Knowledge base (1)

Upgrade your self-serve support offering with these knowledge base best practices

Main illustration: Kyle Benson

More and more support leaders are looking for ways to increase customer satisfaction and improve support team efficiency.

In today’s economy, savvy teams are trying to find ways to do more without adding headcount, hours logged, or tons of new tools – all while still providing a personalized, relevant, targeted experience for customers.

One way to unlock a wealth of efficiency gains for your support team (and entire business)? A knowledge base.

In the right hands, a knowledge base isn’t just a place for customers to go when they’re stuck and your team is offline. Used effectively, it can:

  • Fuel 24/7 self-serve support, allowing customers to resolve queries on their own and improving customer satisfaction.
  • Proactively help customers before they hit stumbling blocks, increasing activation and retention.
  • Support other teams across the business from customer success to marketing, increasing your team’s impact on the business’s bottom line.

What is a knowledge base?

A knowledge base, or help center, is a collection of articles that contain helpful answers, tips, and other important information related to your product or service that customers can easily search from one centralized location. It’s the source of truth for your customers when learning how to navigate your product or service and a great way to empower them to resolve their own issues through self-serve support.

With a modern conversational support tool, you can deliver help content in context to the right customers, at the right time

By creating articles for your most common queries, you can simultaneously help your customers get the answers they’re looking for while protecting your support team’s precious time and resources. With a modern conversational support tool, you can take your content one step further and deliver help in context to the right customers, at the right time – while they’re using your product or browsing your website.

For example, with Intercom, you can send knowledge base articles via targeted messages and Product Tours to specific groups of customers to help them overcome common hurdles, like customizing your app or installing it on mobile. And if a customer writes into the Messenger with a frequent question, you can set up an automated bot that links to a relevant help article to help resolve their query.

When managed properly, your knowledge base can be part of a larger toolset aimed at nurturing customer success and helping your customers achieve their goals. What’s more, modern knowledge bases, like Intercom’s Help Center Articles, integrate easily with other self-serve tools like the Messenger and Custom Bots, so you can deliver help content in context when customers need it most – while they’re using your product or browsing your website.

This means that a well-made knowledge base can improve your customer and employee experience by making both more efficient, helping you to:

  • Reduce the influx of conversations reaching your support team, so your team can get off the treadmill of repetitive queries. This also wins back time that can be spent providing human support that moves the dial for your business. 
  • Maintain lightning-fast query resolutions that keep your customer satisfaction score (CSAT) sky-high and your first-response time down low.
  • Provide contextual, targeted support where it’s most impactful for your customers, right in your product, app, or website. 

Below, we share some best practices to help you get the most out of your knowledge base, supercharge your support strategy, and optimize your team efficiency.

5 best practices for creating an effective knowledge base

So how do you create a great knowledge base that provides value for customers? By following a few knowledge base best practices for your content, you’ll make a big impact on how your customers find and use information in their time of need.

By equipping your users to find the answer they need before they ever reach out to a support rep, you unlock more time for your support team to spend with the customers who really need a helping hand.

1. Create up-to-date articles to launch alongside new features or updates

Research shows that customers prefer using an online help center to reaching out to support reps directly, but finding irrelevant, out-of-date, or even misleading information can sour the experience.

Update and publish help articles as soon as you launch new features, or as soon as something big changes in your product. It’s immediately after a feature release or other big announcement that your customers will be the most curious and therefore have the most questions. Ultimately, publishing timely how-to articles and best practice guides will greatly improve your feature adoption rate and encourage customers to resolve their own queries before reaching out to a support rep.

To do this, make sure that you stay close to your Product Managers, and leverage their knowledge to create customer-focused content that will address potential pain points.

For example, as you approach the date of a feature release, share a draft of the knowledge base article with the relevant Product Manager so they can review its accuracy and help fine-tune the smaller details.

2. Make your help articles easy to follow

Large blocks of text will likely make your customers’ eyes glaze over. Help them easily find the information they need in your articles by using tables, bullet points, lists, images (including GIFs and emoji), and videos to explain tricky concepts and break up space.

Consider breaking your help center articles into smaller, “bite-sized” chunks of information. Not every detail about a certain aspect of your product or service needs to live on the same page: you can create articles explaining how to set up, how to customize, how to integrate, and so on.

As well as being easier for existing customers to read and digest, this approach can help you rank highly in searches for specific phrases, potentially attracting new customers.

3. Define any new terms for your knowledge base

Before you publish a new knowledge base article, look it over for any confusing terms, industry-specific jargon, and acronyms. Explain the meaning of special terms or spell out acronyms the first time you use them, even if you think your audience already knows what they mean. You could also dedicate some space at the start of the article to define common terms, or link to a glossary – like our own Intercom Glossary – where you’ve defined these phrases in detail.

“Take a look at conversations you’ve had with your customers in the past to see what they had questions about”

When you know something inside and out, identifying what others may find confusing can be a challenge. Take a look at previous conversations you’ve had with your customers to identify the most common topics and terms that required support. Additionally, if you had beta testers for your product, they may have provided direct feedback on terminology or language they found confusing, so don’t forget to look over their thoughts and create help center articles for any relevant queries, too.

4. Make navigating your knowledge base easy

You may have a hundred useful articles, but if customers can’t find what they need, they’re likely to get frustrated, which can add to your support conversation volume and negatively impact your retention rate over time – the exact opposite of what your knowledge base should be doing.

Internal search, breadcrumb navigation, links to related articles, and consistent on-page navigation options (like menus or back and forward links) are all ways that you can improve your help center’s navigation.

Additionally, if you have a lot of articles, breaking your content down into logical groupings – like areas of your product, or the different jobs people will be doing with it – can help you further organize it in a sensible way. Collections are groups of help center articles organized by the different topics you know your customers will want to read about, like “getting started” or “reporting”.

Intercom's knowledge base article collections

Article collections in Intercom’s help center

5. Distribute your articles everywhere

One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is creating incredibly useful knowledge base content and linking to it from a single spot in their website, header, or footer. While you definitely want your help center to live in its own special location (and use handy features like Tooltips to teach new customers where it is and how to find it), you don’t want the content to be so siloed that your team forgets the articles exist and customers never use them.

Look for opportunities to proactively surface your knowledge base articles at relevant times and in the right context. With Intercom’s Messenger and Articles working together, your customers can effortlessly find the information they need right where they are, directly from your product, app, or website.

For example, you can:

  • Trigger targeted messages that link to specific articles exactly when customers are likely to need help – for example, if they’re viewing a feature in your product for the first time, or looking at a particularly complex page on your site for more than a minute.
  • Allow customers to search articles directly from the Business Messenger without having to even start a conversation.
  • Quickly share articles in customer conversations, directly answering questions and resolving common issues.
  • Encourage new customers to check out a relevant article using Tooltips or while they’re taking a Product Tour to help proactively set them up for success from day one and navigate known pain points.

To make this support experience even more personalized and relevant, you can use action-based triggers or custom attributes to ensure that the right content is going to the right person at the right time.

How to manage your knowledge base efficiently

In a fast-growing company and an ever-changing global landscape, it might seem near impossible to keep your help articles up to date. But you don’t need a large team to manage your knowledge base. Try implementing these best practices to help you quickly identify any necessary changes and update your self-serve support materials.

1. Create templates for common topics

Your support team members shouldn’t have to build every new article from scratch. With multiple people working on your team – especially as your company scales – you might start spotting inconsistencies in your documentation that can have a real impact on the customer experience.

Building a template for your knowledge base documentation – even if it’s just a simple sketch or document – will help your team understand what a successful article should look like. A sample template might look something like this:

2. Collaborate with other customer-facing teams

With modern support, getting ahead of customer issues and providing a great proactive customer experience is everyone’s responsibility. Your support team is in a unique position as they know your customers’ pain points, common queries, and needs better than anyone else.

Ensuring your support reps can quickly communicate with other customer-facing teams will help you to collect and share critical insights that drive growth, improve your product or service, or spark innovation. These feedback loops provide additional context on your customers’ issues so you can tailor your solutions to their preferences and needs.

A feedback loop for a better help center

A feedback loop allows our team to quickly surface – and resolve – issues with our knowledge base docs.

A close relationship with other customer-facing teams, like Support and Sales, is crucial to keeping your knowledge base and customer experience as accurate and relevant as it can be.

3. Prompt your customers for feedback

Of course, the key to a successful feedback loop is input from your customers. If customers don’t know how to give your support team feedback on your help center, or if that feedback option is too hard to use, they won’t be able to point out anything that’s broken or unhelpful.

One way of doing this is to have a Messenger on your help center, so customers always know that they can reach out to a person if they’re stuck. You can also trigger a survey after a customer has used your help center, so you can get their feedback on your knowledge base. Did they resolve their problem? Was it easy to find what they needed? Asking these questions directly can help you to understand what’s working and where there’s room for improvement.

When you ask, you might find that you only need to make small improvements to truly help your customers succeed. So don’t be afraid: getting this honest feedback will tell you what needs to be changed and how you can help more people in the long term, ultimately taking a bigger load off of your support team.

4. Prioritize your updates

Managing help articles is a process of constant prioritization.

Not all inaccuracies in your knowledge base are created equal. If you’ve changed the color or style of a button, but it’s still in the same place and does the same thing, there’s probably no urgent need to update the screenshots in your docs. But if the button has changed locations, or there are now three buttons instead of one, make it a priority to update those images.

If you’re having trouble deciding what to update, and when, ask yourself: is this knowledge base article fundamentally inaccurate, and is it confusing customers? Or is the inaccuracy cosmetic, and one that doesn’t harm a customer’s understanding of the product? If you’re in a company with a high volume of product changes, a greater level of prioritization will help you keep your knowledge base articles helpful.

Your knowledge base should allow customers to easily seek human support

You might be wondering, why offer other support options if customers can self-serve through a knowledge base?

We’ve already seen that most customers prefer to self-serve. But it’s important to look after customers who may need (or want) a helping hand, too. Plus, while it might seem counter-intuitive, our user testing shows if customers know they can get help from an actual support rep when they need it – via email, live chat, and so on – they’re more willing to look for an answer on their own first. The best way to think about a knowledge base is as one valuable element of your support strategy – not the whole strategy.

“This approach reduces conversation volume for support agents so they have the time to provide valuable human support for high-value and complex queries”

At Intercom, we use a combination of proactive, self-serve, and human support to get ahead of known problems before they arise, automatically resolve repetitive queries, and route more complex issues to the right team members. This way of delivering support allows you to quickly resolve customer queries through digital-first, messaging-based interactions that are always in context. As you can communicate in real time or asynchronously, customers can stop and restart the conversation when it works best for them.

This approach reduces conversation volume for support agents so they have the time to provide valuable human support for high-value and complex queries, like billing queries and emotionally-charged complaints.

Making other support options easily accessible from your knowledge base ultimately reassures your customers that you have their best interests at heart.

A strong knowledge base is a key part of efficient, in-context support

An easily accessible, searchable, and integrated knowledge base keeps customers happy while protecting your support team’s resources. To make it as impactful as possible, leverage it using messenger, product tours, and other forms of in-context support to ensure that customers can flow from one support channel to another with zero difficulty finding the information they need.

If your customers can use your knowledge base to self-serve, it will free up your support team to answer those bigger, more complex questions that require a human touch – and that have major impacts on customer satisfaction and long-term retenetion. As long as your knowledge base makes it as easy for customers to jump in and find information as it is to reach out to your team for more help – you’ll set your customers up for success and keep them coming back for more.

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