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What Is a Knowledge Base - Document360

What Is a Knowledge Base and Why Do You Need One?

Category: Knowledge Base Software

Last updated on May 21, 2024

The definition of the term “knowledge base” has evolved several times since it was first coined. You might be aware that it was a term people used to describe any complex data storing system that was more advanced than the common relational “database”.

This was the technical meaning of a knowledge base.

Now, with the emergence of SaaS, the term knowledge base has taken on a different meaning.

A knowledge base is currently defined as a self-service repository, or library, used to store easily retrievable information about your product, service, or topic. It’s likely you’ll have used many examples of common knowledge bases to access help.

Essentially, a knowledge base is a collection of your company’s internal or external knowledge, structured in such a way that it can help employees or customers find answers to their questions or doubts.

Knowledge bases have become an integral part of every knowledge management system. They appear in different formats and with different uses.

What is a Knowledge Base?

A knowledge base is a website that contains specific information about your service, product, or a particular topic that can help either external customers or internal employees. It’s created and published using specialized software usually sold as SaaS.

Such examples can be FAQs, how-to articles, troubleshooting guides, or anything that your customers might want to know related to the services you offer.

An effective knowledge base is the perfect solution for providing excellent customer service even while scaling your customer support program. Many repetitive tickets can be deflected with your self-service content.

At the same time, it can also help your employees carry out their jobs more effectively. By offering self-service, agents can focus on more essential tasks and prioritize what is really important.

There are different types of knowledge bases that can be grouped according to their functionality.

Types of Knowledge Base

As we’ve mentioned, knowledge bases can be targeted at two particular types of audiences. You’ll want to group your knowledge base, and approach it differently, depending on who it’s aimed at. There are other considerations as well, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Internal Knowledge Base

There are internal knowledge bases, used to serve the employees of the company. Usually, this kind of knowledge base will be private, requiring a login to access in order to protect sensitive or confidential information.

An internal knowledge base serves only the employees of the company. Meaning it does not provide access to the users of the platform.

When you create an internal knowledge base, you can include anything that is meant for internal use. To name a few:

  • Best coding practices for developers
  • Onboarding material for new employees
  • Content creation guidelines for content writers
  • Company Policies
  • And literally any piece of information that needs to be shared internally

document360 employee handbook

An example of an internal knowledge base can be even a Google Drive folder that is shared only within the employees of the company, or within a specific department.

External Knowledge Base

And then there are external knowledge bases that serve the customers of the product or service. These will usually be public and linked to directly from your organization’s website. Agents can recommend content to customers during the course of support.

If you browse through the Help and Documentation section of any software, you’ve found their external knowledge base. You’ll usually discover tutorials, guides and reference docs which provide a comprehensive overview of the system.

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Now, let’s move on to the different hosting options for your knowledge base.

Self-hosted Knowledge Base

A self-hosted knowledge base, also known as on-premise software, is hosted on your own servers. This means you must maintain it yourself and be responsible for security and other concerns. Although a third-party has developed your knowledge base, you retain total control over the software. You are not constrained by the vendor’s usage policies, pricing plans, or future development choices.

Hosted Knowledge Base

A hosted knowledge base is provided by a third-party vendor who specializes in developing the software. Everything is done for you, including hosting, security, maintenance, updates, and changes are naturally incorporated into the software. This type of software is typically accessed as SaaS.

Open-source Knowledge Base

An open source knowledge base is a viable option for organizations that want complete customization options and flexibility over their solution. Open source knowledge bases are often free and developed by an open source community. You will usually need to provide your own support and host the software yourself (as in self-hosted).

Why You Need a Knowledge Base

There are so many reasons that you need a knowledge base in 2024 and beyond – not least because 70% of customers prefer to use a company’s website to find answers to their questions. Phone and email are secondary options to self-service. A knowledge base is also the obvious solution if you want to scale your company fast.

Companies usually need a knowledge base because they don’t want to keep answering the same questions repeatedly. A knowledge base is cost-effective, with web self-service reducing costs by up to $11 per call. As your customer service scales, the savings soon stack up.

Now, we’ll look in some more detail at the benefits of having a knowledge base.

Benefits of Having a Knowledge Base

Having a knowledge base today is essential for any business that has customers. This is especially when it comes to Software as a Service (SaaS).

If you really want your SaaS business to be more successful, you should start building a knowledge base from day one. Why?

SaaS companies have a monetization model that focuses on their Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR).

Essentially, that means you have to not only convert new customers to use your product but also to keep existing customers happy. Then they won’t leave you for your competitor. Customer retention, as it is also known, is key.

And knowledge bases help massively with customer retention.

One of the main reasons why customers stop using a product is because they find it too hard to use – or they don’t receive the right support. And to top it all off, customers expect immediate self-service support. Longer wait times equals more churn.

Heck, customers don’t just expect instant service! They demand it.

If your customer can find a solution to his or her issue without having to wait or communicate with someone, they will adore your product even more. That’s why having an effective and optimized knowledge base can reduce customer churn and put you ahead of your competition.

A knowledge base also benefits your company in various other ways.

Increase the Productivity of Your Team

Having a structured source of internal information can increase your company’s overall productivity and efficiency.

Imagine one of your employees has a question regarding some company policy, some specific guideline, or about best practices and is not sure what to do. If he asks one of his/her coworkers, he will most likely get an answer to his question.

Unfortunately, those employees will be distracted from whatever task they were accomplishing when answering their coworker’s question.

If you’ve ever worked in an office or other professional environment where these things happen continuously, you’ve probably noticed that it takes a lot of time for you to switch your focus back to the original task. In fact, it takes around 23 minutes for an employee to return to their previous level of concentration after being distracted.

This won’t happen if an uninformed employee can find an answer by browsing the internal knowledge base.

Reduce Onboarding Costs

Employee onboarding processes are often time-consuming and costly. New hires need to go through a series of steps and this process is frequently semi-automated using workflow software.

However, even when using workflow software to automate the process, employees still need to communicate with fellow workers and supervisors. Then, they can learn the knowledge required to become productive.

You can fully automate this whole process if that knowledge is stored somewhere – ie within your company’s internal knowledge base.

Imagine this scenario;  two new content writers get hired in your company and they complete their onboarding process. All the necessary accounts are created for them and they are given a short intro on the content writing guidelines that they must follow.

They sit on their desk, the initial onboarding excitement wears off and they need to actually start working. This is the point they realize they have forgotten most of the guidelines.

Instead of panicking, trying to remember, or wasting other employee’s time by asking for a second explanation, they can log-in to the company’s knowledge base repository and search for the content creation guidelines.

Not only does this reduce onboarding time and costs but it also contributes to the overall company productivity.

Take a look at how Document360 simplified VIEW’s new customer onboarding:

Improves Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration

As your company grows, you will notice that most of your departments and teams will start getting more and more intertwined. After all, the company works like an engine which is made of several parts, and if they don’t work together, you can’t move forward.

Employees from different teams and departments will have to start collaborating more. And sometimes, communication between them can be hard to maintain.

That’s where your centralized repository of internal knowledge steps in.

Employees can store and share any needed information with each other, thus reducing confusion and allowing them to work independently without the need for constant supervision.

This aspect greatly lowers management overhead and improves team synergy.

Store Company Knowledge and Improve Company Valuation

Can you believe that most companies don’t have their knowledge or business processes documented?

What happens if their employees leave?

The frequency at which employees leave their companies is on a rise. It is well known that Millennials and Generation Z, switch workplaces almost every two years.

And with them leaving, their knowledge is also lost. This, inevitably, hardens the work of those who’re left to pick up the pieces.

Aside from the above, having documented knowledge is extremely important for SaaS startups. If at any point in time you decide to sell your company or try to get additional investment, having your company knowledge documented turns knowledge, an intangible asset, into a valuable and transferable asset.

Reduce Customer Support Costs

Whether you are a startup or a well-developed company, you don’t want to dump a lot of cash on customer support if it’s not an effective use of your budget.

Certainly, providing the best experience for your customers is your number one priority. However, with the help of an external knowledge base, you can provide a superb experience while cutting down on cost.

Having a good knowledge base lowers the number of support tickets your support staff has to handle. As a startup, minimizing costs in every possible area is very important.

The same can be said for bigger companies. Having an external knowledge base can reduce employee overhead. Meaning your staff will be able to focus only on critical issues and tickets of high importance.

Higher customer satisfaction

Remember the Social Media Today statistics we mentioned above? It is true – people would prefer to answer their questions by themselves rather than asking for someone’s aid.

People genuinely don’t like it when they’re in need of something or when they’re not knowledgeable on a certain topic and have to ask someone. By providing them with this information right at their fingertips, customer retention will increase without sacrificing your company’s customer service.

Without the need to wait for an answer from one of your team, customers can solve a problem and move on with their day. Associating your company with such ease of service makes customers more likely to stay.

Reduce Customer Wait Times

We all know that irritating feeling when we’re waiting for customer service while being put on hold for more than ten minutes. According to data, 60% of customers are only willing to wait on the phone for less than two minutes.

With a proper knowledge base – one that is organized well and explicitly – your customers won’t be put on hold. There will be no transferring between support agents, no “We’ll call you back”, etc. No more abandoned calls, no more multiple tickets submitted to support.

All of your customers’ questions will be answered with one button click.

What’s not to like?

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What to Include in Your Knowledge Base

If you have read thus far, then without a doubt you are convinced on the benefits that having a knowledge base can bring.

However, now you might be wondering what to include in your knowledge base.

To begin with, as cheesy as it may sound, the most important things is to listen to your customers. Look for trends, focus on what people want to know and on what they need to know. And then write knowledge base content that matches those needs.

Secondly, the knowledge base should be easy to navigate. Thus a lot of effort needs to be put in optimizing your help desk’s UX and information architecture. Think about it this way. When a user lands on your help desk, they should instinctively understand which section they need to click on so that they can find what they are looking for.

Thirdly, you should optimize content on your knowledge base for search according to best SEO practices as to improve discoverability.

We won’t go into much detail regarding SEO and UX design for your knowledge base. We’ve already dedicated an individual post to each topic:

Without further ado, let’s jump into the different components that can make up a knowledge base.

Frequently Asked Questions

F.A.Q. pages explain topics that don’t require too much depth or technical support. They cover topics that can be explained in 1 or 2 paragraphs.

These are answers to questions that have been either asked on a regular basis or that you expect your users to ask at some point.

Create faq page

To give you an example of how useful FAQs are, we don’t have to look any further than Transferwise. They started as a money transferring service and then expanded to offering a borderless online bank account for their customers.

Since the concept of borderless accounts is fairly new, they decided to create an extensive FAQ section for it (35+ FAQs). And guess what? It worked wonders for them.

This way, their support staff didn’t have to answer the same questions over and over again. Instead, they could redirect inquiries to their respective FAQ page.

Tutorials & How-to Guides

Most of the time, issues can’t be resolved through FAQs due to their brevity and conciseness. That’s where how-to guides and tutorials step in.

How-to guides are generally short tutorials that explain in detail a single step or action. Essentially, they help your new users get acquainted with the basic processes of your software.

Tutorials, on the other hand, are longer, more in-depth, and can cover a wider range of processes within the same post.

Both how-to guides and tutorials are generally supported with screenshots, visual representations or even short step-by-step videos.

How to guides

Then they make sure that you fulfill all prerequisites before getting started, so you don’t end up getting frustrated after completing the tutorial, wondering what went wrong.

Community Section

When dealing with software documentation, troubleshooting problems and so on, the community is always an essential part of any software.

Especially in the open source community, designers, engineers, programmers rely heavily on each other’s support for fixing issues with their code or design. A good knowledge base provides a separate space for the community to interact and help each other.

After all, in today’s age, a comment section for discussing issues and questions is not enough anymore.

DigitalOcean sports a very active community and a great chunk of their knowledge base content is created by the community itself. They write tutorials, discuss issues and solutions together, and then whenever it’s needed, moderators from Digital Ocean step in to give more detailed answers.

digitalocean community

It is especially useful for your company to establish an active community. Firstly, you get content generated by other users thus reducing your content creation team’s overhead.

Secondly, users help each other out, reducing the amount of work needed from your support team. And last but not least, an active community around your product helps your promote your knowledge base and your product.

There are several reasons why Digital Ocean fosters such an active community. One thing is for sure though, they really care about their community. So much that they actively promote their top contributors, or as they like to call them, “Community DO-ers”.

community doers

News and Updates Section

Most knowledge bases nowadays provide a separate section for news and updates. This section can include community announcements, product updates, new version releases, known issues with the platform, and so on.

If your company is offering a SaaS, then you are probably rolling out updates on a regular basis.

Some companies, like Biztalk360 have a section for new releases called “Release notes”. Instead of having updates, changes, and bug fixes documented in different places (which can be difficult to organize and find), they update the same section on a regular basis. This section is mainly for users to read.

Release notes Example

And Document360 keeps a separate “What’s new” where they release latest Document360 updates.

What's new section

Reference Documentation

These docs target a more technical audience such as software developers. They are extremely useful if your software has an API that developers or customers can use to extend their application or to create custom integrations with their existing software.

However, reference docs are not restricted to a software’s API. They can also include information regarding Command-line interfaces (CLIs), drivers and specifications, file formats, and so on.

To give you a simple example, you can take a look at Docker’s reference documentation.

docker guide

In today’s age, most SaaS companies are trying to develop APIs that can be understood and used by non-tech-savvy people.

Zapier’s reference documentation, for example, uses terminology that can easily be understood by non-developers. That’s why almost every SaaS startup nowadays is integrating Zapier into their process from day one.

Examples of Top-Notch Knowledge Bases

After explicitly covering what a knowledge base is, its uses and benefits, and what to include in it, perhaps it will be most effective to go through some examples of knowledge base excellency.

Spotify

We all know the internationally renowned music app Spotify. To what do you believe it owes its tremendous success? As stated above, the idea itself isn’t enough. Spotify knew that. And this is why they created their excellent knowledge base.

spotify support

When it comes to a design-wise knowledge base, Spotify has our vote. Their help center is not only extremely helpful, user-friendly, and simple, but it is also neatly organized.

Each common issue is carefully segmented with its own subcategories. Their knowledge base is composed of thoroughly explained information (FAQs, how-to guides) backed by amazing visuals.

spotify search

Spotify’s knowledge base also has an amazing autocomplete system which suggests and tries to predict possible questions that you may have. Its ranking is most likely based on the number of times such questions have been asked before.

spotify logout

 Finally, Spotify offers a feature for users to evaluate the effectiveness of their knowledge base through a binary feedback from, or in simpler words by answering a Yes/No question. This requires little effort from the user itself and only indicates that Spotify values customer feedback and that they are always striving to improve.

Ahrefs

Ahrefs support one of the best knowledge bases available out there when it comes to SEO and marketing tools. It is very easy to navigate. Their helpdesk is categorized based on the actions that you are trying to perform and the elements of the application that you want to use.

ahrefs support

What gives Ahrefs’ knowledge base our vote is the fact that their content is heavily backed by media content. They have a myriad of screenshots that help you follow through a process step-by-step.

And if that wasn’t enough, they also provide explanatory videos to guide you.

Differently to our previous example, they don’t gather feedback using a binary form. Instead, they use smiley faces to allow users to indicate their level of satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with the content.

Ahrefs-KB-Vote

This allows them to prioritize changes that need to be made to their knowledge base content based on the three levels of user satisfaction.

Stripe

Stripe’s knowledge base is our one time favorite. In fact, their knowledge base is so good it has been one of the key factors in their growth.

stripe kb

If we were to attribute their knowledge base’s success to one thing, it would probably be their focus on how users interact with their products. Instead of using technical jargon, they categorize information according to their purpose.

Additionally, they use language that can be understood by any user. This means that you don’t need to be familiar with Stripe’s terminology to understand and use its documentation.

The best thing about Stripe’s documentation is the fact that they give you the opportunity to test their API instantly, directly from their docs page.

Stripe KB 2

What better way to create trust on your product than allowing people to use it literally within a few seconds of accessing the documentation?

If you want to get more insights on Stripe’s growth, you can check out our full tear down of Stripe’s knowledge base.

Conclusion

Building a knowledge base is a difficult but essential task. Any customer today demands and deserves immediate support for the software or tool that they’ve chosen to use.

That’s why having a dynamic, up-to-date, and customer-focused knowledge base reduces customer churn and boosts your ROI in terms of customer success.

A knowledge base helps build a community around your product. This helps you increase brand awareness and overall customer satisfaction, and create the feeling of being included in something bigger.

Ultimately, having a good knowledge base is about empowering your customers and your employees.

You can achieve this aim using dedicated  knowledge base software.

How did a knowledge base help you grow your company? Did you use knowledge base software to create your knowledge base, or did you create it from scratch? What worked best? We’d be glad to hear about your experiences in the comments section below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Noel Ceta

Dec 18, 2018

                       
                     
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