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8 min read

The insider’s guide to using knowledge base software

A knowledge base encourages employee and customer independence, allowing them to help themselves so support services can focus on big-ticket issues.
From Team '23

Tempo Team

Many companies find themselves drowning in noisy data. But the volume isn’t the problem; it’s the organization. Repositories of business-critical documentation are often unstructured, with information hidden in project files, emails, someone’s head, or paper printouts. 

Information must be organized, accessible, and convenient to be useful. A searchable knowledge base puts crucial data at the fingertips of staff and customers. 

This requires more than just a CRM platform or help center. Studies indicate that 70% of clients prefer to solve issues by visiting the company website, and 55% of consumers fall in love with a brand based on easy access to online information and support. Companies that invest in a robust internal knowledge base system boost their productivity by 15–30%. That translates to reduced operating costs.    

Here’s everything you need to know about implementing a knowledge base or reviving your company’s existing system.

What is a knowledge base?

A knowledge base is an online, centralized repository of information. Customers and internal team members can access it independently to source answers and information regarding: 

  • Products

  • Services

  • Departments

  • Other topics

Content can come from anywhere, but contributors generally have expertise on the subject.

Knowledge base software is in one of two formats:

  1. Human-readable: These systems let people access documents and physical texts. They use prompts to direct users to information, providing a more hands-on and interactive experience. 

  2. Machine-readable: These platforms use artificial intelligence (AI) systems to interpret stored data and deduce answers to queries.

What information should you include in a knowledge base?

Before you start tossing documents into your library, think about who it’s for. Are you focused on customers or staff? Once you’ve segmented your audience, consult them about the information they’re seeking. Look for trends and focus on creating content that responds to their needs.

Creating content is just the beginning. You must optimize your knowledge base for discoverability using analytics and search engine optimization (SEO) practices. Otherwise, users won’t find what they need, and your information will gather dust. 

Here are some standard inclusions for a knowledge base:

1. Frequently asked questions

The ubiquitous FAQ offers answers to common questions. They cover subjects that don’t require in-depth knowledge or technical support, typically in two or three paragraphs. 

Create content based on team members’ or consumers’ routine queries and expected issues. An effective FAQ page encourages self-service so your support team won’t repeatedly answer the same inquiries. 

2. Tutorials and how-to guides

FAQs tend to be brief and concise, meaning they often lack detailed information. For complex issues, users need how-to guides and tutorials.

The primary difference between how-tos and tutorials is their length. How-to guides offer a brief synopsis of a product’s features, functions, and best practices. When used for problem-solving, they generally fix an issue in a single step. Tutorials explore complex processes, offering in-depth information to help users get to the root of a problem. 

Whether creating a tutorial or a how-to, you should support written content with screenshots, visual representations, or step-by-step videos. Graphics support different learning styles and keep readers engaged. 

3. Reference documents

Reference articles, such as software documentation, target technical and professional audiences. They are instrumental for developers seeking to extend a technical application’s capabilities or integrate it with existing software.

Consider including the following documents:

  • Command-line interfaces (CLI)

  • Drivers and specifications

  • File formats

4. News and updates

If your business operates in a rapidly evolving industry, consider adding a separate section to your knowledge base that provides news to consumers, such as:

  • Community announcements

  • Product updates

  • New version releases

  • Known issues

Sharing timely information helps businesses connect with consumers. It adds value to your external knowledge base and demonstrates concern, boosting brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.

5. Community contributions

A community of enthusiastic contributors ensures your knowledge base’s content remains fresh and relevant. This is especially true for companies providing open-source technology that relies on external input to solve code or design issues. 

Encourage community collaboration by designating an area for users to answer each other’s questions. This can curtail calls to your help desk. Apply your knowledge management system’s analytics and reporting features, and you’ll generate new article topics to guide your content creation team.

Why you need a knowledge base

Consumer preference isn’t the only reason an online knowledge base is a worthwhile investment. Here are a few other benefits:

Consistency of information

Creating a knowledge-based system, whether internal or external, guarantees standardized information. Customer service, IT, and HR share access to the same knowledge, reducing confusion and ensuring consistent operations. 

Reduced costs of onboarding

An online library supported by a strong knowledge management program ensures onboarding materials have the latest information. New employees receive standardized training in company policies and processes, no matter which department they work for.

24/7 accessibility

As more companies engage a remote workforce, staff must independently solve common issues. A knowledge base tool can assist employees anywhere at any time. 

Frees support staff to focus on high-priority issues

Your customer support team can only handle so much work. When customers have a knowledge base to answer basic questions, your service reps can focus on essential support tickets that significantly impact customer experience and outcomes. 

How to build your knowledge base

Establishing a user-friendly online information repository takes more than a robust knowledge management system. Here are some best practices:

1. Determine your objectives

Decide what benefit (or benefits) you want to gain from your knowledge base: reduced work hours spent answering repetitive questions, increased customer satisfaction, or improved productivity. 

2. Gather and organize content

Every department within your organization should contribute to the knowledge base. Start with FAQs. These should spark conversations about generating new articles and content. 

Once you’ve completed the first round of content creation, determine the system you’ll use to organize and maintain it. Your knowledge base system should include a search bar and intuitive navigation. Include meaningful article titles, tags, and keywords to make content easy to find.

3. Customize and standardize

Your knowledge base is a reflection of your company, so ensure a consistent visual presentation that matches your brand by using customized templates and a style guide. Your articles’ voice should match the organization’s communication style; consult the marketing department for guidance.

4. Update regularly

You don’t want to frustrate users with out-of-date or irrelevant content. The system requires ongoing knowledge management guided by analytics that ensure content remains current and applicable. Empower gatekeepers to update, delete, and write articles to keep information fresh. 

Different documentation approaches for a dynamic knowledge base

Organization is the biggest hurdle when establishing a knowledge base. Should you employ a hierarchical tree like a computer’s hard drive, a graph-based approach, or a combination of the two? Each model has strengths and weaknesses.

Make like a tree

A hierarchical organizational system is the standard model for most knowledge bases, like Helpjuice. It’s familiar and easy to understand. You start at the root and work up the tree, selecting different branches or topic categories until you reach the information you want.

So, what do you do when a document spans several categories? You can store the article in multiple locations within the hierarchy, but if you update the article, you must remember to change every copy. If you miss one, you risk documentation rot – a disorganized system with inconsistent information that diminishes trust and discourages use.

Make like a graph

You could also use a graph-based structure, such as Document360’s system, which connects related content using hyperlinks. If you’ve ever visited Wikipedia, you’re familiar with this system. Document linkages define relationships, rather than a hierarchy. 

The graph model ensures users don’t need to backtrack. If they take a wrong turn, they can simply review the page and click on a relevant link. Plus, documents don’t require categorization.

The drawback of wiki-style organization is that users need an entry point into the knowledge base. For Wikipedia, that’s Google. Unless you have an extensive knowledge base and a powerful search engine, your system will likely return irrelevant results. The system also doesn’t provide a clear path to a user’s goal; instead, it expects them to find it independently. This could frustrate users.

So, maybe, like a map

The most effective solution is to combine the best of both worlds. Create a map structure, like the one found in Atlassian Confluence, to organize your knowledge base. With a map, you have a starting point and a path to your destination – like the tree model – with the option to visit points of interest along the way or to take an alternative route – like the graph structure. 

The Confluence system also addresses the categorization issue thanks to a macro called “Include Page.” The feature creates dynamic copies of an original document to store in multiple locations within the information tree. Each copy’s content updates automatically when the original article is changed, ensuring information is always up-to-date.

Wrapping up

A company knowledge base is a valuable long-term investment in customer relationships and staff performance. However, it’s a complex undertaking, and you’re going to need some help. 

Plus, it’s Jira-enabled, so you can integrate the application with Confluence, making the content creation workflow faster and easier.