What is a Knowledge Base? A complete guide for 2021

Oct 23rd, 2020

Company knowledge bases are essential tools in storing and sharing information that can drastically improve your customer or employee experience with your business. We often know the importance and value a knowledge base can bring to a business; yet are unsure of where to begin when trying to introduce it as a process or convey its value to business stakeholders.

In this article, we'll explore everything you need to know about a knowledge base, the benefits it can bring your business, and how to implement an internal or external knowledge base that will bring profitable change to your company.

What is a knowledge base?

In a nutshell, a knowledge base is an online storage place where you can access, manage, and share important information. Also known as a company wiki, a knowledge base contains info related to a specific department, topic, product, or project.

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Knowledge Base: Use cases 

TechTarget defines it as: 

"…a machine-readable resource for the dissemination of information, generally online or with the capacity to be put online… a knowledge base optimizes information collection, organization, and retrieval for an organization, or the general public."

As much as this sums up a knowledge base, it's a little wordy for our liking. What this definition translates to is: 

A knowledge base is a collection of online information that anyone may need to succeed.  

There are two types of knowledge bases out there, business to team (B2T, from now on) and business to customer (B2C)—let's explore both.

Internal knowledge base (B2T)

An internal knowledge base provides every piece of information your employees could ever need; this includes:  

  • Company policies
  • HR process
  • Product roadmaps & projects
  • Employee onboarding material
  • Process documents
  • Company and team structure

The list is long and will change depending on your type of business. It essentially exists to ensure that your employees can search for the information they need of their own accord and not rely on others within the business to help with information.  

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External knowledge base (B2C)

Also known as a help center or resources hub, an external knowledge base aims at fulfilling customer satisfaction rates and their success with your product or service. They are typically built on FAQs and can save your customers—and your support team—a lot of time. 

Overall, they create a better customer experience. This type of knowledge base often includes:

  • User guides
  • Past release notes 
  • FAQs
  • Troubleshooting
  • Walkthroughs and tutorials
  • Pre-recorded success webinars
  • Customer support contact information

Again, with this type of knowledge base, the information you provide may differ depending on your product or service. The structure of your knowledge base may also change depending on what your customers deem as a priority.

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In all, both types of knowledge base work as self-service helpdesk, improving your employees' or customers' experience and having a positive effect on their attitude towards your business.

What are the benefits of an effective knowledge base?

Whether you're building a B2B or B2T knowledge base, there are so many benefits that a successful knowledge base can bring. If you're looking to build a business case for starting a knowledge base project, look no further. 

The points below will help strengthen your case and build context around the project you want to kick-off.

Store all company knowledge

Every day brings an enormous amount of data and information that runs the risk of being lost when stored in multiple places: from different tools like personal google drive files or notes to sitting siloed in someone's mind.

A knowledge base manages and organizes company-wide information, so it's accessible to those that need it, as well as never running the risk of getting lost or having it leave when talent leaves.

You're sure to keep this information forever, strengthening your company's foundations, avoiding long-term knowledge gaps, and decreasing knowledge dependency on just specific people in the team. Some great examples of teams already doing this are Basecamp, GitLab, and Netflix.

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Netflix Knowledge Base

Increase team productivity

A good internal knowledge base will help your employees find the right information quickly without having to (virtually) tap on their teammates' shoulders, pestering colleagues with common questions, and repeatedly distracting them.

A study conducted by McKinsey revealed that improved communication and collaboration through technologies could raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20-25%

By creating a knowledge base with a search function, you empower your team to work more independently, spend less time asking questions, and enable contact time to be more productive—creating great work.

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Knowledge Base: Search Function 

Enhance employee onboarding

Growing your team is no easy task. It costs hiring teams 33% of a candidate's annual salary to hire them, and recruiters alone spend 1 to 3 days onboarding a new recruit. It's not uncommon for hiring managers to spend a lot of their days onboarding a new team member.

The personalization is all well and good, but when you're having to onboard hundreds of employees at a time, this process simply isn't scalable.

Having your own knowledge base with up-to-date information will help new employees get up to speed with projects, policies, and company processes. Documenting onboarding also ensures that every employee has an equal onboarding experience and misses nothing.

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A good knowledge base gives new employees a feeling of autonomy. Any employee has a ton of information they need to consume in their first few weeks with a new business.

Understanding the functionality of a new CRM, getting to know support staff and other team members, discovering new file formats, the list is long. Often new employees don't have the confidence to ask for a process to be repeated or even know whom to go to to get their answer in the first place.

A knowledge base gives employees the option to familiarize themselves with the company in their own time and search for the resources they need.

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Slite: An onboarding checklist 

You can take onboarding a step further by creating a new hire onboarding checklist to guide a new recruit through the information they need and ensure they leave no stone unturned.

Overall, a knowledge base can lay the foundations for a better employee onboarding process, creating a welcoming work environment for new hires, allowing hiring managers to focus their time on introducing new recruits to current projects rather than static processes and info. 

In all, it has the power to drastically lower onboarding costs and time.

Improve the customer experience

When we're looking at the customer-facing side of a knowledge base, it has the potential to empower your customers to self-help or troubleshoot their customer questions. 

A customer-facing knowledge base is not only for answering concerns or problems. It can lift a customer's experience by enhancing their knowledge of your product or service, helping them understand release notes or docs, and getting the maximum potential out of what you're providing.

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Asana: External Knowledge Base Example

By setting up a detailed and UX friendly customer knowledge base, you'll free up your customer success and customer services teams so they can focus on larger issues or more impactful cases.

Templates and examples of knowledge bases and intranets

Internal knowledge base examples

Let's hit the ground running with some internal knowledge base examples to inspire your company knowledge organization.

Slite

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At Slite, we use our internal knowledge base tools to increase productivity and collaboration across teams. Here's a sneak peek into our internal handbooks. Check it out.

Meero

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Meero uses its internal knowledge base to align its customer Success team as they grow across different countries. Discover the template they use.

Want more examples of internal knowledge bases that rock? We gathered some of the best examples from fast-growing companies like Buffer, Gitlab, or Intercom. Discover great examples of internal knowledge base contents here.

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Internal Knowledge base examples

External company wikis that work

Knowledge bases are often referred to as wikis, especially when customer-facing. Let's explore some of our favorite company wikis, and why they're up there with the best of them.

Canva

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Canva provides a great example of a well designed external knowledge base. Why is it great? Canva uses a top search bar, most popular searches function, and features useful articles when you land on their support homepage. It's the perfect mix of customer success and customer support.

GitHub

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A great example of how a brand can thread personality and charm into a knowledge base. Visuals are not space fillers, they’re space makers and they can evoke a lot of emotion. GitHub has used an empowering visual to emulate how they want the Knowledgebase user to feel, and it works.

How to build a knowledge base using best practices

Whether you're building a customer-facing knowledge base or one for your employees, there are a few basic principles to keep in mind when strategizing your knowledge base.

Start small and be strategic

Chances are you won't be able to document everything at first. Instead of trying to document your entire company knowledge base in one sitting, identify the most critical parts of your business that need to be documented first, either for internal purposes or for customer support. 

By setting priorities, you'll build your knowledge base content step-by-step, giving people the information most in-demand quickly and backing it up with lesser priority knowledge later.

Make it collaborative

You don't have to build your knowledge base alone. Involve your employees in your knowledge management strategy from day one. By doing so, you'll get employee buy-in, which will encourage them to ensure the project succeeds, and people use the knowledge base.

There's a high chance you'll need employee input for various areas of knowledge; after all, they're on the front lines of what's happening in the company. By involving employees from the start, they'll have a greater understanding of the project and the information they can provide for it.

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Define clear guidelines

Guidelines will help all employees and customers understand how to navigate and contribute toward the knowledge base. Start with a style guide clearly stating how to format documents and the language and tone to use—MailChimp does this extremely well.  

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Mailchimp: Style Guide

By defining contributor's guidelines, you're building a knowledge base that has the capacity to build and run itself. It will also enhance readability, accessibility, and navigation for all users. Keep your guidelines clear and straightforward, and don't be afraid to use knowledge base examples and screenshots to get your point across.

Choose the right knowledge base software

There are many knowledge bases, some of which you're probably using but just haven't considered being one. Tools like Slack, Google Drive, even Trello, are often used as knowledge bases, but they're not built for it.

Today, there's a wide range of purpose-built knowledge base software, and we'll do the leg work for you—we're right here. From a simple content management system to a more advanced real-time system with premium collaboration features or artificial intelligence, find what’s right for you.

A few questions to ask to help you decide are:

  • What are the internal or external use cases your KB needs to fulfill?
  • Can the KB plan scale with your team?
  • Is this KB intuitive enough for your team?
  • Does the KB integrate with the tool you use?
  • Can I find back information quickly through navigation or search?

Once you've answered these questions, you'll have a clearer idea of the knowledge base plan you need for it to be a success in your company.

Maintaining your knowledge base

Last on your list for a knowledge base is its maintenance. A knowledge base is a living document for your company. It's not something that sits stagnantly and is still sufficient. You need to take care of it—like a house plant.

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If you've onboarded the team well and provided some stellar writing and use guidelines, and knowledge base articles, it should empower others to keep the document going. 

However, try to have one sole manager of the knowledge base that ensures it's ticking over as usual and that people are using it correctly. This person is also responsible for reminding anyone that needs to update information. This responsibility is best with an office manager, an HR team member, or an internal communications assistant.

It's a good idea to set reminders to review your knowledge base, or as and when company updates come about, to make sure they are communicated clearly within the knowledge base. 

Remember, an internal knowledge base is there to enable your team to self-serve, eradicate support tickets, and grant easy access to essential information, workflows, processes, and more. 

You need to encourage your team, or your customers, to use the knowledge base as their go-to hub of information; you're creating new habits; it will take time, but the time it will save in the future is priceless.  

Give Slite a spin

If you're looking for an internal knowledge base that's collaborative and user-friendly, you can check out Slite. It ticks the above boxes: is simple to use, integrates with your tools, and has a powerful search function. Try it out for free. 

Leverage your knowledge now