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What is a knowledge base? A comprehensive guide

Help customers find answers on their own by offering a knowledge base—a virtual library of information about your product or service.

Por Stella Inabo, Contributing Writer

Última actualización en April 25, 2024

Knowledge base definition

A knowledge base is a digital library of information about a company’s products, services, or industry-related topics. Knowledge bases can either be internal or external to serve employees or customers, respectively.

Customers want answers, and they want them fast. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023, 72 percent of customers want immediate service. However, delivering swift assistance without compromising quality can be a challenge. That’s where a knowledge base can be of use.

Knowledge bases offer on-demand support by addressing common queries and providing guidance on successful product or service usage. Customers can use a knowledge base to solve issues independently, while support agents can rely on it to promptly surface solutions.

This can improve an operation’s efficiency and reduce wait times, making knowledge bases an indispensable tool for customer support teams, particularly as businesses expand. By leveraging knowledge bases, you can minimize agent effort, reduce resolution time, and enhance overall customer satisfaction.

More in this guide:

How a knowledge base works

A knowledge base operates as a central library of organized information within a business, working to streamline the process of collecting, storing, and distributing knowledge. By offering a user-friendly interface and a systematic approach to storing data, a knowledge management system ensures that information is well-organized and easily accessible. This promotes effective decision-making, faster problem-solving, and enhanced productivity across the organization.

Components of a knowledge base

A knowledge base should have several essential components that collectively enhance its functionality. Free knowledge base software will typically have more basic tools than its paid counterparts, but most will include:

  • A search bar: Users can quickly locate specific information by using keywords or phrases.
  • Categorization: Organizing content into logical categories and subcategories makes it easy to navigate.
  • Editing tools: Enable contributors to update and refine information as needed, ensuring that the knowledge base remains accurate and up to date.

More advanced solutions might offer:

  • AI-powered content suggestions: AI can identify content gaps or outdated information.
  • Generative AI: AI can help agents write new articles, expand on existing content, or change the tone of an article.
  • Analytics and reporting: Reports can reveal page views, common search terms, and which articles get the most engagement.

These components can create a structured and efficient solution for knowledge storage and retrieval.

An image shows a woman reading a book and the key knowledge base features like a search bar, AI-powered content suggestions, analytics and reporting, generative AI, categorization, and editing tools.

Types of knowledge bases

There are two main types of knowledge bases: internal and external.

An image shares the differences between internal knowledge bases, those used by employees, and external knowledge bases, those used by customers.

An internal knowledge base is primarily intended for an organization’s employees and internal stakeholders. It includes HR policies, training materials, technical documentation, and best practices. Internal knowledge bases can streamline employee onboarding, facilitate quick access to critical data, and ensure consistency in processes and procedures.

External knowledge bases are for customers, clients, or the general public. They provide information about products, services, or industry-related topics and often include frequently asked questions (FAQs), troubleshooting guides, user manuals, and helpful articles. External knowledge bases can empower users to find solutions to common problems independently, reducing the load on customer support teams.

What is the purpose of a knowledge base?

A knowledge base serves different purposes depending on whether customers or employees use it. External knowledge bases primarily serve customers and provide them with:

  • Automated support: Chatbots can pull answers from knowledge base articles or surface articles for customers.
  • Self-serve options: Customers can find answers on their own without reaching out to customer support.
  • Efficient information retrieval: Content is well-organized and easily searchable.

Internal knowledge bases serve many of the same purposes for employees, with the added benefits of:

  • Improving employee productivity: Agents can quickly find answers when providing assistance.
  • Enhanced decision-making: Employees can reference a single source of truth without needing to wait on input from their managers.

Benefits of using a knowledge base

Knowledge bases offer invaluable advantages to businesses that help them transform the way they support customers and employees, from onboarding to the service they receive.

An image shares the top three benefits of knowledge bases: smoother onboarding, faster issue resolution, and better team alignment.

Smoother onboarding

A knowledge base can play a pivotal role in enhancing the onboarding process for new employees. It serves as a training resource, offering a repository of information about company policies, procedures, best practices, and FAQs—all of which are readily accessible in one place. New hires can reference the material on their own time, reducing the need for constant guidance.

Similarly, for new customers, a knowledge base offers a self-service center where they can find how-to guides and answers to their questions. Instead of needing one of your reps to walk them through basic processes, they can access all the must-have information when it’s needed during onboarding. This improves customer satisfaction while alleviating some of the burden placed on customer support teams.

Faster issue resolutions

When customers can access the knowledge base to find solutions to common problems on their own, it reduces the volume of straightforward queries that customer support agents must handle. This leads to faster resolutions and frees up agents to focus on more complex and nuanced problems that require their expertise.

As a result, the overall support process becomes more efficient and customer-focused, as agents can allocate their attention to the issues that truly demand personalized assistance. Internal knowledge bases have a similar effect by reducing employee support requests to IT and HR departments.

Better team alignment

A well-structured knowledge base helps ensure that company resources and information are consistent across departments and serve as a single source of truth. When all teams can access a centralized repository of up-to-date data, policies, procedures, and best practices, it streamlines communication and enhances collaboration.

This consistency helps break down data silos and promotes a unified understanding of company objectives. As a result, team members across various departments can work together more cohesively, leading to increased efficiency, improved decision-making, and a shared sense of purpose for achieving common goals.

Watch a quick knowledge base demo

Zendesk software makes knowledge management easier with innovative tools. Start a free trial today to discover how you can streamline customer support, empower employees, and enhance the customer experience.

How to build—and maintain—an effective knowledge base

There are different ways to create a knowledge base. Some businesses build slowly, adding one knowledge base resource after another until they’ve crafted an entire library. Others tackle everything at the same time—gathering the questions, finding answers, creating the content, and publishing it. Despite the differences, you can follow a few knowledge base design best practices.

The six steps for building a knowledge base are: identifying your audience, prioritizing information, purchasing software, selecting contributors, setting editorial guidelines, and optimizing the content.
  1. Identify your audience

    Identifying the audience for a knowledge base is crucial for tailoring the content to their specific needs. To do this, businesses should consider the purpose of their knowledge base. If it’s primarily an internal knowledge base, the audience will consist of employees, so it’s critical to understand their roles, departments, and knowledge requirements.
    For an external knowledge base, the audience may include customers, clients, or partners, and their needs will revolve around product information, troubleshooting, and relevant industry insights.

    Tip: Segment your customer base to identify key knowledge base categories that will house targeted information.
  2. Prioritize information

    You want to include critical information in your knowledge base to make it effective. Start by analyzing customer or employee support data—depending on your target audience—to identify FAQs and common pain points. By reviewing support ticket histories and customer feedback, you can pinpoint the topics and issues that arise most frequently.
    Additionally, businesses should consider the information that’s essential for daily operations, compliance, or product usage. Prioritizing content based on what customers or employees need the most streamlines problem-solving and enhances user satisfaction. This approach ensures that the knowledge base addresses real-world issues and becomes a valuable resource that aligns with your audience’s needs.

    Tip: Periodically survey customers and employees to find out which questions should be addressed in your knowledge base.
  3. Purchase knowledge base software

    The best knowledge base software is easy to use so teams can create and publish content without extensive training. It’s also important that the software is scalable to accommodate growing teams and content needs.
    Additionally, you should consider the software’s integration capabilities. Seamless integrations make your knowledge base more accessible and also extend its capabilities by enabling you to add tools like artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots.

    Tip: Use a free trial to test knowledge base software and see if it lives up to its claims.
  4. Select knowledge base contributors

    Selecting knowledge base contributors is another important step in building a comprehensive and successful knowledge base. You should consider the subject matter experts within your organization. Identify employees with in-depth knowledge about specific areas, such as product development, customer service, or compliance.
    Assigning roles and responsibilities to contributors from relevant departments ensures that the knowledge base is well-rounded and authoritative. You can form cross-functional teams to address various aspects of the business. Involving representatives from customer support, IT, marketing, and other key departments can bring diverse perspectives and expertise to the content creation process.

    Tip: Regular training and collaboration opportunities can empower contributors to share their knowledge, helping to ensure that the knowledge base remains a dynamic and comprehensive resource for the entire organization.
  5. Set editorial guidelines

    Establishing editorial guidelines for a knowledge base is key to crafting consistent and clear content. A well-defined style guide should outline writing conventions—such as tone, language, and formatting standards—so there’s cohesion throughout the knowledge base.
    Additionally, create a process document that details the workflow for content creation, review, and publication so contributors clearly understand their roles and responsibilities.

    Tip: Utilizing knowledge base article templates can streamline the content creation process and help contributors maintain a consistent structure in their articles.
  6. Structure and optimize the content

Creating and structuring knowledge base content for easy navigation and knowledge base SEO involves multiple factors:

  • Make sure your content is organized into categories and subcategories, and use titles that accurately represent the content.

  • Employ descriptive headings and subheadings to break down complex topics and facilitate scanning for users.

  • Research keywords to understand what your audience is searching for, and strategically incorporate them into your content.

  • Maintain a consistent URL structure, ensuring that each page’s URL is concise and representative of the content so it’s search-engine friendly.

Tip: If your knowledge base is publicly available on the web, include meta descriptions, alt text for images, and internal linking to improve search engine results page (SERP) rankings.

Frequently asked questions

Keep refining your knowledge base

No matter how helpful your knowledge base is, it should undergo regular updates so it continually offers the most value to your audience. You’ll need to revamp your knowledge base as your company grows and your products or services evolve.

And word to the wise: You can make the process easier by using help center software like Zendesk, which boasts generative AI tools that automatically surface outdated, ineffective articles and even produce new content for you. Once you’ve found the areas that need improvement, get to work and update them. Your customers and customer service team will thank you for it.

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