Today, every person generates around 1.7 megabytes of data per second.
With this enormous amount of data, companies are working around the clock to collect and organize every data point belonging to and created by their customers. Their customers aren’t the only ones, either – their internal employees are creating data on their own processes at the same rate.
Netflix uses big data to save $1 billion a year from customer retention using an algorithm for predicting users’ preferred content. Can you do the same? Absolutely. It’s not that hard to get your data organized, you just have to get started in the right place. As a first step for leveraging data, you’ll want to build an effective knowledge management system.
The State of the Art in knowledge management
There has never been a better time than now to use a software system to manage your own knowledge and help your customers with theirs. Many people see the process as simply build a great knowledge management system to outfit your team with, and you’ll see your support costs plummet and your prospects skyrocket.
This is true in its own way, but you can’t just rush into it. Plenty of organizations lose valuable time by chasing after anything they think might have a good effect on their business, whether or not it’s actually true.
Consider your needs
Don’t just hop on the bandwagon because other companies are doing it. Try to nail down exactly where your current methods are failing you data-wise.
One of the biggest places a data management system can come in handy is when you’re bringing new people on the team. How much of this process involves people directly answering questions that the new hire could look up by themselves? Quite a lot, at many companies.
This is a prime example of a stage in your onboarding process that could be accelerated by having a knowledge base. New hires could read through documentation about company benefits, best practices, typical problems, and more, and as they gain experience they could contribute to editing the knowledge base to help others.
People asking others for help is a good way to quickly learn the ropes, but it can deeply cut into proficiency. Not only does someone have to spend time answering the question, they have to take time to get back into the flow afterward. That’s a benefit of an internal knowledge base.
How about an externally-facing one? Well, those are manifold.
Many businesses are looking to cut costs, and maintaining a live support team can be an expensive undertaking even if it’s outsourced overseas. A knowledge management system won’t totally replace a live support team, but it will reduce customer support requests considerably.
Just think – a customer has a question, and when they search for the “contact us” page, the first thing they see is an enormous search bar enticing them to answer their own questions.
Assuming the knowledge base has been constructed correctly in anticipation of user needs, it can totally eliminate a big percentage of the softball questions that call center agents tend to get all the time.
How to audit your current knowledge management system
Now that you’ve identified a couple of places that a knowledge base could help you, you should look for how those problems get solved – or how they don’t – with your current system. Check for old and outdated information, and see where the bottlenecks are that prevent people from going to the right places for information.
For example, you might have a static FAQ page that hasn’t been updated for three or four software releases because the engineers haven’t gotten around to updating it themselves.
Your website traffic itself might reveal how little a resource like that really gets used. Look at your product from a user’s point of view and see where they might go to find out how to actually use it correctly. An intuitive design is for the UX team to worry about – assume the point of view of a user who gets lost at literally every step.
If they somehow miss the flashing arrow saying “Check Out Now” (and if they’re using a screen reader or other accessibility software, it may be easier than you think), imagine how they might use the resources on your site to get help for checking out.
Do you have a specific guide walking users through the product selection and checkout processes? That’s a bottleneck, because it may be tough to find assistance outside your website for relatively basic questions like that.
Remember, your knowledge base is for basic to intermediate questions, online guides and resources are for higher-level technical applications, and a direct email to your support team is for anything that slips through the cracks.
Centralize your knowledge
A knowledge base is designed from the ground up to be one central place for reference. As mentioned before, the search bar is the keystone of the whole system. There’s a lot of work that has gone into the search bar, loading it with features like fuzzy matching and smart reference for ordering results.
The more high-quality articles you have in your system, the more content your search bar has to recommend. The idea is that your support team can work together with your development team to bring together all the knowledge in your business and carefully organize it into easy-to-understand articles.
Furthermore, the analytics delivered to you by a high-quality knowledge base can reveal priceless information about the usage of your support systems. How many people are reading your articles, and how many people are getting their queries satisfied on the first try? As the back end, the statistics produced by the knowledge base analytics tools can strongly inform your customer service strategy.
Knowledge bases can offer quite a bit of customization and content hosting capability. While they’re not fully-fledged content management systems, they share a lot of intuitive features for both the user and the creator.
4 features of a useful knowledge base
Anybody who’s tried to investigate knowledge management as a project for their company knows there are tons of potential solutions out there. It’s an exploding field, and so it’s easy to find new startups alongside established companies offering knowledge bases. When you’re comparing knowledge bases, you should pay attention to four main features:
The article editor
Is it easy to add new articles? How about layout – is it easy to customize the layout of a new article or even work off templates to keep a consistent look and feel of your knowledge base as a whole? Some knowledge base solutions offer Markdown as well as a traditional text editor for maximum speed and focus on the part of your editors.
Also, is it easy to add images, code blocks, embedded videos, or attached files? Attaching files in particular can be very helpful for more advanced users, because they can read the article for an overview of the issue and then look at the attached document for more technical details.
The search bar
Try out several different search queries with the search bar and see if you get the results you like. Pretty much any knowledge base provider will have their own knowledge base used as the backend for their documentation, kind of as an example gallery. Check and see how easy it is to find information you might be looking for. Does the bar automatically correct for spelling mistakes or similar words?
Are you looking for a self-hosted or a cloud-based knowledge management solution? Self-hosting allows you full control over the data, but you have to take care of the setup and maintenance yourself. This time and expense can eat into the savings from shrinking your support team in the first place. A cloud-based system lets you focus entirely on writing and updating your content, though it usually comes at a slightly higher cost per month.
Versioning and backup
There’s nothing worse than a misplaced bulk action doing away with all of your hard work. You need to make sure that your knowledge management system lets you easily backup and restore different versions of your project.
Even more granular than that, you’ll need to be able to compare different versions of your articles. If one person makes a bunch of changes to an article without telling anybody else, why track them down and ask them what was changed? Just look at the change logs and compare for yourself.
Building and maintaining your knowledge base
If you already have a knowledge base from another system, the migration process could hardly be easier. Your membership includes an appointment with support staff who will help you transfer your old knowledge base to the new platform.
Getting started with knowledge management is extremely easy. The best way to learn how it works is by trying out any platform to see for yourself, using a demo led by a sales agent or a free trial.
That’s because each platform is built to be able to be used with a minimum of experience. You’ll jump straight into the editor, and through looking at tooltips or just clicking around and trying things out, you’ll get to know its features.
Try getting off on the right foot with organization. Create dummy articles with representative titles that you’ve planned out ahead of time, and get them organized with tags and a hierarchy in the table of contents. That way, you’ll be working from a planned-out framework instead of a totally blank canvas, and you can easily add and expand data as necessary.
Auditing and improving over time
Even after you think your last article is written, you’ll probably notice that there really is no last article. That’s because your core product is also probably evolving and growing. Your knowledge base needs to reflect that.
Every quarter or so, or every time there’s a large product launch, you should perform a full knowledge base audit to make sure that your carefully-curated knowledge is all up to date and continuing to be helpful to the audience.
For example, you might have merged two tools in your online interface into one. In order to have a seamless customer service experience, you should make sure that any screenshots of those tools are updated, and the articles updated as well to reflect the change in user experience.
A good knowledge base is concise, consistent, and relevant to what users are really searching for. Your readers don’t want to wade through complicated, wordy explanations – they want fast solutions so they can go back to actually using the product.
In the same way, they don’t want to be jarred by oddly mismatched writing styles. It’s common for people from all over the organization to contribute to the knowledge base as a whole based on their own areas of expertise.
Inevitably, they’re going to want to present their own problem-solving steps in different ways, and so an editor should really be going over the new drafts of articles and reworking them if necessary before they go live. All this goes to show that writing a decent knowledge base is one thing, but actually presenting it in a professionally-designed way is an art form in itself.
As advertisers have learned throughout the years, one of the best ways to get people interested in and searching for your product is to reel them in with legitimately good content related to it.
By setting up a knowledge management system, you’re automatically increasing your search result rankings by producing genuinely helpful articles about using your software and making these articles free to read for everyone.
At the same time, your knowledge management system could face inward and work as a scalable onboarding tool for new hires, letting them learn the ropes of company principles and best practices for dealing with each customer.
The possibilities with a strong knowledge system are truly endless. Many platforms have free demos and trials, so go check them out and see what you have to gain!
Saravana Kumar is the Founder and CEO of
Document360, a SaaS knowledge base. He is a Microsoft BizTalk server MVP since 2007, blogger, international speaker, and active community member in the BizTalk area. Before Document360, he founded two other enterprise software companies, Biztalk360 and Serverless360.