What is a Knowledge Base: The Complete Guide

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    When it comes to your company, do you ever wish that everyone knew the answers to everything? From frequently asked questions to real-time updates, knowledge in the workplace can be a huge strategic advantage when it’s made accessible. And what’s one of the best ways to collect and democratize your company’s knowledge? By creating a knowledge base.

    What is a knowledge base, and how can you create one? A knowledge base is a comprehensive collection of your company’s answers, content, information, and solutions, organized in an easy-to-navigate location. Knowledge bases differ depending on who they’re for, and there are several different types of knowledge bases.

    There are many benefits of a knowledge base, but one of the biggest ones is that information is instantly accessible to everyone. That means no more struggling to find the right subject matter expert, phoning a friend for answers, or digging for solutions in the depths of shared folders. 

    Here’s everything you need to know about knowledge bases so that you can implement them in your organization. 

    What Is Knowledge Management?

    What exactly is knowledge management, and why is it so valuable for businesses? As any business leader can attest, employees spend a good portion of their workday looking for answers. In fact, according to McKinsey & Company, employees spend 20% of their time at work searching for information they need. 

    Why is knowledge so tricky to track down, even when it’s been previously shared before? After knowledge is shared, it often ends up in places that are difficult to access or isolated in silos. 

    For example, it lands in cluttered inboxes, Slack threads, and folders on one coworker’s hard drive. Without mindful knowledge management, it can become challenging to access and share the right knowledge at the right time.

    The best way to tackle this issue? With knowledge management tools. They are any digital resource (such as an application, program, or system) that organizes knowledge, consolidates it, and makes it easily searchable and shareable. 

    Types of Knowledge Bases

    The purpose of a knowledge base is for it to be a one-stop shop for important information. But what information is important depends on who you ask, or rather, it depends on the audience using the knowledge base. For example, sales managers will need very different information than customers. That’s why cultivating your knowledge base with your audience is essential, as is understanding the different types of knowledge bases intended for different audiences.

    Here are several common types of knowledge bases:

    ● Internal knowledge base 

    An internal knowledge base is specifically designed for your employees. It might include documents, benefits information, guides, presentations, or background company information. At its core, an internal knowledge base should aim to answer any and all questions your employees may have, and the goal is to ensure your team members can always find the answers they need while reducing time spent searching for information. Since we know that the average knowledge worker spends about 20% percent of their day searching for and gathering information, that can amount to many hours saved. 

    ● External or customer-facing knowledge base 

    As you probably know by now, customers often have questions. What you might not know? When looking for solutions, they tend to prefer using external knowledge bases over other types of service channels, according to research from Forrester. External knowledge bases are customer-facing hubs of information, which might include manuals, answers to frequently asked questions, new product or feature announcements, and even videos. 

    ● Knowledge base for small and mid-sized companies 

    Small and mid-sized companies have particular needs and specific uses for knowledge bases. Firstly, if your company is growing, knowledge bases can be hubs for crucial groundwork information and protocols as you expand and hire new employees. Secondly, for small and mid-sized companies, employee time and having an excellent flow of information is particularly valuable. Knowledge bases can help prioritize both of those things. For example, certain businesses (such as those in retail) might have a busy season, leading to more hires and increased customer service calls. When these small and mid-sized companies use knowledge bases, they can accommodate an influx of new seasonal hires and ensure their customer service agents can answer questions quickly. 

    ● Knowledge base for enterprise companies 

    Enterprise companies work with large amounts of internal data and information, and they can be complex operations with different departments and thousands of employees (often spread out across different locations). Knowledge bases put all the information into one hub, accessible by everyone across the company. This consolidation of information isn’t only beneficial for employees. It can also help improve the customer experience by giving decision-makers across departments access to the latest customer insights and market research.

    ● Knowledge base for support agents 

    For customer support agents, time is of the essence. In fact, 90% of consumers say that a response time of 10 minutes or less is “very important” when they have a customer service question. Knowledge bases for support agents contain critical information and answers to customers’ common questions. This means less time spent on hold for customers, and less time spent frantically digging for answers for support agents, and a better experience for everyone involved.

    ● IT knowledge base 

    Just as support agents need to respond rapidly to customer queries, IT technicians need to be able to respond to employee queries rapidly. When systems go down, connections drop, or the printer refuses to connect, your IT technicians need to be able to source solutions as quickly as possible. An IT knowledge base includes all data, facts, instructions, and system information that your IT experts need to restore your technology as seamlessly as possible. 

    Difference Between a Database and Knowledge Base

    Your company might already have a database of information or several different databases. What exactly is the difference between a database and a knowledge base? 

    • Database: A database is made up of specific data points or information. You can have a database of customer emails, for example. 
    • Knowledge Base: A knowledge base is a searchable hub of answers, where content can be accessed in a centralized place. Knowledge bases tend to be more accessible, user-friendly, searchable, and comprehensive than a database.

    Difference Between FAQ Pages and a Knowledge Base

    External knowledge bases might seem similar to FAQ Pages because they are designed to answer your customer’s questions. So what is the difference between the two? Typically, FAQ Pages are far simpler and less detailed than an external knowledge base. External knowledge bases might include answers to frequently asked questions, but they can also include documents, guides, rich media, and other resources.

    Why Implement a Knowledge Base?

    You might be wondering: why bother implementing a knowledge base? Aside from saving employee hours spent searching, what are the other benefits? As it turns out, there are plenty of reasons why businesses choose to centralize their data in a knowledge base.

    Here are some of the most common reasons businesses implement a knowledge base.

    • Reduce support calls, thus reducing costs 

    External knowledge bases allow customers to search for answers independently instead of calling customer support for every question. This means you can expect fewer support calls and give your support agents more time to focus on resolving complex issues.

    • Enable employees to self-serve helpful resources

    Even the most experienced employees are bound to have questions, like how to do that one task that they haven’t done in months. When employees can self-serve solutions, they can be better informed and more efficient.

    • Grow a collection of FAQs (for employees or customers) for easy access

    Plenty of questions come up again and again for both customers and employees. Instead of spending time answering the same questions again and again (or spending resources to do the same), you can assemble FAQ sections. That way, employees and customers can quickly look up the most common queries. 

    • Enable more data-backed, well-informed decisions from business leaders 

    Crucial company data shouldn’t be kept in a silo. When business leaders can access new information on a real-time basis, they can make the best decisions possible, using data to support their decisions.

    • Search engine optimization (SEO) benefits 

    Knowledge bases go far beyond collections of files and documents: they are searchable, using AI technology to index and search everything in the database. Every word should be searchable in a knowledge base (even words spoken in video), allowing users to easily find relevant solutions.

    Practical Use Cases of a Knowledge Base

    What might using a knowledge base look like in your organization? There are plenty of practical uses for knowledge bases. Here are some of the most common. 

    • Answers to frequently asked questions for self-service 

    As we discussed above, knowledge bases are a great way to allow customers and employees to find answers to the most common questions. Instead of answering the same question over and over again yourself (or watching people struggle to find answers), knowledge bases streamline the solutions process.

    • Training and onboarding resources 

    Every new company employee will need to access the same onboarding resources–why not keep them all in one place? Knowledge bases allow new employees to not only go through onboarding and training but also to refer to the materials at a moment’s notice.

    • Company policies 

    When’s the last time you think your staff dug around in their emails to refer to company policy? When policies & procedures are stored in a knowledge base, employees can easily reference them, ensuring universal compliance. 

    • Guides for customer-facing teams 

    Customer-facing teams should be efficient to respect the customer’s time and consistent in the information they share to preserve the customer’s trust. When they use a knowledge base, accessing protocols and information is a breeze.

    • Market research and customer insights 

    Market research and customer insights should be accessible to everyone who needs them in your organization, across all departments.  That way, decision-makers can make data-backed business decisions.

    • Company news and updates 

    Don’t lose your company news to the flurry of unread emails. Knowledge bases are easily customizable, and you can promptly display updates and your proudest achievements for employees to see as soon as they log in. 

    • Tutorials & how-to guides

    Tutorials and how-to guides can be incredibly beneficial for walking your customers and employees through new protocols, tricky procedures, and system updates. When they’re in a knowledge base, they’re easily pulled up in searches and can be referred to repeatedly. 

    Long-Term Benefits of Having a Knowledge Base

    While we touched on some of the main benefits of having a knowledge base, here are some additional benefits that businesses reap in the long run:

    • Increase employee confidence in the knowledge available to them 

    Employees don’t want to feel like they’re up a creek without a paddle. Knowledge bases give your people the support they need to do their jobs and make informed decisions confidently. 

    • Eliminate information silos between departments 

    Never see your teams trying to coax answers out of another department again or recreating work that has already been completed elsewhere in the organization.  Knowledge bases help eliminate information silos so that everyone has the same view of the content and knowledge that exists across their organization.

    • Preserve knowledge when employees leave 

    Employees are valuable sources of data and information, and that information shouldn’t be lost when employees leave. Knowledge bases allow you to codify everything, even the tacit knowledge of individual employees.

    • Faster resolution times lead to better experiences for both customers and employees

    Faster resolution times lead to better experiences for both customers and employees alike. Knowledge bases can help you speed up issue resolution times by making it easy for employees and self-serving customers to find the answers they need. 

    • Standardize processes

    Creativity in the workplace can be a great thing, but some things need to be done in specific ways. Instead of everyone taking individual approaches to processes, you can standardize your processes and store them in your knowledge base.

    • Lower training costs 

    Training documents, tutorials, and videos can all be stored in your knowledge base. This enables employees to access training without having to allocate new resources to each training instance.

    • Increased productivity 

    When knowledge is curated in a database, everyone can get their jobs done without skipping a beat. That means more time spent working and less time spent searching for answers.

    • Bolster your employee onboarding and training capabilities 

    Don’t leave your employee training and onboarding up to chance. You can keep extensive documents and materials in your database so that employees can receive consistent and comprehensive onboarding and training every time.

    Best Practices to Implement Your Knowledge Base

    Because your company probably has a lot of knowledge floating around, building or implementing a knowledge base might seem like a big undertaking. However, when you take the proper steps to implement a knowledge base, you can seamlessly take that information and transform it into helpful, accessible content. Here’s how you can implement your knowledge base, along with some best practices to keep in mind.

    • Learn about problems and needs of users, employees, and customers

    Before you create your knowledge base, you should have a deep understanding of your end users. What are their problems? What answers are they looking for? 

    • Figure out the type of knowledge base needed

    Based on your understanding of your users, you can then figure out what knowledge base you should implement. For example, if your knowledge base is an internal one for your sales team, you can incorporate sales enablement content in the knowledge base. Your goal is to create a knowledge base that is designed with your audience in mind. 

    • Bring together existing information and contributions from departments

    Next, start collecting existing information from your company. You can reach out to department heads, leaders, and individual employees to start codifying your knowledge.

    • Keep your brand voice intact

    Be sure to maintain your brand voice while creating your knowledge base. You should refer to things the way your company does, use words and phrases that are consistent, and even make the “look and feel” match your brand.

    • Make a style guide for consistency

    Style guides are documents that outline standards for formatting, writing, design, and document formatting. When you include them in your knowledge base, employees can refer to them as often as they need to maintain consistency.

    • Focus on readability, utility, and value

    Knowledge bases should be easy to use and provide real value to your audience. Make sure your knowledge base is accessible and makes sense to your users. Considering that finding things is one of the main problems to consider when implementing a knowledge base, you should be sure that your stakeholders can always find the information they need.

    • Get the right tools

    When it comes to knowledge bases, you don’t need to go at it alone. There are plenty of tools, apps, and systems out there that can help you. In many cases, a knowledge base is part of a knowledge management software solution. For example, Bloomfire’s knowledge engagement platform allows users to create a dynamic knowledge base containing the documentation, FAQs, and individual expertise that exists across their organization. 

    • Use rich media (Images and video)

    Knowledge bases don’t only need to include text but should also incorporate video and images. There are plenty of reasons why your self-service knowledge base should include videos and visuals, and it’s important to remember that knowledge bases make this rich media searchable. 

    • Keep it updated

    Knowledge bases need to be constantly updated with the latest information. That means you should regularly refresh documents and data and do checks of content assets in your knowledge base to ensure they’re all still accurate.

    • Measure effectiveness, engagement

    You can measure how your audience uses your knowledge base, especially when using a knowledge management system. You can track analytics to improve your content, spot knowledge gaps, and gain insights from search trends.

    • Gather user feedback and improvise

    If you want to know what your users think of your knowledge base, simply ask. Gathering user feedback can be incredibly helpful for determining how to maximize the effectiveness of your knowledge base.

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