What Is a Knowledge Base and Why Is It Useful?

February 5th, 2018 | Hutch Morzaria | Customer Service | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
What is a Knowledge Base and Why is it Useful?

As companies everywhere see growing customer demand for self-service functionality in addition to their core service or support channels, knowledge bases play a large part in helping organizations to meet this need.

A knowledge base is a library of information about a service, product, topic or department that is designed to provide self-serve help. Knowledge bases offer information that might otherwise only be available through a human. Because of this, organizations who provide a knowledge base for self-help can free up their employees’ time, which is often better used in more complex and challenging scenarios.

It can be easy to get confused about the definition of a knowledge base, since it can encompass both a customer-facing self-service tool and an employee-facing internal resource, as well as potentially acting as both at the same time! Let’s explore both options, their applications, and their usefulness to organizations.

Internal Employee Knowledge Base

Having a knowledge base for employees benefits organizations by increasing efficiency, consistency and internal communication. Knowledge bases work as a repository of information necessary for day-to-day business activities. But as well as being useful for day-to-day operations, knowledge bases also have positive long-term effects for businesses.

First, knowledge bases are an excellent way to store critical information relating to customers, services, products or even general office or employment information. Having all of this information in one place, instead of scattered across multiple documents, improves efficiency by bringing a structure to business-critical information.

Once set up, knowledge bases work to streamline and improve workflows across other processes and pieces of software. A standalone knowledge base can aid workflows relating to customer queries, internal problem resolution, HR queries or even project management processes.

The Problem with Internal Communication

Many companies have a knowledge base for their customers but lack one for employees.

There is solid reasoning behind prioritizing a customer-facing knowledge base, due to customer demand for self-serve and the obvious resource benefits of customer-facing agents taking fewer straightforward queries.

However, when employees of any kind don’t know how to find the information they need to perform their role, that represents a resource inefficiency that’s damaging regardless of whether it’s experienced by customer-facing employees or by back-office staff. This leads them to waste time asking colleagues or managers where this information can be found – time that could be used more productively.

Where internal communication channels are not well established, ad hoc systems for finding information make it impossible to find or update information. A standard knowledge base for all employees makes sure that information about protocols, company regulations, etc. is not just easy to find, but also consistent and accurate.

These rules or protocols can then be updated for easy access and transitioning without wasting valuable time. Especially when used together with a social intranet platform, the knowledge base can capture information, insight, and data which can be used to improve customer service and the workplace at large.

Setting Up an Internal Knowledge Base

Every company has unique requirements, and each would need a different set of FAQs used as a basis for establishing knowledge base pages. Start by identifying helpful topics that are a common pain point throughout the relevant company area.

Check company records and identify recurring questions or information that are commonly sought after. Alternatively, you could simply ask staff or managers to make a list of their top queries.

Second, assign particular topics to one or more members of your team. They will be responsible for maintaining and updating information concerning these topics.

Finally, make information easy to access by categorizing topics and utilizing a search bar. It’s no use having a knowledge base if employees waste hours looking for information within it.

An example of an internal knowledge base is an HR information system for employees. Topics might include:

  • Payroll
  • Work schedules and shifts
  • Office conduct
  • Recruitment
  • Training programs
  • Employee contracts, or
  • Complaints resolution center info

Decide which topics should remain internal, and which ones can be shared with external customers, i.e. the public. For the HR example above, you might consider making recruitment information public.

Customer Facing Knowledge Bases

According to a survey of more than 75000 participants, going above and beyond had a lower impact on customer loyalty than actually solving problems.

Since the birth of the contact center, the balance between efficiency and quality has been a hot topic for managers looking to cut costs while also ensuring customer retention and loyalty. And this debate has raged all over the contact center industry, with the benefits of exceptional service — popularized by books like “Lessons from the Mouse” — being contrasted against the benefits of efficient service, with the view often being that the two are exceptionally difficult to achieve simultaneously.

But customer-facing knowledge bases, when provided in addition to standard customer service channels, are often a win-win on this front. They give extra help and choice to customers looking to self-serve, improving perceptions of service quality, while also potentially eliminating the resource required for contact center agents to answer repetitive customer queries.

Forrester has found that FAQ page use is on the rise, increasing from 67% to 76% between 2012 and 2014. As well as this, they found that phone call usage remained stagnant at 73% — showing for the first time that customers more often turn to FAQ pages for help than they turn to live agents.

The same study underlines the importance of continually meeting customer expectations. And while customer expectations are evolving and can differ by channel or demographic, a Microsoft survey indicated that 96% of respondents highlighted customer service as a key differentiator and an important factor in determining their loyalty to a brand.

Self-serve platforms, both customer- or internal-facing, can provide an effective framework for that consistency and that differentiation of service.

Applications of Customer Knowledge Bases

An example of a knowledge base in action is a software company with an IT troubleshooting page. Customers can follow instructions to troubleshoot software problems and quickly solve them. Instructional videos can be included in this self-serve option. Microsoft was long one of the leaders in this area for me. Their interactive walkthroughs have often helped me drill down to a specific issue or problem.

Another example is having a “Terms of Payment” knowledge base page explaining how your e-commerce store accepts payment for goods sold — for example, fees charged to the user, how you handle international shipping, delayed payment verification from your side, etc.

While I’m personally not a fan of vacuuming, my wife absolutely loves Dyson and their products. For an example of a knowledge base that gets it right, they have much to emulate with clearly defined sections and categories. Contact numbers and details are based on region and country, and lots of very clear and distinctive images are included throughout their site.

Another example is Instagram, which has an awesome help center that uses a knowledge base. The layout is simple, and they have well-detailed articles that are easy to understand. The “Top Issues” section provides users an area where they can find solutions to common problems. Since Instagram is a mobile app, the Help Center page is optimized for mobile viewing to reach the majority of users.

What other knowledge bases get it right? Or how does your organization use knowledge bases to improve agent knowledge and customer satisfaction? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Hutch Morzaria

Hutch has been involved with the Internet and technology from the days of dial-up and has been involved in building and growing successful customer service and technical support teams globally. He has a deep and abiding passion for customers and is always looking for ways to make his teams as efficient and productive as possible. In his spare time, Hutch focuses on sharing his knowledge and enjoys spending time with his family. Connect with Hutch on LinkedIn.

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