had to wait too long for a response to a simple question.
One time a piece of support documentation was out of date. Or worse didn’t exist at all.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Because when you stop to think about it this presents an unprecedented opportunity.
Particularly when you consider the same research that said 37% of consumers try to use self-service also revealed 75% of consumers would use online support if it were reliable. A staggering 91% say they would use a Knowledge Base if it were available and tailored to their needs.
The thing is when everyone else is doing a terrible job it really doesn’t wind up being that difficult to delight a customer and deliver an exceptional experience.
According to SuperOffice investing in Customer Experience (CX) initiatives has the potential to double your revenue within 36 months. And focusing on establishing an engaging Knowledge Base can be one of the most effective ways to improve your customer experience.
The trouble is some research indicates only 37% of consumers actually try to use self-service because they are often perceived as inaccurate or incomplete.
That’s pretty terrifying. Despite wanting to create great experiences, businesses and product owners are letting customers down at the point they need them most. The support stage.
The most likely cause? Poor execution.
Unfortunately, getting started with your Knowledge Base software to build an effective Knowledge Base isn’t as simple as just collecting your knowledge and spewing it into an FAQ page. If only it were that simple.
Before we dive into some tips on how to build your Knowledge Base let’s talk about how to choose the right Knowledge Base software for your business.
There’s a whole world of Knowledge Base and help desk software out there. It can be pretty overwhelming.
So where do you start? Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself when researching different options.
The first question you need to ask is whether you need an entire support suite or whether you’re simply looking for the most engaging way to present your documentation.
With help desk software and suites, you’re getting a whole bunch of different features. Ticketing. Chat. Automations and bots. Databases and a CRM where you can track and target your customers.
Help desk software has become closely aligned with sales. Knowledge bases in this context usually exist as an add-on. A fun little side dish in the banquet of other features.
No doubt this has some benefits from a sales and marketing point of view. It can help you make your support Knowledge Base into a marketing tool as well as tackling a few recurring queries.
The downside is usually that since the Knowledge Base is an add-on it’s often not given priority in terms of support or development.
On the flip side, specialist Knowledge Base software is designed to make the end-user reading experience as accessible and engaging as possible.
More often than not specialist software is built with extensibility in mind too. So instead of being tied into a single support ecosystem, users can select the best tools for their specific needs.
While it’s obvious that a specialist Knowledge Base software will be biased toward their own product the truth is neither suites or specialists are better or worse. They simply serve a different purpose.
The next thing to think about is how your users will engage with your documentation.
And by that we’re not just talking about the way they navigate your articles—although that is also a significant question.
Different Knowledge Base software offers different levels of interactivity with the documentation.
Some software offers the ability for users to collaborate and suggest edits to articles. This creates a kind of crowdsourced wiki-type documentation.
This can be particularly useful in community settings and for things like open-source projects. Places where knowledge is sourced from a collective and not one specific source. Ultimately this knowledge does usually form a single document.
Forum-based documentation is a lot like collaborative docs. But instead of there being a single agreed answer to a question, there are numerous possibilities.
Great examples are the Stack Exchange Network sites like Stack Overflow, and places like Quora. Essentially spaces where people can ask questions and have them answered by a community.
Read Only Documentation
Read only documentation is probably the most common form of Knowledge Base.
Knowledge sourced from businesses and product owners is presented in a kind of in-depth user manual format. Unless you’re building an open-source or community project, this is likely the kind of Knowledge Base you’ll be looking for.
Essentially this is a way for you to present authoritative knowledge to the people who need it when they need it most.
We touched on this a little earlier.
Whether or not you need a private Knowledge Base or a public one is a significant practical consideration when you’re deciding on which Knowledge Base software you should go for.
Internal Knowledge Base Software
Internal Knowledge Bases are super useful for, well, using internally. Perfect for things like business processes, style guides, internal rules, and regulations you want your internal team to have access to but don’t want to share with the general public.
They’re also great when you have information you just want to share with logged-in users.
Public Knowledge Base Software
Public Knowledge Bases are great for a bunch of different use cases. From eCommerce through to web apps or SaaS. This is for docs that don’t need to be hidden from the public.
The added bonus of having a public Knowledge Base is it can be a great boost for SEO and your search rankings. Used as a marketing tool as well as a service tool it’s a great way to showcase products, features, and integrations in an actionable and valuable way.
Mixing Both Worlds
There are occasions where you want both a public and internal Knowledge Base. And there are a bunch of approaches that different Knowledge Base software take to this use case.
Some offer multiple accounts where one is private and the other is public. Others allow for category-based restrictions where all the articles inside a category can be hidden from public viewing. And there’s even the ability to host both public and private articles side by side with restrictions at an article level.
There’s no blanket right or wrong here. Whether or not you need a public or internal Knowledge Base is going to depend on the unique circumstances of your company or product. That said it is something you should consider right from the start when choosing your Knowledge Base software.
Integrations are an important part of most specialist Knowledge Base software. Since they have a singular focus on their Knowledge Base user experience integrations are seen as a way to extend it.
If you opt for a help desk suite chances are integrations are going to be a little more limited. Or they’ll wind up being redundant.
So if there’s a tool you love and use either individually or within your team you’ll want to make sure you keep it in mind when choosing your software.
There are a bunch of different ways to embed a Knowledge Base into your product or website. You could use a basic iFrame, a custom subdomain linked in your website navigation, or something like a support widget.
The latter are becoming more and more popular. In-app messaging and more contextual engagement has become an expectation instead of a “nice to have”. Some reports even suggest contextual support have open rates at typically double the SaaS industry average of 20%.
But not all Knowledge Base software embeds in the same way. Again this boils down to personal preference and creating the user experience you want to create.
Finding the right software fit is often a tricky prospect. After you’ve navigated all the flashy marketing sites from so many different places it’s easy to find yourself swayed by promises and sales jargon.
One of the things you’ll want to keep in the back of your mind is how future-proof the software you’re looking at really is. And that’s true of any software purchase. Because trying to migrate your content and data from one SaaS to another can often have unexpected results.
What’s Your Budget?
Probably one of the biggest concerns and limitations is likely to be your budget and the cost of the software in comparison to competitors.
There are no doubt times where there’s very little you can do if the price of software exceeds the allocated budget. Sometimes there’s just not a financial fit. It happens.
The trouble is it’s not usually as simple as “X is cheaper than Y”. Often there is a compromise be it in features or the customer service you receive.
Be sure you can live with whatever the compromise is long-term. If it’s a feature, think about whether it’s something you’d need in 3 or 6 months at your current growth rate. If it’s support or product maintenance think about the impact on your business should the software fail.
How Many Users Now and in a Year?
Most Knowledge Base software have registered user limits tied to specific pricing points. Occasionally you might find pricing is “per seat”. That means growing your Knowledge Base team will incur an immediate additional vendor expense.
Having a successful team growth roadmap in mind before you commit to software can save you from massive headaches later on.
What Integrations Might You Need in the Future?
We’ve already touched a little on how integrating with tools you already use can be a great way to extend specialist Knowledge Base software. But what about tools you might want to use at scale?
It’s impossible to anticipate how you might want to use different software in the future. Nevertheless it’s important to keep in mind the kind of tools the software integrates with.
What’s more you should check out the changelogs and product updates to see how often features and integrations are shipped. This’ll give you a good idea whether or not a tool you decide to use later might actually be considered for integration into your software.
Will You Need to Customize?
Last but by no means least you should think about how important customization is to you and your customer experience.
Even if right now you’re not too fussed about changing any more than colors or logos is there likely to come a point where you want to be able to use custom code? Maybe even build your own template?
It might be a tired and old cliché but it remains true nonetheless.
Simplicity is at the heart of a good customer experience. Research from Siegel+Gale held that 55% of consumers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences. And it’s not just revenue either. The same research indicated 64% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand because it’s simple.
But knowing simplicity is key is often less than half the battle. And that’s particularly true when it comes to building out your Knowledge Base.
So how can you keep your Knowledge Base experience as simple and engaging as possible?
Make it Easy to Access
Gaining access to your Knowledge Base articles shouldn’t be a challenge for your intended user. It should be super obvious where your Knowledge Base lives.
A great way to make sure it is obvious is to use a custom domain. If you’re using a Knowledge Base for support try something like support.yourdomain.com. For an educational Knowledge Base maybe learn.yourdomain.com.
Make it obvious and then link to it from places your users should be able to access it.
For public Knowledge Bases the easiest way to make it accessible is to make sure it’s linked from your website and product navigation or embedded as some kind of widget.
If you’re using your Knowledge Base as an internal tool or are restricting behind some kind of login function—such as SSO authentication or some other password protection—you’ve got to make sure that the people who need access have access.
Make it Easy to Find Answers
When a user searches for an answer they really are hoping to find one. It’s not rocket science.
Adding finishing touches to your Knowledge Base articles makes them easy for search engines to index. And in turn, they become a lot easier to surface from an end user point of view.
Adding descriptions, tags, and clear titles is crucial. So is where your article sits in your Knowledge Base.
An article about a Front integration should sit inside a category about Front integrations. That should also sit inside a category about Integrations.
Be specific, deliberate, and obvious with how you categorise your articles. Don’t make users or search engines work for it.
Make it Easy to Understand
Once you find the article you think you’re looking for there’s nothing worse than pages and pages of confusing terms and industry jargon.
Your documentation should be written to cater for the least knowledgeable user. So avoid placing unnecessary barriers between them and the answer they’re looking for.
What’s more keep your documentation short and to the point. You’re not supposed to be writing a novel, blog post, or a whitepaper.
You’re sharing knowledge in the most accessible and engaging way you can.
It might sound silly but if you want to create a good customer experience providing the thing users are looking for is really your only purpose.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a short answer to a question, or a potentially too long whitepaper. You have to meet the expectations and demands of the people viewing your documentation.
While it might seem difficult to predict what users are looking for it’s actually far easier than you might think.
Do Your Research
The first step is to do your research. If you’re using Knowledge Base software to host your support documentation that means first taking a look at your support tickets.
See what comes up on the regular. What people are frequently struggling with. Speak to your customers too. They don’t bite! And they have tremendous—if occasionally painful to hear—insights and the exact perspective you need to empathise with.
If it’s not support you’re focused on maybe it’s education. Again talk to people. Learn from them. There’s only one way to find out where your knowledge can be applied to make your users’ lives easier.
Have a Singular Focus
Once you’ve done your research and you’re ready to start building out your docs be focused. Be specific.
Don’t answer multiple questions with a single article. Answer single questions and do it multiple times. Short and specific articles will be better for your users to engage with. And they’ll be much better for search too. Both in your Knowledge Base and for SEO.
Most importantly by answering a single question you can predict what the visitors to your article are looking for. Because your Knowledge Base software will be able to guide them much easier.
The last and potentially most crucial part of creating a great customer experience within your Knowledge Base is to make sure everything reflects your brand.
Your Knowledge Base is as much a part of your brand experience as your website, social media, or any customer facing space.
To create a great customer experience you should use the same language you use throughout all your branded materials.
If your language is expected to be more technical then be more technical. If your brand’s colloquial with reams of emoji use them in your documentation. Either way remember to keep things as simple for your readers to understand as possible.
A good customer experience relies heavily on meeting the expectations of your brand and creating a unified experience across all customer touchpoints.