How To Craft A Knowledge Base For Your Organization

8/5/2015

The growth of an organization is never a straight line, and for startups, it’s a constant battle of allocating resources. On one hand, you must keep a careful eye on cashflow, budget, and revenues on almost a daily basis. And on the other, you must project what resources you will need as your organization matures, because it takes today’s dollars to build tomorrow’s infrastructure. One major expense to consider: what type of customer and tech support will you need to provide once your product or service takes off? A useful knowledge base can remove burden from the shoulders of your support department, and thus save your organization’s precious resources. 

What Is A Knowledge Base

In its simplest form, a knowledge base is a database of articles used to teach those unfamiliar with your product or system how to use your product or system. It is a repository where documentation is collected, stored, and shared. It can be public, private, or both. At its best, a well crafted knowledge base can save time, energy, and money for both the user and the provider. Organizations that have a well crafted one will almost never be praised for it, because a great knowledge base is barely noticeable, giving the user succinct, intuitive, organized answers. However, orgs with a poorly crafted one get known for it. A bad knowledge base sticks out like furniture in the dark, causing painful navigation and a sour mood. When you decide it’s time to build a knowledge base, make sure to put careful thought into its construction. It’s important that the information contained within is easily accessible and logically arranged.

Characteristics Of A Well Crafted Knowledge Base

As mentioned above, it’s important to carefully consider the content and organizational structure of your knowledge base. Here are some recommendations on how to craft yours.
 

Use a consistent writing style.

Write in the plainest words possible, in a consistent writing style. I highly recommend designating one person as the editor of your knowledge base. That person can make the final tweaks to homogenize language, structure, and feel. It’s OK to add some personality to your writing, as long as it’s in line with your organizational identity. But don’t take it too far. There’s a fine line between engaging and annoying language.
 

Put yourself in your user's shoes. 

Assume your user is new at everything. For instance, if you are an agency and you require clients to purchase a domain prior to using your system, make sure to describe that process as well. Go purchase a domain name is not descriptive enough. Provide instructions and a helpful link. Also, ask yourself how you would like to encounter the information in your knowledge base. Is a list or perhaps a video ideal for explaining things? It can be frustrating for your customers if they’re stuck and in need of assistance. Make it as easy on them as possible.
 

Create a consistent organizational flow. 

Some groups organize chronologically and then by difficulty. Some by topic. Both have their merits, but it’s important to be consistent. And remember, everyone can benefit from creating a “Getting Started” section that goes through the things users need to know when first interacting with your product or service. A search bar is essential. Also, when referencing other knowledge base articles, make sure to link back to them.
 

Do not overwhelm your customers!

As I mentioned above, it can be frustrating for customers in need of information. If your knowledge base consists of block after mind numbing block of text, it’s an overwhelming mess to look at. Make sure to break up text monotony into short paragraphs, under descriptive headers. Use bold to help guide the eye to important information, or images to quickly convey a point. Use a list when stepwise instructions are needed. 
 

Keep your knowledge base up to date.

The reality is, you’re never finished building your knowledge base. As your offerings change, or new questions come to light, make sure it stays current.

Getting Started

The process of building a knowledge base can seem daunting. It’s never easy to create content, and in this case, since you have to figure out the most logical way to teach others how to use your system or product, it can be a big challenge. Some time ago I was providing customer and tech support for a startup. Two things became clear almost immediately.

 
  1. I was getting the same questions over and over. 
  2. We did not have the resources to hire another support person, so the more products we sold, the more overwhelmed I was.

To make life easier, and me more efficient, I compiled a list of questions I routinely received, and their corresponding answers. Since we only offered email support, I was able to copy and paste the answers into my reply emails. This list of questions was the first draft of our knowledge base. I recommend that you begin with a list of your most common support questions and answers. Then list the top 5-10 things your customer needs to know right away to begin using your product or service. This is your starting point.

Conclusion 

A knowledge base is far more than just a product manual. It’s a quickly navigable, feature rich, central repository of information that helps your customers unlock the potential of your product. As a support "front door” it’s a resource saver, and for a new employee, an indispensable learning tool. There are stand alone options for hosting a knowledge base, however if you’re looking for an integrated system, the Brick River Technologies platform is capable of hosting a knowledge base for their clients. Drop us a line if you’re interested in learning more. 
 


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