12 Tips for Creating an Effective Knowledge Base

Providing delightful customer support isn’t easy. Support teams spend a lot of time answering the same questions again & again. It’s tiring. Giving customers a self-service option for these questions frees up support representatives’ time.

That way, customers get quicker answers. And the support people have more time to help with the tougher problems.

That’s what a knowledge base does. It provides answers to common questions and problems. Customers and users of your products can look up answers without having to wait for a live person. They get immediate answers & thus are more satisfied. And the ones who need personal help won’t have to wait as long.

How a knowledge base works

Knowledge base technology takes many forms. Essence is – People ask for information and they should get relevant information. At the heart of most knowledge bases is a set of articles on how to do something.

One simple approach is to have an index of links. It should be organized according to topics and subtopics for easy navigation. The user will navigate down from general topics to specific items.

In addition, the knowledge base may let users ask questions. Having both an index and a query mechanism is a good idea. Sometimes people want to browse, and sometimes they want their question answered.

The simplest query systems try to match keywords. Each response in the knowledge base has a list of identifying keywords. For instance, if the user asks, “How do I choose a shipping method?” it will look for responses that have the keyword “shipping.” It may offer a list of possible answers rather than just one.

More advanced systems use AI and natural language processing to figure out just what the question means. They can give answers with better relevance. This type of system is often presented as a chatbot which the user can converse with.

Creating an effective knowledge base requires quite a bit of effort. You need to decide when the support situation has grown enough to justify it. But don’t wait too long, or your support department will have more on its hands than it can manage.

Building a knowledge base

Whatever technology it uses, an effective knowledge base is only as good as its content. It has to be accurate, readable, and relevant to users’ needs. Here are some tips for accomplishing that.

  • Collect full set of information. Everyone in the company who deals with customers has a perspective on what they need to know. Working from multiple perspectives means fewer gaps.
  • Delimit the topics to cover. Once you have a detailed list of topics, cut it down to a reasonable set. Including answers to every possible question makes the system harder to use. Choose the most common issues and the ones that are less likely to require personal assistance.
  • Create articles with a consistent style. All the articles should have a similar structure and voice. How formal and technical it should be depends on the customer base. For non-specialists, keep it casual and simple. Create a style guide and a template that every article will follow. Use bullet points and subheads for readability.
  • Keep the articles short. If one grows too long, it’s probably covering more than one issue. Look for a way to split it.
  • Include cross-references. The first article the customer pulls up may not fully answer the question. Links to closely related answers will help them obtain all the needed information.
  • Provide additional resources. Another kind of resource, such as a tutorial video or screenshot, may be helpful. If it’s available and relevant to the topic, include a link or an embedded resource.
  • Set up a mandatory editorial review. The knowledge base manager or a designated editor should review every article. Everything should follow the style guide. Everything should have accurate grammar and spelling. Sloppy writing will kill customer confidence.
  • Review for technical accuracy. Each article should get a technical review by an expert on the topic. Any errors need to be fixed before the article becomes public.

Maintaining effectiveness

The job isn’t done once the effective knowledge base is live. It is going to need constant revision and review.

  • Conduct regular reviews. Have knowledgeable people check all the articles for accuracy and usefulness. Some articles will go stale over time, and some will have errors that weren’t caught the first time.
  • Keep it up to date. As products, services, and procedures change, the knowledge base needs to be updated to match. New information has to be added. Dead links may need updating or deleting.
  • Gather feedback. If possible, each article should include a “Was this information helpful?” button. Those that get a lot of negative responses should be reviewed. The problem may be their relevance rather than their content.
  • Set up a process to flag issues. Support representatives may get complaints that the knowledge base gives inaccurate or confusing information. There should be a simple way to flag these problems and a process for reviewing flagged articles.

If you take all these steps, your customers will solve their most common problems on their own. They’ll get quicker responses, so they’ll be happy. The support staff will spend less time on those issues, so it will have more time to address questions that deserve their attention. They’ll be more productive, and the customers with these issues won’t have to wait as long. Everyone wins.

Embedder is a Confluence app that broadcasts your knowledge base space to where your customers are.

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