28/03/2024 |

How to Build a Knowledge Base – and Get the Most Out of It

Knowledge is an important success factor for companies, but it often disappears into the black hole of various storage locations. In short: knowledge alone - especially in the hands of individuals - is not enough. It must also be easily accessible and organized. This article shows how customers and employees can use it quickly and flexibly with the help of a database.

What is a knowledge base?

A knowledge base is an online library that contains relevant information on products and services as well as descriptions and instructions.

It can be described as the heart of a self-service portal and provides detailed information on problems and questions, often in the form of knowledge base articles. Knowledge base content can also include frequently asked questions (FAQs), troubleshooting guides, manuals and checklists. Video tutorials and animated content are also increasingly being used.

Such databases are often designed as encyclopedias. Following this principle, many companies use internal “wikis” or other knowledge base software to make existing knowledge centrally and clearly accessible. The use of artificial intelligence – starting with chatbots – creates additional advantages: there are more and more knowledge bases that interact with users and guide them to their goals faster and more effectively.

Background – Making Individual Knowledge Available

In many cases, individual employees in a company have extensive specialist knowledge in a particular subject area. This knowledge can be used effectively by everyone if the relevant team member writes articles or instructions to share their knowledge with others. This is particularly beneficial when the experts in question are not available – or even leave the company.

Types of Knowledge Bases

A distinction must be made between internal knowledge bases, which are used within an organization, and their external counterparts, which organizations make available to customers, stakeholders or interested parties.

Internal databases primarily consist of content that helps employees to carry out their work, makes experience transparent or contains important learnings. Examples would be instructions for using software, such as a CRM tool, descriptions for placing standard orders or experiences from working on certain marketing campaigns.

Internal applications

Internal use cases are summarized as follows:

  • General glossary and reference book
  • Training of new staff
  • Vacation and sickness replacements
  • Exchange of experience and best practices
  • Documentation and manuals
  • Operation of machines and software
  • Compliance and legal matters
  • Project management and collaboration

External knowledge bases

External knowledge bases are different in that they primarily serve as a point of contact for customers. They help customers raise service requests, find answers or begin support tickets – for products and services. Problems or errors for which customers need a quick and effective remedy are a frequent use case. They may also include descriptions of products and services as well as access to documentation and manuals.

Requirements for a Good Knowledge Base

Knowledge bases have one main goal: to make knowledge optimally accessible and usable so that users can benefit from it in the best possible way. When creating a knowledge base, certain requirements must be met. These include the following:

  1. Structuring: Knowledge should be easy to find and retrieve. The necessary structure is provided by categorization, tagging, hierarchical assignments and other activities.
  2. Search function: An intelligent search function enables users to find the information they are looking for quickly and easily, whether it is a full-text search or a filter.
  3. Up-to-dateness: It is of little use if knowledge is (or was) factually correct but is no longer up-to-date. The relevant providers should regularly update or supplement knowledge and maintain their databases.
  4. User-friendliness: Experience shows that users quickly abandon tools and platforms if they are not easy and intuitive to use. User-friendliness should always be at the center of considerations.
  5. Controlled access: Of course, the basic idea of a knowledge base is to make existing information generally usable. However, by no means is all information intended for the general public. Sometimes, only certain people and groups should have access to sensitive internal knowledge. Data governance is therefore a decisive factor.
  6. Scalability: As a company develops, a database can quickly become redundant if it does not meet the necessary requirements. To counteract this, a knowledge base should allow for an increasing number of users and knowledge areas without sacrificing performance and the general overview.

Of course, knowledge bases should also be implemented in a technically functional and target-oriented manner. In combination with the factors described here, this means that users can make optimum use of such a platform.

The advantages of a knowledge base

“Wikis” make knowledge centrally accessible – ideally in a clear, understandable and intuitive way. If the content requires no further explanation, companies save a lot of time and use existing information more efficiently. What’s more, the entire internal organization can be improved. This can go so far as to map a company’s entire body of knowledge in a database.

Here are the most important advantages in detail.

Organized knowledge management

The fundamental advantage of a “wiki” is that knowledge is organized and not loosely scattered throughout an organization. This means that information can always be used when someone needs it. If this information is also systematically organized, managed and clearly stored, companies get the most out of existing knowledge.

More time and lower costs

Self-service in the form of a knowledge base creates valuable freedom: for example, support teams are relieved, onboarding is faster and fewer instructions and explanations are needed in everyday work. Once content is part of a “wiki”, it can be used again and again in a targeted manner – a sensible investment.

Such an approach also clearly pays off economically. The calculation is very simple: by saving so much time, companies simultaneously reduce their costs and can put more effort into value-adding work.

An investment in knowledge still pays the best interest.
Benjamin Franklin

Efficient collaboration

Following the previous point, it can be stated that teams can work together more efficiently with good knowledge management.

  1. By sharing relevant knowledge, silos are reduced and shared expertise can be built up.
  2. Redundant explanations are avoided and follow-up questions are only necessary if the given knowledge content is not clear enough.
  3. Access to standardized resources prevents misunderstandings.

Quick familiarization and problem solving

A well-organized knowledge base makes onboarding much easier: new employees receive all the information they need at any time and can participate in operational and strategic work much faster. Less training is also required for experienced employees, which is also noticeable in the form of cost savings.

Optimized decision-making

Good decisions are based on facts and data that are available at the right time. Accurate information flows are necessary to fulfill these requirements. The basis for this is that relevant knowledge can be retrieved at any time. By making this possible, a database supports the decision-making process: Decisions tend to be made faster and better.

Good and balanced service

Traditional customer service is characterized by the fact that the results depend heavily on the respective customer advisor. If the customer advisor is familiar with the subject of the question and provides a competent answer, the customer experience improves. When all employees have the same knowledge base and a standardized playbook, service is consistent – and delivered at a higher level.

Higher customer satisfaction

It is not only when employees have access to a knowledge base that service quality increases. The same applies to customers themselves: If they can obtain information using a knowledge base, this improves the service offering immensely and leads to faster solutions. This in turn increases customer satisfaction, which benefits companies both directly and indirectly.

Build a knowledge base: How to succeed

Designing a useful and target-oriented knowledge base depends on the individual goals and requirements of the respective organization. In principle, the structure should be related to clear objectives, such as making onboarding or practical work easier for employees or providing customers with good answers to questions and concerns at all times.

Here are some steps that prove universally useful.

Step 1: Determine needs and objectives

The first step is to determine what kind of information a knowledge base should hold. What kind of problems should it solve? Which user groups does it serve? Based on this, goals can be defined, such as processing customer inquiries more efficiently, achieving a specific process optimization or ensuring good compliance.

Step 2: Identify and create relevant knowledge content

This is where it gets interesting. In most cases, organizations have plenty of knowledge and lots of relevant content, but it is not centrally maintained, accessible, categorized and clearly structured. The task now is to identify this content and make it usable. Depending on what type of knowledge base is to be created, the path leads to expert interviews; the collection of frequently asked questions; and the consolidation of best practices, product information, case studies or training materials.

Step 3: Structure and categorize content

A clear, logical and simple structure is required to present the information and content in an orderly manner. Categories, subcategories and tags help users to find the information they are looking for quickly and to have a positive user experience. Navigation is, therefore, a point to which companies should devote sufficient attention. For example, points such as “problem solving”, “instructions” or “product details” are suitable as superordinate categories. Building on this, a granular structure can be gradually developed.

Step 4: Select the right solution

This is about finding the right solution or platform that will display the content as well as possible and be user-friendly, flexible and scalable. Here too, it is important to always keep the customer or user in mind: A system should offer suitable assistance instead of rigidly setting a direction.

For customers, this means, for example, that they should be able to switch from automated service to human support wherever possible. Factors such as AI applications – for example in the form of chatbots – also play a role in providing an even faster and more intuitive service.

Step 5: The test run

Before a knowledge base is finally published, organizations should test it thoroughly. This ensures that the content is easy to find, helpful and as easy to understand as possible. Either employees or selected customers can act as testers. They should provide well-founded and structured feedback on what they consider useful, what they would still like to see and what information may be redundant.

Step 6: Publication and continuous maintenance/improvement

Once a knowledge base has been sufficiently developed, tested and optimized, it can finally be published. But this is not the end of the story for organizations. To ensure that users use the database as frequently as possible, it is important that the corresponding portal is well advertised and visible.

It is also important that those responsible continuously provide good knowledge base management. They should continuously review factors such as topicality, accuracy and relevance. It is also common for knowledge and information in demand to change over time, and the database should reflect this.

Tips for using it in the best possible way

Here are a few tips to help companies benefit as much as possible from a knowledge base.

Tip #1 – Create instructions for instructions: Posts don’t write themselves and often employees feel a certain inhibition to write them themselves. With relevant instructions, however, this is much easier. This also sets expectations about what contributions are desired. It is definitely worth going to the meta-level and writing instructions for instructions or knowledge contributions.

Tip #2 – Record answers from meetings: If there are frequent questions in team meetings, it is advisable to answer them as clearly as possible during the call and record what is said. The recording then only needs to be stored in the right place in a knowledge base in order to always serve as a basis for answering the question from then on – and to avoid repetitive uncertainties and discussions.

Tip #3 – Use complete sentences: It may seem simple, but for entries to be clear and unambiguous, headings should consist of complete sentences and be meaningful enough. For example, the heading “Billing” can mean plenty of things and lead to very different sub-topics. The heading “How do I create a correct invoice with system XY?”, on the other hand, is clear. Users will immediately know what to expect from this entry.

Tip #4 – Introduce a self-learning system: In the best case scenario, a knowledge base includes both a video or knowledge base article as well as checklists and a self-learning system. By using a self-learning system, users can comment directly on the relevant instructions and suggest improvements. The typical questions are: What was missing? What kind of information would be helpful?

Conclusion: Knowledge Bases – A Key to Success

“Knowledge is power” – and unused knowledge brings no added value. At the same time, the prevailing flood of information is making it increasingly difficult for organizations to keep track of available knowledge and make it accessible. However, this is the only way to use it effectively so that companies and their customers can act more efficiently, save time and achieve better solutions.

The way to make relevant content consistently usable is via a knowledge base. This not only provides a well-founded overview, but it also gives structure, grows with the company and regulates access to content. As a result, employees can perform tasks faster and better. Customers are more satisfied thanks to improved service.

What a knowledge base actually looks like depends heavily on the individual needs and goals of each company. Some are more concerned with instructions or sharing learning while others primarily present product information and user manuals.

In all of this, artificial intelligence is also becoming an increasingly important success factor for companies as it offers customers even more efficient service and employees can achieve results faster and more directly.

Find out how OTRS can help you build a knowledge base.

Contact our experts

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