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If you aren’t familiar, the term “knowledge base” refers to a centralized location for the storage of information about your products and services, for what is usually, the purpose of customer self-service support. A knowledge base commonly functions as a part of an organization's website, or as part of an organization’s customer self-service portal. A knowledge base can include a number of different features that provides customers with the tools they need to help themselves whenever and wherever they need support.

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9 min

Sarah Robinson-Yu
Sarah Robinson-Yu

What Is A Knowledge Base? How Can It Help My Business?

9 minute read

February 25, 2020

If you aren’t familiar, the term “knowledge base” refers to a centralized location for the storage of information about your products and services, for what is usually, the purpose of customer self-service support. A knowledge base commonly functions as a part of an organization's website, or as part of an organization’s customer self-service portal. A knowledge base can include a number of different features that provides customers with the tools they need to help themselves whenever and wherever they need support.

In simpler terms, for those of you who just want to cut to the chase, a knowledge base is essentially a customer service library full of resources and tools for self-service support.

The decision to implement a knowledge base usually derives from three main goals:

  1. To reduce the amount of time and effort that your customers have to put into finding the support they need, which ultimately provides for a better customer experience 

  2. To reduce the number of support tickets on your end, which helps distribute the workload of your customer service reps and also helps to reduce costs

  3. To create an official repository of company knowledge curated by staff

As a result, the knowledge base functions as an extension of the customer service and support team itself.

It should be noted, however, that a simple “help” page on your website doesn’t constitute a knowledge base; and slapping together a quick FAQ won’t cut it. While FAQs are sometimes included in a knowledge base, they themselves don’t constitute a knowledge base when standing alone. The issue with FAQs is that they are often created by internal stakeholders based on assumptions and are often out of date the moment they’re published. As a result, we advise against the use of FAQs as a best practice.

Ultimately, a knowledge base is deemed a knowledge “base” for the simple reason that it contains a wealth of information and a variety of different help and service support functions.

There are two primary types of knowledge base: the internal and the external. This blog will touch on the external knowledge base, but it you want to learn more about the internal knowledge base (ones that serve employees) take a look at our eBook, Knowledge Base 101. This eBook covers everything knowledge-base related and expands heavily on the external knowledge base as well.

The rest of this blog has been taken from Chapter 2 of Knowledge Base 101—be sure to download your free copy to access more information! 

Knowledge Base 101

What is an External Knowledge Base?

Also known as a customer-facing knowledge base, the external knowledge base provides customer self-service support to those who don’t want to connect with customer service.

An external knowledge base works to not only reduce costs, but also increase customer experience. Further, it’s what your customers actually want. In fact, statistics show that a whopping 91% of customers would use an online knowledge base if it were available and tailored to their needs.  

Let’s just take a second to break down this statistic. More than nine out of 10 people would use a knowledge base to solve their own product or service issues if:

  1. It was offered by the organization through their website or a customer portal, and;

  2. The customer knew that their questions could be answered using the knowledge base.

These factors are not mutually exclusive, so one cannot exist without the other for this statistic to be true. 

That being said, if you want to have a successful knowledge base where more than 90% of potential support ticket requests are deflected, having a sub-par knowledge base is simply not enough. If you’re going to have one at all, it needs to be useful and actually provide customers with solutions to their issues.

This means that your knowledge base really shouldn’t be too selective in which functions to implement and which ones to leave out. You should aim to include every aspect of support to ensure that you have all your bases covered. This is what truly makes a knowledge base a resource library for self-service support.

Let’s take a closer look at the self-service functions that should be included in your knowledge base.

Functions to Include in You Knowledge Base

This section will touch on some of the more common functionalities of a knowledge base. It’s important to note, however, that this is a non-exhaustive list, and your knowledge base could include as many support functions as you see fit.

This section will discuss four common components of a good knowledge base:

  • How-to videos

  • Manuals 

  • Help articles

  • Community 

How-to Videos for Knowledge Base

A lot of people are visual learners and appreciate step-by-step videos on how to do things when looking for support. As a result, you definitely want to include how-to videos in your knowledge base because they’re effective and in demand.

Further, if you don’t have them, it’s likely that a how-to video will be made anyway by someone else and posted on YouTube. I’m sure you’ve seen these before and have used them as a step-by-step guide on how to do things when you’re experiencing issues. 

This is not what you want—you don’t want customers or other people making support videos and posting them on YouTube. You want to have these videos on your own account or channel so that you’re able to collect and analyze the viewing data. Aside from YouTube, video hosting services like Wistia or Vidyard have great analytical capabilities, and we’d recommend using either of these to make the most of your how-to videos. 

Manuals for Knowledge Base

Everyone loves a good old-fashioned manual. A simple “how-to” guide to get your customers started acts as a proactive approach to customer service.

These manuals aren’t necessarily created to troubleshoot issues, but rather, to get your customers started on the right foot in order to avoid common issues later down the road. Manuals, as I’m sure you know, provide your customers with the correct processes and procedures needed to use your product or services correctly.

Oh, and make sure your manuals are printer-friendly so that, if your customers want, they can get them in hard copy!

Help Articles for Knowledge Base

Help articles are one of the most common aspects of a knowledge base and will make up a majority of your content. Help articles usually include a fair amount of detail about troubleshooting issues, providing advice on product- or service-related issues, or generally just providing helpful and useful information.

We’ll discuss how to create help articles and content in an effective way in Chapter 5.

Online Community Forums and Knowledge Base

An online community forum may seem like an oddball out here, compared to the other knowledge base functions listed in this section, but really, it’s not. Done right, your community can become an important source of knowledge that can literally spoon feed your knowledge base with a ton of information.

A community provides a great space for customers to ask questions that they can’t find elsewhere in your knowledge base. Functioning as a peer-to-peer support community, you can provide excellent customer service through crowd-based support, meaning that if you provide the right tools and incentives, your customers will answer these questions for you.

Some of the features that you should implement in your community to encourage peer-to-peer support and help make your community effective include:

  • Gamification. Gamification, defined in simple terms as to “game-ify” something, means adding game elements to your support community, such as a leaderboard, user icons, levels and badges, to encourage participation. Gamification works to increase user engagement and provides incentive for users to respond to inquiries. 

  • Categories and subcategories. Categories and subcategories become more necessary as your community and customer base expand. As your community grows, it may become more difficult for members to find what they’re looking for. Organizing your community with categories and subcategories will help you keep it clearer and more concise. In turn, this will make it easier to direct your customers to the right place when looking for support.

  • Responsive design. This is a big one, and if you don’t have a responsive design (a website that’s compatible on a mobile device), you might as well forget about having a community altogether since a poor design might actually hurt your efforts. In fact, if you don’t have a responsive design, 57% of internet users won’t recommend your business and 80% will stop viewing your content. Let’s avoid that!

An online support community will also help you create new additions to your knowledge base by curating the most relevant discussions into articles. This is a great way to keep your content up to date with the latest realities faced by your stakeholders.

Benefits of an External Knowledge Base

The benefits of a knowledge base are really too good to ignore, which is why having this tool to provide customer self-service support is such a hot topic. Among the numerous benefits that a knowledge base can bring to an organization, the five major benefits can be summed as:

  1. A knowledge base gives your customers what they want.

  2. A knowledge base provides a proactive approach to customer support.

  3. A knowledge base helps you save on support costs.

  4. A knowledge base helps reduce churn and increase retention.

  5. A knowledge base allows you to collect data and analytics on your support efforts.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these benefits.

1. A Knowledge Base Gives Your Customers What They Want

A simple reason, but very important.

We touched on this point in the last chapter, but we feel the need to reiterate the importance of actually meeting customer demands.

Customers want to be given the tools to help themselves, and they only contact customer support as a last resource. In fact, customers hate contacting support so much that almost 40% of customers would rather scrub a toilet than to speak to customer service. 

Google now acts as the first point of contact for those looking for support, and your customers expect that you’ll be found there, ready and equipped with advice and tools for self-help. 

2. A Knowledge Base Provide Proactive Customer Support

Having a knowledge base means that you’re taking a proactive stance on customer service and work to prevent issues before they happen. 

Ultimately, it means that you’re aware of common issues and create easy-to-find information on how to avoid or troubleshoot these problems before your customers ask for help. A proactive approach to customer service provides for better customer experience, which will give your customers a more positive view of your brand. 

3. A Knowledge Base Saves on Support Costs

Building on the point above, if you’re able to avoid issues before they happen, then you’re actively cutting support costs since fewer customers will be contacting your reps.

Again, statistics show that customers want to solve issues on their own, so if you give them the tools to help themselves, they’ll use them. Ensuring that your knowledge base is full of helpful and useful information is key to cutting costs. 

4. A Knowledge Base Reduces Churn and Increases Retention

Churn rate refers to the number of customers that choose to leave within a given period of time; this number is often expressed as a percentage and provides a good indication of customer satisfaction.

Simply put, happy customers will stay. If you provide them with what they want (which we know is self-service support), you’re increasing your chances of keeping your customers happy.

5. A Knowledge Base Enables Data and Analytics 

One of the best parts about having a knowledge base is the data and analytics that you can get from it. When your knowledge base is hosted by your organization, you’ll have full control over your platform. This allows you to collect data on the performance of your knowledge base and gives you the know-how to improve. 

Concluding Thought

Hopefully you have a better understanding of what a knowledge base is and how it can help your organization. Be sure to download the entire eBook for free if you want to learn more!

Knowledge Base 101 1

Knowledge Base

Sarah Robinson-Yu

Written by Sarah Robinson-Yu

Sarah is the Content Marketing Specialist at Vanilla Forums. Prior to Vanilla, Sarah worked in the public sector where she led and coordinated the strategic framework and operational policy development of business processes.

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