Knowledge Base: The Single Solution to Customer Acquisition & Enhanced Productivity
Are you here looking for answers to questions like “what is a knowledge base” or “how to create a knowledge base”? Maybe you already know the answer to the first one, in which case you’re here to figure out how best to minimize customer attrition and/or manage workplace communication and employee efficiency. This article focuses on exactly those aspects of the concept of a knowledge base.
There’s a lot more to it, though, and we cover all of that here in case you’re looking for general information on knowledge base.
Now let’s get to what we really intend to talk to you about. This is going to be a pretty comprehensive “talk,” and you can download a PDF version for later if you wish. The table of contents below will give you a summary of sorts and help you navigate the article.
Table of Contents
Creating a Useful Knowledge Base
Six Important Things to Take Note Of
Working with Knowledge Base Software
Our definition of knowledge base avoids technical expressions like the…coronavirus! Here goes:
A knowledge base is a kind of database that stores information in a format that can be easily referred to for solutions to problems, answers to queries, and used as guides to performing an action or a series of actions.
In other words, a knowledge base is not quite a traditional database that stores only the technical part of the information. A knowledge base is functional in nature, as in ready-to-consume (and put to use) information. But we can always call it a type of database since it stores data.
A database is more like an inventory where you find your answer to your query (“How many products were purchased in January 2021?”) through cross-referencing. Think Excel sheets, charts, graphs and so on. Here’s an excellent article on types of databases with examples (and this is a knowledge base).
A knowledge base requires artificial intelligence to process queries which typically begin with “Why,” “How,” “How to,” or “What is” to name a few (“What does the ‘pause’ option do to my subscription?”). Think frequently asked questions.
However, a knowledge base is not just a collection of FAQ, although one or more categories of FAQ will certainly be a part of any useful knowledge base. Functional, remember? What is an FAQ if not functional?
This article is not about what a knowledge base is not or how it differs from this or that, but we hope we were able to give you a basic idea. If you need more please check out this expert answer and this presentation. There’s also a discussion at ResearchGate you might find useful.
What Is Your Problem?
Cheeky, we know, but we wanted your attention, and for good reason too. As we mentioned earlier, this article explores knowledge base in the context of customers and employees. And any problem that you have with either will cost you. The usual problems being customers not liking you, and your employees not knowing what to do in a given situation.
Emotional connection with your clients/customers is a good thing. In fact, it is indispensable for a successful onboarding and continuing relationship. We have explored this in some detail here—feel free to take a look (add link to Client Onboarding article if it’s already published). So, you’ll want to make them feel good. But they don’t feel good when you are unable to answer their queries.
Everyone has queries of some kind. A chatbot doesn’t always help and neither does a live agent (who may not be well-versed in the subject of a particular query). An FAQ is frequently not enough. You need a knowledge base where you have all the answers and which you continue to update as you face more, diverse queries.
Good news is, most people prefer to be given the means to seek an answer to their own queries instead of having to ask someone else (by sending an email, for example, or communicating with a live agent).
On the employees’ side, sure, they are good at what they do, which is why you employed them to begin with, but no one is expected to know everything about everything all of the time. There are bound to be questions and doubts and the need for discussions. It is impractical to assume that these can be handled in person continuously. You need a ready reckoner; you definitely need a knowledge base.
Do You Absolutely Need One?
We are not promoting any business entity, but Amazon happens to be just what we need to explain this properly. You must have noticed the section where customers or prospective customers ask questions. If there are replies, they come from customers or sellers (and sometimes from both).
Now imagine how convenient it would be if all possible questions about every product were available in a knowledge base. You wouldn’t have to wait for someone to answer your query and would be able to make a well-informed purchase decision immediately.
But there is no such thing on Amazon. There’s always the possibility that the thought never occurred to them, but given how successful Amazon is, that would be unlikely. Maybe creating such a knowledge base just isn’t feasible? Or perhaps they want customers to interact with each other more?
Let’s assume the former is true. Each manufacturer provides replies to all possible queries that Amazon hands out to them for every single product, and then a dedicated team working on that data to create a knowledge base does sound like a lot of work given that there are more than 353 million products listed on Amazon.com alone. Especially for a business, it all boils down to return on investment.
Our point being, it is not really about making your customers happy or keeping your workplace efficient: what you really want is to maximize profit (ethically, of course). Creating a knowledge base takes time and effort. How about creating an FAQ for every category instead? Does that work for you? If it does, then we suggest you do just that until the day you feel overwhelmed. And then, you begin to create your knowledge base incorporating the information you’ve already categorized.
This is a little like whether or not your business warrants an employee handbook. If you’re doing just fine without one, don’t bother. Make sure you have regular meetings instead (for example). Do not go for a knowledge base without calculating ROI first.
In order to calculate ROI, you need to clearly understand what you will need to invest to have a functional knowledge base up and running. Let’s delve into that in the next section.
Creating a Useful Knowledge Base
In many ways, a knowledge base is not too unlike a blog. It targets a specific audience, speaks their language, gets to the point fast, answers queries, solves problems, shows related bits of information (or related articles), points to additional resources, and has a feedback form of some kind for your readers to communicate with you further.
And it is a compendium of easily accessible knowledge which must always remain updated to be functional. It also represents your brand and has a specific, recognizable style. It must also have your contact details and, very important, a search function.
Now, before we move further, a word about the search function. Every WordPress theme, for example, has one. But you will probably not want to create your knowledge base in WP. Notwithstanding the similarities, a knowledge base is not really a blog (more on this later – link to “Working with Knowledge Base Software”).
It would be in your best interests, therefore, to use software made for the purpose of creating a knowledge base. This will save you a lot of time, effort, and money and, most important in the present context, give you a robust search engine within the knowledge base that will intuitively give your readers what they want and need.
We will put this in bold for you: When choosing a knowledge base software, make sure you test the search function first. Without a good one, your knowledge base is as good as a library without any call numbers.
Considering all that we have mentioned above, do you think you can or should create the knowledge base on your own? By which we mean, would you be in a good place if, for example, you used your in-house technical writers? Or trusted your vendors to provide you with the perfect answers to possible queries your customers may have? Or depended upon in-house experts to write instructive articles for your employees?
By switching between customers and employees in the previous paragraph, we were trying to make a point: regardless of who you are making a knowledge base for, the requirements remain the same: a knowledge base must communicate, in plain terms, to the user whatever they want to know. Period.
You may feel that if it is an internal knowledge base you can do away with some of the “frills” like the design aspect, but if you do you may not ever realize how much time and work efficiency you let go to waste. If your employees are human, everything that relates to your customers will also relate to them.
Don’t cut costs when creating anything that is a proven problem solver and profit maximizer. Square or uneven wheels just don’t cut it. Trust us.
We digressed, yes, but the point is kind of the same. Bring in the experts and let your people help/oversee/offer input, and so on. Unless you’re running an online publishing business with professionals in your arsenal, you’re better off hiring a team of writers, editors and proofreaders to get the job done.
People lose their concentration and patience easily. You don’t want your customers or employees annoyed or confused because a help article in your knowledge base had a long-winded intro or used words the reader could not understand or contained large, difficult-to-scan text blocks.
The best way to create a functional knowledge base is to seek input, frequently in the form of write-ups from your in-house experts and writers, and then have a writer/editor/proofreader team go over them. Go over them and do what, you ask? Okay, we’ll sum it up for you in a few bullet points.
- Create a style guide so that nothing in your knowledge base looks like it was inserted in a hurry.
- Take the material from your experts and create rewrites that use the type of conversational tone that gets the point across to most readers.
- Stick to the type of language your audience understands best (plain and simple for consumers, and the most commonly used and understood jargon for employees dealing with technical stuff, for example).
- Conform to your company “voice” that reflects your brand, while achieving all of the above.
- Write in easily scannable, short paragraphs which never look disjointed or fragmented.
- Collaborate with your writers/experts to make sure every write-up makes perfect sense and gets to the point without beating about the bush.
- Insert images or videos where appropriate without making the article look visually overwhelming.
- Create a table of contents at the beginning of the articles (unless they are super small) so that the reader knows where to find what.
- Summarize in a few sentences at the very beginning what the article contains (this may or may not replace the table of contents).
- Arrange all your material category-wise and in the proper hierarchy so that people feel reassured. Even with a good search function, random articles hyperlinked in endless lists do not make people looking for help jump with joy.
Hopefully, the image below will explain at least some of what we’ve tried to get across.
Every writer needs an editor. The editor provides you with the point of view of a person who has NOT been in collaboration with your in-house experts. If there is anything amiss, anything vague, any part of a how-to that is difficult to follow and, of course, anything that could be made more succinct, the editor will do their part to make sure it’s error-free.
Any good writer will edit their own work and also proofread it before submission. That doesn’t mean the extra pair of eyes the editor provides loses relevance. Or that a writer/editor team is good enough and you don’t need a proofreader. Everyone is a specialist, and rather than give your readers an unprofessional presentation with a typo popping up here and there, get the complete package: hire a writer/editor/proofreader team.
Another area that usually requires an expert’s help is the visual appearance of your knowledge base.
To understand the significance of design, we’d ask you to set this article aside for a moment and compare your experience with some of the leading online shopping platforms. If you are serious about understanding the design element, please take a moment to actually visit the sites and look around.
Assuming you’ve done that and are now back with us, did you feel more comfortable on at least one of those sites than you felt on the others? Did the look of a site appear significantly more appealing? Were you at complete ease while navigating through all of the sites, or did one or more appear more user-friendly?
Unless you somehow happened to choose the exact platforms that have got everything right, you probably realized that, the price of products being the same, you’d much rather shop on A or B than on C, D and E, or why A has been your go-to shopping site all along.
Frequently, it is not how many filters or customization options the site offers, but the look of it that initially captures a visitor’s attention. Then the matter of utility and useability comes in, and the discounts and free deliveries. But design remains the instrument of creating first impressions in almost all instances. Provided it is functional, of course. Doesn’t this look both pleasant and functional to you? Even the search bar has a CTA! No prizes for guessing where that screenshot is taken from.
With a bit of split testing, you will know for sure where your sidebar should be placed (left or right), or if you should have a sidebar at all. Should you place the search bar smack in the middle of the page to greet the reader, or discreetly top right? Are your company colors the perfect fit for your knowledge base or should you project your brand in some other manner?
Or should the page background be white or off-white, cool or warm? Should there be a predominant color for highlighting things? Should you consider having illustrations and, if you do, what style of illustration would best suit you? It goes on and on.
We don’t mean to make this look daunting. Just pointing out that there’s so much we take for granted on a successful web page. And it is a designer’s job to make sure the correct elements and details are right where they will serve you the best.
Just for further clarification, and we’re going to name names here or this wouldn’t serve a purpose, here’s the home page for the Dropbox Help Center:
Nice and friendly with a soft palette and a funny illustration on top. This entire page is full of graphics, by the way. Looks good to us.
However, when you click on, say, Files and Folders (main navigation on top of the image), this is what greets you:
Kind of bare, if you ask us. Even with the cleverly repeated predominant colors from the previous page. It gets worse if you click on one of the Featured articles:
Not sure how you feel about this but to us, this appears like a warm welcome gone tired to strictly formal. Not a deal-breaker, surely, or they would have done something about it, but a trifle jarring, wouldn’t you say?
If you were creating your personal blog, we’d say go with your gut. This, however, is about ROI, about creating goodwill, about making progress with your business. Please. Hire. A. Designer.
(Disclaimer: We have no idea if Dropbox did their design in-house or if they hired someone.)
You’ll want to scan through this article for more relevant information. And this one provides a unique perspective totally worth checking out.
A knowledge base must remain updated at all times. So whose responsibility is that? Unless you assign someone, everyone (including you) will likely assume someone else must be on it.
And if you do assign it to a single person who has other responsibilities already, they may not be able to handle everything as well as you’d expect them to.
Obviously, you need a team to maintain the knowledge base. If this is a customer-centric knowledge base and you have many products (with unique queries related to each), it would make sense to have several small teams who may also have other responsibilities. Even an internal knowledge base for employees may benefit from similar arrangements if you have many different types of queries on distinct subjects. The idea is to have accountability without overwhelming the persons responsible.
It would make things simple for everyone if you planned everything out when you set out to create the knowledge base for the first time. Select individuals who contributed to its creation may turn out to be the ones best suited to maintaining it as well.
How SweetProcess Can Help
Before we launch the sales pitch, let’s take a look at what one of our customers did with a decentralized knowledge base. Wait, what? Well, imagine six people in…five different corners of the world dealing with five hundred others located miles away from each other all working as part of one company. How do you share tribal knowledge? How do you make sure everyone is always on the same page (when they need to be)?
Yup. A knowledge base that may very well have specific persons maintaining it but everyone with login credentials can view or add information according to their permission levels. To be fair, the word decentralized need not mean anything out of this world. SweetProcess is a tool and it is entirely your decision how you use it. “Decentralized” merely emphasizes the fact that with the proper tool, time zones and distance are of no consequence as far as streamlining workflow is concerned. Hear it firsthand from Giorgio Piccoli of Americanflat, and read all about it too.
Conversely, a central knowledge base is nothing exceptional—it simply doesn’t have employees logging in from many different corners of the world.
Matthew Louridas, director of operations and client services at Forest Incentives, was faced with a curious problem. On the one hand, the company was expanding, which was a good thing, of course, but on the other, all he had was a bunch of Word documents to keep track of whatever was going on and keep everyone apprised of everything. Obviously, if you are not aware that something like SweetProcess exists, you’d resort to the good old doc files. And that’s not a bad thing, either, when you’re just getting started.
Anyway, you can guess what happened next. We’re talking stories with happy endings here! Some Google search and a vetting process later, Forest Incentives began the switching process from docs to SweetProcess into one central knowledge base. But why single out SweetProcess from all of the myriad options Google must have presented them with? Here’s why:
“To be honest with you, it was just the clean interface and the easy use of reading, storing, organizing, and creating the documentation.”
And one more quotation from Matthew:
“What stood out for me with SweetProcess is the cleanliness of the interface. Not only does it make it that much more effective once we’re up and running with SweetProcess, but the simplicity for other users made it really easy for us to get buy-in from the rest of the company at different levels. We saw that our team was generally excited to document things.”
Okay, the last one, we promise, and there’s a surprise for you (hint: it is highlighted)!
“A couple of the things that we’d like to accomplish this year are using more features. They have a really awesome task assignment feature within SweetProcess. We use it a little bit but not as much as we could and the scheduled reviews where you can go back and audit your own procedures.”
Don’t tell us that didn’t get you a little bit curious, at least? No worries, we’re coming to the awesome feature, but first, two more stories from Zen Media, a PR firm in the tech niche, and Onogo, an elite Amazon seller (among other things).
When Stephanie Chavez assumed her role as the chief marketing officer of Zen Media, the company was already doing pretty well. But she noticed how every single process could be streamlined further to make things significantly better.
The one problem (which is an advantage, really, if you handle it right, like Stephanie and Giorgio did) is that tribal knowledge—the kind of knowledge that really gets things done—is largely dependent on the physical availability of the individual disseminating it. If John knows how to get certain tasks done in record time, and if he shares his knowledge with his fellow employees, most likely he will show and tell. And if he’s not present, then there’s nothing.
A standard knowledge base puts both the show and the tell in one place in a format everyone can understand. And John can take the day off, no problem—the knowledge base is there to share his unique tribal knowledge with anyone in need of it.
Once Stephanie managed to create this knowledge base, everyone was always on the same page and optimal streamlining and consistency was a given. Read about it here and also listen to the podcast to get an idea of what SweetProcess can really do for you.
Florinela Serban, head of operations at Onogo, had more or less the same problem as Matthew: an archaic system of documentation. She knew Google docs wouldn’t help even though they were obviously more accessible than Word docs. What she needed was…SweetProcess, of course. Again, why SweetProcess? Here’s what she says:
“I tried about three different software and one of them was SweetProcess, and out of all of them, SweetProcess proved to be by far the best option… The main difference with SweetProcess that appealed to me is the ease of use… There’s a lot that you can also do with the content. You can add videos and photos and links to more information, and not only that, but you can also run it as tasks and on the backend.”
“You can go to SweetProcess and find the information related to your role and your duties there. You don’t need to search in Google Drive or Asana or other documentation or make notes separately and burden yourself with loads of information.”
(You noticed the part we highlighted, right?)
Long story short, one decentralized knowledge base, courtesy of SweetProcess, and a few choice tweaks later, Onogo now runs smoother than ever. We can only imagine what that must be doing to their profits!
Okay, now we’re ready for the sales pitch and wondering if we should lead with the “awesome task assignment feature” or the backend…
On second thought, we are kind of embarrassed to blow our own horns, so why don’t you take a look around for yourself? For fourteen whole days? For free? And without pulling out your credit card? Yes, too many questions, but all good ones, you’ll agree.
And just sayin’: If you are suitably impressed and decide to opt for us, you’re covered by a 30 day, no questions asked, money-back guarantee plus a free consultation to iron out whatever wrinkles you might be having with your business, or with how you can make things even more awesome than they already are.
Sound good? Click here!
Six Important Things to Take Note Of
We dealt with many of the essential characteristics of a good knowledge base in the section on investment. Here, we list all the additional but important stuff that was left out.
1. Site-Search Intent
Any website that intends to grow should look at what the visitors are searching for using the search box on the site. You don’t want to be an exception, especially not with regard to your knowledge base. Scan through the queries and see if all of them are answered adequately already. If not, you know what to do. Your knowledge base software should give you the queries, or you can use Google Analytics (which you probably have installed already).
But wait, what if there are significantly more queries on a specific subject?
Should you then make your knowledge base articles even better and even more comprehensive? Certainly, but you must also look at the root of the problem. People come to the knowledge base because they have a problem which they’d like to solve on their own. In addition to updating the knowledge base, you should definitely pay attention to eliminating the problem to begin with.
2. Make It Easy to Reach Out to You
For your consumers, this could be a clearly demarcated area on every page with all possible means of reaching you clearly mentioned. Email, contact form, phone number (mention the hours when you remain available), fax, and also your social media accounts.
With relation to your employees, if they have further queries, they should be able to contact someone immediately without having to wonder. So list the first responders and your preferred method(s) of contact.
Unrelated but important: you’ll benefit from giving your employees the ability to draw attention to whatever they may find inconsistent, or requiring improvement right inside the knowledge base, so that the questionable areas may be easily inspected by an editor on your team. Think comments on Google Docs.
At the very least, every single article should contain the option for the reader to provide a Yes/No feedback about whether or not the article solved their problem, and a link to contact you if required. Take a look at the image below.
3. Careful With “Further Reading”
Ordinarily, linking to additional resources is considered a plus in any informative article. In the case of a knowledge base, however, one has to be very careful. After all, a person has come to look for a solution; you don’t want to give them the impression that whatever article you’ve created to answer a specific query is inadequate and that they should just go ahead and read five more articles on the subject.
If you do have related reading material, it would be best to hyperlink them with anchor texts that clearly mention what each resource is about. So, at the end of an article titled “What is X?,” you will want a list of meaningful related (hyperlinked) headlines:
- What Comes After X?
- Additional Benefits of Using X
- How to Recycle X
- Is There an X Version 2.0 in the Offing?
4. Multiple Lookup Options
If you are selling different products which have unique serial numbers, your visitors should be able to use the filter that suits them the best. We have highlighted the relevant portion in yellow in the example below.
5. The Connection of Things
We don’t know what kind of business you’re running, but it is safe to guess that it must have some kind of ticketing platform. People who come to solve their problems are generally faced with two options: to solve things on their own with the help of the knowledge base (and associated features like talking to a live executive), or raise a ticket. If your knowledge base creating software could integrate with your ticketing platform (or vice versa), that would be great. Just something to consider when thinking of streamlining your processes.
And, of course, we are connected these days through anything between 4.6” cell phones and larger than 28” desktop monitors. Goes without saying, like the rest of your site, your knowledge base must be responsive as well.
6. Knowledge Base on SERP?
Yes, it is possible to have your knowledge base articles rank on Google search results. For that, you’d have to hire not just a writer but an SEO content writer and maybe an SEO expert as well. Is it worth the investment? Not really. Not unless you are selling SEO services.
After all, your knowledge base is there to solve your employees’ problems and answer your customers’ queries. It is unlikely (though not impossible) that random persons posting a query on Google will be so impressed by your article that they’ll decide to shop at your site. You’re probably better off optimizing your sales and product pages to increase customer acquisition.
We decided to mention this largely vanity metric just to round off our article. If you ask us, we’d say keep it on your bucket list for after you have grown your business as far as it can grow.
Working with Knowledge Base Software
This is something we are just going to touch upon in passing. It is a subject in its own right, and if there are enough comments asking for an article on it, we’ll give you one. For now, let’s try to understand why you’d need a knowledge base software at all.
Creating a Knowledge Base with WordPress
You could be using any other CMS or just plain old-fashioned HTML /CSS–based website, and it’d be more or less the same (with the last option requiring old fashioned hard work); you’d be putting in a lot of effort, without having much to show for it. Let’s examine this in detail but assume, while we’re at it, that you are familiar with WordPress.
- For a knowledge base, you’d need categories, to begin with. WordPress gives you that. You’d need tags. WordPress gives you those as well.
- A search function? Check.
- Ability to insert images and videos. Check.
- Featured article/Related article options? No problem.
- A sidebar or two for more related stuff? You got it.
- A contact form for each post? Shortcode to be manually inserted, but easy-peasy.
So, what’s the hold-up? Go create a page called “Knowledge Base,” which is going to be in the format of a blog, really. And then keep writing posts. Pages and Posts, that’s the WordPress structure, right? And when someone clicks on the link to your knowledge base, they arrive at your archive page. Then they can use the search function to find relevant results for their query. With the right plugins, you could probably add a few extra search parameters as well.
Now Let’s Create One with the SweetProcess Software
Follow the steps below to create your own knowledge base with SweetProcess. It’s easy – and you’ll see why when you keep reading.
1. Click on “Create Knowledge Base”
2. This is what you get. Elementary, right?
3. Insert Title.
4. You are presented with the default options for your knowledge base at this point.
5. Everything is editable, of course, by clicking on the pen icon beside the knowledge base name, and if you want to change the options, this is what you get:
By the way, if you can think of any other option that ought to be here, please let us know in the comments. We believe in a single-window approach for just about everything so that all of the time you put in is used and not a second wasted in clicking here and there.
6. Now if you scroll down, you will find a way to add categories and subcategories to organize your material—elementary, again.
7. You have two categories now and for each, you can create the subcategories (like 1A in the next screenshot).
8. And then you can add an article on one of your policies or procedures (which show themselves in a dropdown list).
Hold on, did we just mention policies and procedures?
We sure did. Because SweetProcess is more than just a knowledge base software. You can organize and run every aspect of your business with it.
But we were trying to explain the difference between WordPress and knowledge base software. So let’s address that first. If you’ve worked with WordPress, as we have assumed you have, you’ll appreciate the simplicity (and versatility) of a specialized knowledge base software.
You get everything in one place (not the individual articles, of course), and it takes two minutes, maybe, to set up your knowledge base with your preferred options, including contact form, access control, and categories. Can you do that with WordPress?
Having said that, if you’ve just begun and don’t feel the need for anything more than a glorified FAQ, WordPress is just perfect (it is free, after all—can’t beat that). In fact, with the proper plugins and/or themes, there can be more bells and whistles. So, no, we are not dissing WordPress at all, but given a choice, we’d prefer software as a service version of a knowledge base creation tool.
Speaking of choice, we have compiled all the choices you need to make into a single document: an assorted list of software that we found most appropriate for creating a knowledge base (that was our primary concern, obviously) and, as you will see, we’ve made sure there’s something in the list for everyone. Oh, and each of them offers a free, no credit card required trial as we do. Please let us know where to send the document and it’s all yours.
That’s about everything you need to know about creating a knowledge base, short of the learning process involved in actually creating one, of course.
And here’s something we saved for the last:
Creating a knowledge base is a complicated affair, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. If it does seem difficult even after you’ve followed all protocol and done your homework, you’re probably using the wrong tool.
Even the learning ought to be intuitive if you’ve chosen the right SaaS option. You can’t go wrong if you keep only this in mind while making your choices and getting stuff organized. Good luck!
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