Last updated on Jul 28, 2020
Believe it or not, customer service is the core of how you make money in the software industry.
More so than just having an excellent product, more so than having fantastic marketing, it’s customer service that keeps people coming back to your door.
That’s because in the long run, keeping existing customers is more important than gaining new customers, and the companies that keep customers longer are the ones that thrive.
Right now, one of the key factors in increasing customer service value is creating an external knowledge base to act as a self-service help center for your confused customers.
Why is that the trend? And why are so many SaaS companies using customer knowledge bases to get it right?
Find out right here.
One principle that too few businesses are aware of is the idea that losing customers is more dangerous than it seems.
In these rough-and-ready days of startups posting huge growth numbers every quarter, it’s easy to ignore the people that changed their minds during the same time period and decided to jump ship.
However, if you normally have 100 customers each month and one says goodbye, then that means you now have one percent negative growth that month.
And investors hate negative growth.
But to counteract that, you have to now get two new customers to achieve just one percent positive growth compared to the previous month. That means, in theory, spending twice as much on customer acquisition as you otherwise would have had to.
That might seem pretty wild, but the numbers don’t lie. If you’re able to minimize the number of customers that leave your company due to a bad customer support experience, you’ll find your quarterly revenue growing higher than ever before.
And think about it in this way, too: normally, customers don’t decide out of the blue to stop using your product. That decision usually comes from one of two scenarios: they no longer need your services at all because of a change in their own business, or they’ve had a bad experience using your product and want to switch over to something else.
Those bad experiences often come from problems in the support pipeline, like being on hold for hours or having to navigate through a complex labyrinth of user manuals.
Fortunately, in the last few years there’s been a new kid on the block when it comes to customer support.
Also known by the name “help center,” a knowledge base is sort of a turbocharged FAQ section for your site.
It more or less grew out of the concept of a company wiki, where multiple users inside the company could all add to or edit an externally-facing wiki page to write tutorials or address common questions.
And it does kind of work like that – you still create new pages for each thing you need to discuss.
A knowledge base, though, has an intelligent search feature that quickly brings all related pages to the forefront, and it’s streamlined in design enough that a text-heavy Wikipedia style of writing never has to get in the way of answers to client questions.
Perhaps more importantly, behind the scenes it’s decked out with analytics so that your support team can track what pages are oldest, what pages are visited the most and least, what pages receive the best feedback, and so on.
In addition, as befits a new generation of Web design, you can easily embed images, videos, and even entire files into knowledge base pages so that users can get whatever information or resources they need, fast.
Knowledge bases are normally sold as a package of software purchased with a monthly subscription from a company like Document360. With their interface, you create pages and organize them into a hierarchy so that they’re easily findable via a top-down search as well as a text search.
By the way, it’s probably good to differentiate between internal and external knowledge bases here. What we’ve been describing so far have been external knowledge bases, where a customer not affiliated with your company sees the pages on the internet.
Internal knowledge bases are the same concept, but available only via login to members of your own company. They’re kind of like a replacement for a company handbook, and if you haven’t considered building one, perhaps it’s time to check out that option!
Although nothing ever works out totally perfectly, let’s imagine a perfect user and a perfect knowledge base to illustrate how a software company can give customers a great service experience.
Suppose your company sells remote desktop software. For some reason, your perfect user is experiencing multiple failures to connect, and can’t work from home like they wanted to. Understandably, they’re frustrated.
So they go online to your knowledge base and type in “connection failure.” By the time they get to the “i” in “failure,” an article called “Troubleshooting Connection Failures” has popped up as a suggestion.
Clicking on the link, they see a minimalist article with screenshots showing how to allow the software through the most common types of firewall software – something that your company’s support team knows is a typical issue among first-time users.
The user follows the steps and successfully connects to their work desktop computer from home, leaving a “thumbs up” on the article after it all works out.
Your support team sees that this article was recently visited and given a good rating, and does a quick check on the dates of the screenshots to make sure they’re not too out of date to be helpful to others.
It’s smiles all around.
Now, in the real world there are always problems that crop up that can’t always be solved by a written tutorial, and there are always users who fail to follow simple instructions. However, ideally at this point you can see the ways that a well-designed knowledge base can be helpful to your users.
It can also be helpful to your company in some unexpected other ways as well!
Let’s say that you inherit the management of a company with no knowledge base but a robust human support team working out of a call center. In other words, you’re a 1 or a 2 on that scale listed above.
Whatever your call center contract is costing you, a knowledge base solution is definitely going to cost you a lot less.
In fact, let’s look at the facts for support pricing. Document360 is transparent with their pricing strategies: it costs $250 a month for the top-of-the-line Enterprise package, including auditing, analytics, and more.
In contrast, just a handful of call center or text chat support representatives based overseas will set you back thousands of dollars per week! It’s no wonder more and more people are trying to help the customer help themselves by setting up a knowledge base support platform.
Wouldn’t it be great to cut that support cost into a fraction of what it was?
Now, it is possible that you’ll want to continue paying for phone support, particularly if you’ve found reps you like working with and your product requires guidance from an expert.
However, anyone who’s worked in support knows that for the vast majority of questions that come in, there’s an easy answer in the knowledge base first.
Directing customers with questions first and foremost to the knowledge base, then to an email support line if necessary, is the best way to cut down on expensive call time.
Having a knowledge base on your company website doesn’t just cut down on support tickets. It also helps in building your brand and your company’s soft power within whatever space you’re working in. Here are four ways:
Having answers to customer questions on your website can go a couple of different ways. It’s always a nice thing to have, but often people don’t put in the work necessary to really be seen as an authority when it comes to using or troubleshooting the project.
Let’s look at a couple of different tiers to see a few possible ways of displaying product information on your website. There’s no question that as we go down the list, the perceived authority of the SaaS company rises.
– A static website, like the kind you’d see for a small business. This probably has an About section, a Contact section, and maybe a short history of the company. A user with questions has to use a contact form or a specific email address to get any answers.
– A website with a static FAQ page. This is definitely a step up, but the user is likely to get frustrated if the FAQ is too short (they always are) and doesn’t have their specific question (they never do). Most of the time, the FAQ is written right at the beginning and guessed at instead of built with real frequently asked questions.
– A website with an entire product manual or user guide online, like the documentation for a web tool. This is likely to contain the information needed to answer most user queries, but it’s in the format of a user manual and so the reader has to hunt down the information. Much worse if this is spread over multiple long pages.
– A searchable knowledge base with embedded videos and up-to-date articles, like what your SaaS company ought to have. This is the type of thing that the user sees and feels relieved about. They can click or tap on the most common articles pushed to the front, and if those don’t do the trick, then the big ol’ search bar will help them find anything related to their queries.
A relieved user is a user that trusts your company to deliver the answers. They’re definitely going to stay with your software!
We’ve already mentioned how bad churn can be for a SaaS company. A knowledge base is one way to cut down that churn number significantly.
It ties into the last point, really. A customer has an issue with your software. Where do they go?
They head to your website, and if it doesn’t have the information on there, then they’re going to get a little bit aggravated. Of course, not having the correct information on your website isn’t immediately going to make them quit, but it’s one strike against you – plus the one that you already had from a problem with your product.
The addition of a knowledge base is a way to remove that extra strike. After the customer has one poor experience, they immediately find their answer and move on using your product, without any bad feeling and perhaps with a new appreciation for your attention to detail!
Everybody’s had the experience of reading a technical tutorial only to get halfway through and realize that it’s actually an ad for someone else’s software.
“To concatenate the results of multiple formulas in Excel, first open up the SuperExcel plugin…”
Now, this type of advertising isn’t particularly malicious. Sometimes, in fact, it does answer the question in a way that helps out the end user.
But wouldn’t you rather have that be on your site? If you have a solid external knowledge base, then your own articles are going to gradually grow in the search rankings for different tech questions.
That means you get to control what your customers see, and so you ensure that they’re not going to be fed ads for competing products. You also get to take this opportunity to upsell them on higher tiers of your subscription!
Lastly, when customers are on your site, you’re able to use customer tracking tools to tell how long they’re active and what they’re interested in. Naturally, you wouldn’t get any of that kind of data from a competitor’s site.
This ties in to the last point, but there’s a subtle difference. When people search for support about your product, they’ll find your pages first, but they’ll also find your knowledge base articles if they search for anything about your product.
That’s because your knowledge base or help center will naturally have descriptions of your product’s functionalities and features, and so people searching for those features will be interested in it.
Essentially, by putting more relevant and helpful content on your website, you’re helping the Google or Bing algorithms learn that your product is, well, relevant and helpful. It’s providing more points of entry to your website from the outside.
By now it should be clear that knowledge bases offer you some great advantages when it comes to giving support and keeping your customer base strong.
But of course, there are always examples of that kind of opportunity gone bad. Although platforms like Document360 make it easy to design a good-looking knowledge base, there are still dos and dont’s of design to follow.
Take a look at this article that shows you the layouts and design strategies of knowledge bases around the web.
Many of them have mastered the art of knowledge base design, and those principles are as follows:
Although most people are using third-party services to design their knowledge bases, each platform gives you the opportunity to totally customize the way the end product actually looks. In other words, there’s no such thing as built-in presets or limitations on what you can add.
Nevertheless, some companies end up failing to integrate their knowledge base design with the rest of their website design, even going so far as to use a separate color palette.
That just screams “Third-Party Service!” and removes the “authority” advantage mentioned earlier on.
Definitely make at least the bare minimum effort to use the same types of fonts and colors as the rest of your website, even if you don’t make the page styles look the same. In fact, if you don’t, that’s still okay because…
Although knowledge bases have only been around for the last five to seven years, people are already starting to build their own expectations. Right now, at the turn of the 2020s, is when knowledge bases are slowly becoming a “thing” that people understand and know how to use online.
Knowledge bases all have the big search bar. They all have some way of giving feedback about the article. They usually have a sidebar with a list of topics or a flowchart-style navigation bar.
If you try and buck the tend by doing something like putting the search bar on the bottom or showing a random Tips page every time a user visits, you’re bucking in the wrong direction.
Keep your page design style consistent with what users are expecting to see, because users don’t want to have to navigate something new when they need tech support.
Your knowledge base is not the place for long-form, kinda humorous articles about the path the company is on and the new features that you expect to be in store.
That’s for the blog. The knowledge base is for the best educational and technical writing your team can come up with.
Writing concise answers to user questions is harder than it seems. The process should go kind of like this: a user has a question, you answer it, you write up the question and the process involved to solve it, then someone else on your team reads through your answer and does their best to cut down what you’ve written into its essentials.
The more you edit your knowledge base articles for clarity, the more impressed people will be and the more they’ll appreciate the work you put into them.
One last point to touch on is that you shouldn’t feel limited to just one knowledge base for the whole company.
Many users of knowledge bases end up creating one for each product line that they offer – imagine a design software company selling software for photo editing, photo organizing, video editing, and sound mixing.
These software packages are going to be slightly different in the features that they have, the design and layout of each program, and the issues that arise when using them.
Therefore, it makes sense to have four different knowledge bases to point people to, so that you can easily track the support metrics for users of each one.
You might find that the audio mixer customers are bouncing from that knowledge base and hitting your email support line more, and that would be a clue to focus more closely on editing and improving that particular knowledge base.
In that last example, your company offered a broad array of products at a similar level. A knowledge base solution might fit in better with other companies as a single component of a whole customer service ecosystem.
It’s conceivable that you could have a knowledge base integrated with phone support, an automated chat support tool, and a full user manual online – plenty of companies at the enterprise level have exactly this kind of setup going on.
No matter how you end up integrating your knowledge base into your software world, the important thing is to be aware of its value in the first place.
There’s simply no other option that combines design flexibility, usage metrics, and genuine usefulness to the customer at the same price point.
Sign up now for the free trial of Document360 and start seeing the benefits immediately to your very own company!