How to Create a Knowledge Base That Will Make Your Customers Love You

November 21, 2016 Sam Brennand

knowledge base

The ability to create great customer experiences has never been more important, particularly if you’re a SaaS company.

However, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned working in Customer Success it’s that the term “great experience” is probably the most relative phrase in the English language.  "Success" to one company rarely means exactly the same thing to another. That’s why it’s so important to create flexible processes and use a range of tools that allow customers to shape their own experiences.

A key part of that is self-service, and statistics are increasingly pointing to self-service as a key driver of great experiences. In fact, research from Zendesk has shown that up to 67% of customers actually prefer self-service to speaking with a live customer service representative.

That’s where knowledge bases come in.

How to Build a Knowledge Base

Building a great knowledge base is not a quick or easy process. It’s much more work than throwing together a few “help” articles and picking the right subdomain. However, it’s also a project that, when done right, can pay huge dividends across your entire organization.

Knowledge is currency in the digital world, and a great knowledge base can lead to better end-user experiences, decreased support costs for your organization, and a waterfall of new insights for your Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success teams (not to mention increased product adoption and user engagement).

Here’s how to get started:

1. Understand Your Customers’ Needs

An important first step in the process is codifying your customer personas.

If you’re a marketer, you’re probably very familiar and comfortable with the concept of buyer personas. If you’re not, buyer personas are a conceptual exercise designed to help organizations easily understand the most important things about their target customers. They’re an incredibly important part of building modern marketing and sales processes.

But when thinking about your customer personas, your buyer personas are not enough. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a great place to start and should certainly play a key role. But a prospect going through a sales process and an existing customer have very different needs, problems, and expectations. To best meet those needs with your knowledge base, you need to understand how they engage with your platform and how their needs differ based on their use cases, plans or account types, and more.  

2. Audit Your Existing Content

Once you’ve identified your customer personas, performing an audit of your existing knowledge content can help to identify gaps that need to be filled. If you’re familiar with the concept of a marketing content audit, you’re all set. A knowledge base content audit is virtually the same process.

So talk to your salespeople, ask your best customers about their biggest challenges, pour through every support case looking for common themes, and keep detailed notes of every customer interaction.

When we redeveloped our knowledge base here at Uberflip, a content audit helped us discover some pretty glaring holes in our existing knowledge base content. To be completely honest, our old knowledge base resembled swiss cheese more than a dynamite resource for our customers.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself a common question about your product, service, or solution you’d hear from a customer. If you can’t immediately name a piece of content you have that you could send to a customer to help explain a feature or walk them through a process, you’ve got a problem.

3. Fill The Gaps

This is the most important, challenging, and time-consuming aspect of building a great knowledge base.

We went into our knowledge base redevelopment expecting this part of the process to take between two and three weeks. After all, we were just answering the common questions that help guide our customers to success each and every day... how much of a challenge could it possibly be to document that knowledge?

Answer: a big one. Three and a half months later, we finally *finished*.

And I say “finished” with a tremendous amount of hesitation since a knowledge base, as Jesse Eisenberg reminded us in The Social Network, is a lot like fashion - it’s never finished. There will always be new questions to answer, new ways or mediums with which to answer them, and new use cases to help your customers explore.

But your knowledge base has to be where they live. The key is to develop a process that makes it easy from the get-go.

Get your team together and answer the following questions:

  • Who will be responsible for creating the new articles?
  • Who is responsible for editing and verification?
  • Who is responsible for making updates as new features are released or existing features are updated?
  • Will those updates be made daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly?
  • What format will your content take?

Once you’ve established some answers, you’ll have a solid framework to guide your content development efforts.

4. Structure Your Content Fluidly

Imagine you walked into a grocery store and found all of the food left in a big pile in the middle of the store. Wouldn’t be a great experience, would it?  

Unfortunately, too many knowledge bases take this type of approach to education and learning. To the end user, it can be a bit like drinking through a firehose. When it comes to structuring your content, it’s crucial to make it easy for your customers to find what they’re looking for based on their own unique circumstances, situations, or use cases.

At Uberflip, we create Marketing Streams of content for specific types of users, specific plans, and sometimes even specific users themselves. This allows us to position our content in the proper context and encourage users to consume multiple pieces of helpful content on any given visit.

Providing this type of context is the difference between a so-so user experience and one that helps your customers truly master your product, services, or platform.

5. Capture Insights

A great knowledge base can be a wealth of insight for your team.

Understanding which articles and videos are being consumed can help guide your customer success efforts by letting you know where you need to spend more time from a content creation standpoint. If a particular article or video is getting a lot of views but you’re still fielding lots of questions, chances are that article needs to be re-written or that video re-recorded.

In the example below from the Uberflip Knowledge Base, it’s easy for us to understand how well our article on “How to Add a Custom Domain - HTTP or HTTPS” is helping customers by looking at the ratio of Views to Click-Throughs. The higher the ratio, the less the article is helping.

content score

As well, when you understand what your users are looking for, or more importantly, what they’re struggling with, it’s easy to be proactive from a customer success perspective.

6. Leverage Integrations

Insights are great, but simply tracking data isn’t enough to understand whether your knowledge base is being used. If you’re not proactively working to turn those insights into action you’re missing a huge opportunity.

That’s why a great knowledge base should be integrated with other tools in your marketing and sales toolkit like Google Analytics, social sharing tools like AddThis, commenting tools like Disqus, and marketing automation tools like HubSpot, Marketo, Eloqua, Pardot, Act-On, and MailChimp.

For example, here at Uberflip our knowledge base is integrated with HubSpot. This gives our marketing team the ability to actively use knowledge base content consumption in our lead nurturing process (changing lead scores or sending automated emails) and allows our customer success team to have user-level insight into potential areas of opportunity or concern.  

7. Ensure 360° Accessibility

First and foremost, your knowledge base should look awesome. Far too often knowledge bases are the forgotten stepchild when it comes to user experience design and end up looking more like pumpkins than carriages.

When we redeveloped our knowledge base, we decided to use a Hub to take advantage of its native design features (and of course because it’s an awesome use case for our own product).

knowledge base

Additionally, a great knowledge base should also have powerful search functionality that can surface not only the right content, but the right content in the right context (say that five times fast). It should be easy to find, from search engines like Google or Bing, from within your app, from your website, or in the email signatures of your employees. It also needs to be mobile friendly and accessible on any device.

Accessibility should also extend to your Support and Success teams. Your knowledge base must enable them to adapt on the fly and easily create new content to solve new customer questions.

8. Add a Human Touch

A great knowledge base is a labour of love. As much as you can, you should try to make it evident that there is a caring team on the other side of the computer screen from your customers.

Here at Uberflip, we use a Marketing Stream to highlight the human side of our Success Team. Instagram photos from team outings, day-to-day Uberflip shenanigans, and brief bios help let our customers know that we care and we’re here to help when needed.  

Your Knowledge Base is a Cornerstone

In the few weeks since we’ve re-launched the Uberflip Knowledge Base, we’ve seen customer engagement with it go through the roof and have gotten nothing but positive feedback from our customers, partners, and the Uberflip team.

When creating your own knowledge base, ensure that it’s customer-centric, regularly audited and updated with new content, well-structured, optimized from a metrics and integrations standpoint, readily accessible, and truly showcases that you care about your customers’ success.

A great knowledge base is certainly not the be-all-and-end-all of a great customer experience, but it’s a must-have foundation.

So start building. 

Use data to inform your Knowledge Base as well as your other content marketing efforts. Check out our free eBook.

About the Author

Sam Brennand

As Uberflip's VP of Strategic Partnerships, Sam is focused on helping customers amplify their content marketing to tell better stories and generate more leads.

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