The importance of having a comprehensive external knowledge base

16 Jul 2021 5 min read

Written by

Nicoleta Binca

, Marketing Specialist

In our previous articles in this series, we covered the basics of how to build a knowledge base, then went more in-depth about the importance of having an internal knowledge base as well. For the third entry, we'll cover how a well-written and managed external knowledge base can become the cornerstone of your customer service strategy. 

What is an external knowledge base?

An external knowledge base acts as a virtual space that your clients can access to learn more about your company, from products and services to FAQs, organizational aspects, and more. The information found inside an external knowledge base is meant to be easily accessible and help customers quickly get the information they need. Unlike an internal knowledge base, which is private and available only for the organization's employees, an external one is public and has no access restrictions making it accessible by anyone. 

What should be included in an external knowledge base?

Your external knowledge base should include as much relevant information and documentation as possible to help customers get to know your company/products and find answers to their questions with minimum effort. It can consist of information from any employee, department, stakeholder, or interested person. Here are a few examples to consider: 

  • Company information — Office addresses/information, employee contact, press contacts, and websites
  • Documentation — Getting started guides, installation guides, user/admin/developer guides
  • FAQ — The most prevalent questions in the community and their answers
  • Troubleshooting — Common known errors and how to fix them 
  • Tutorials — In-depth guides on how to use the product/service and do certain things
  • Videos — Product tours, demos, features showcase
  • Product articles — How-to articles, features overview, best practices for using the product/service
  • Pricing information — Pricing plans breakdown, how to buy, how to cancel, etc. 
  • Glossaries — The terminology that might be unfamiliar to users

How should an external knowledge base be structured?

Depending on your audience's needs, an external knowledge base can be modeled to various structures. Whether it's a help center or a resources hub, the main thing to remember is that it needs to be easy to access, intuitive to navigate, and fast to provide answers. It's usually best to have a clearly defined purpose for it and ensure that the content is relevant to your audience in order to improve their overall experience. 

What you can do is base content categories on a hierarchy that allows your audience to start simple but continue to dig deeper the further they go without too many impediments. For example, at XWiki, our help center is a FAQ-focused one, with different sections relating to specific issues and each question having a detailed answer. However, each product/service is different, as are its customers, therefore each knowledge base will be unique and need to adapt. Even so, there are a few tips to keep in mind to help both your organization and your customers make the most out of it.

1. Make content easy to skim

Having a huge amount of information in your external knowledge base does not automatically equal complete knowledge. It also needs to be comprehensive and well organized so that anyone who accesses it can find what they need without too much of a hassle. Try not to intimidate your readers  — some of them might have landed on your knowledge base for the first time. Large blocks of text will make them lose focus and hinder their experience to the point where they might consider turning back. Help them find the information they need by using tables of contents, bullet points, lists, and visuals cues to point them to what's relevant. Give the readers room to breathe with paragraphs and even consider breaking content into smaller, "bite-sized" chunks of information. More often than not you won't need to have all of your product/service details on the same page and spreading them across different articles will make it easier for your readers to digest.

2. Define confusing terms

The purpose of your external knowledge base is to clear things up for your customers, not make them even more confusing. Before publishing it, try to identify any industry-specific terms and acronyms. Explain their meaning, even if you think your audience meets them frequently and already knows what they mean. Define them at the beginning or add them to a glossary that you can link to. However, identifying what others find confusing can be quite the challenge when you know that particular product/service inside out. To ease this process, go through past conversations with your customers and identify the most common issues and terms for which they've required help. 

3. Visualize with images

Show, don’t (just) tell. Visual materials can work wonders in keeping users engaged and enriching your external knowledge base's content. When you're walking your customers through a how-to-process, opt for fewer words and more images to make instructions clearer. Use screenshots and GIFs to make each step easier to understand. You can also try out videos, infographics, or whatever else you think will give your articles more "life" and keep the readers curious. However, visuals shouldn't replace all text — some customers might not be able to sit and listen to a video or simply don't enjoy them at all. Give them options to choose from and always make sure to back up any image or video with a text just to be safe — technology can really make or break things. 

4. Use links strategically

You can have a handful of useful articles in your external knowledge base, but the key lies in optimizing them. Adding links is a great way to direct customers to other relevant topics. Connect related pieces of information via hyperlinks, tags, or even group them into categories based on the type of information they provide. This will help organize the information into a sensible and intuitive way that isn't too hard to follow. However, keep in mind that too many links can be distracting and break the user's reading flow so you only want to do it when it's a natural step. 

5. Add contact information

Finally, a knowledge base helps customers to help themselves but that doesn't mean you should shy away from them. In fact, a 2017 study found that 30% of customers find not being able to reach a live person for support the most frustrating aspect of a poor customer service experience. Make your contact information available so that those who are stuck or realize their problem is too complex for self-service can get the assistance they need. 

What are the benefits of having an external knowledge base?

An external knowledge base allows you to scale customer service by saving your customers — as well as your support team — precious time. Customers at all stages of their journey with your product/service can benefit from it. Whether they've just heard of your company and are searching for general information, looking to get started with your product, or seeking a custom project, a well-rounded knowledge base will help them achieve their goals and you, yours.

1. Increase customer retention

One of the most challenging tasks customer service teams have to face nowadays is increasing positive customer experience. An external knowledge base seeks to do just that, while also ensuring a successful interaction with your product or service. It curates the most important information and makes it available in an intuitive and fast manner for customers to use as they need. This way, customer experience is bound to improve, hence better retention rates which means long-term business success, consistent sales, and an increase in revenue.

2. Reduce customer wait time

It's no news that customers want answers fast. In fact, 90% of them say an immediate response is important when facing support issues. What does "immediate" mean though? It usually means 10 minutes or less, a quota many customer service teams might not be able to achieve (understandably so). This is where a well-curated and organized external knowledge base can make a difference. Not only is it a click away, but it is also available 24/7, making it widely accessible whenever and wherever.  Customers can go through the information at their own pace and filter it according to their own needs without having to open a support ticket then wait for a response. However, in the case that they do need to get in touch with a support team member, they are less likely to have to wait a long time as the team will have fewer calls/tickets/messages to go through. 

3. Improve customer satisfaction

A customer-centric knowledge base can do more than answer concerns and provide quick problem resolution. It can also vastly improve a customer's experience by enhancing their knowledge of your product or service. Most people prefer self-service before officially reaching out to someone for help, making a knowledge base the perfect place to point them to. It not only adapts to many learning styles because the information is available as text, images, videos, or even audio but also allows each customer to absorb it at their own pace. They can go as deep as they wish into any topic of interest, meaning they get more out of your company's products or services than they would have just through a contact person.

Equipped with how-to-guides, tutorials, and FAQs, customers will have soon start to see your external knowledge base as an excellent resource, giving them plenty of reason to return frequently. A better customer experience results in higher customer satisfaction increases both the chances of them becoming loyal and spreading the word.

4. Ease workload on the support team:

An external knowledge base is a key tool for your support team, especially if they're dealing with an overwhelming influx of requests. As the old saying goes: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” An external knowledge base empowers your customers to help themselves by putting all the tools they need at their disposal. This means they are able to independently solve their problems, which translates into fewer support tickets or calls. In turn, this helps significantly reduce the stress on your support team, ensures they don't have to answer the same question over and over again, and allows them to handle other, more complex requests. 

5. Anticipate customer needs

With the help of your external knowledge base, you'll slowly but surely start seeing common trends and pain points customers have when using your product or service. This way you can adapt the guides, tutorials, and so on based on how your audience responds to them and see which ones work best in the end. When managed properly, your external knowledge base can be part of a larger toolset that helps both you and your customers.

Best practices to successfully maintain an external knowledge base

The best way to think about your external knowledge base is as an essential part of your self-serve support ecosystem. However, it involves more than getting it up and running — you have to maintain and make sure it works like a well-oiled machine. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Prioritize user experience

Your external knowledge base is your customer's first point of contact with your company, products, and services. Its purpose is to guide customers and help them get answers to their questions without too much hassle. Having an external knowledge base rich in information is important, but none of it matters if it's not organized in a way that makes sense.  Remember that a great knowledge base design should be able to create an effortless experience for your customers.

To ensure this, you can add a global search bar that lets users quickly search by topic or keyword. Consider optimizing your articles for SEO in order to rank high for your company-specific search terms. Also, design intuitive menus, write easy-to-follow content and make use of tags, categories, hierarchical links to ease the navigation process. Last, but not least, optimize your knowledge base for all devices - desktop, tablet, and smartphone - to ensure a smooth experience, no matter where it is accessed from. 

2. Keep it on-brand

Your external knowledge base is not only an extension of your website but of your brand as a whole. Anyone who stumbles upon it should be able to tell it's yours. Build it using your brand's style guide, colors, logos, and consult with your marketing team to figure out how your company talks. Whether's it's more professional or rather laid back, use and maintain that tone throughout your knowledge base. However, even if you are going for a more professional tone, try to make content that reads in a natural manner, rather than a robotic one so that it's welcoming for potential readers. Remember that your organization's own brand personality should shine through the external knowledge base, but subtly enough that it doesn't detract from its functionality and practical nature.

3. Encourage feedback

Your external knowledge base is meant to help you create a better customer experience, but that's not entirely feasible if your communication is just one way. Encouraging your customers to submit feedback is an easy way to gain insight into what you can improve and how. Customers will have their own suggestions to make and, more often than not, these are aspects that could help improve the product. In fact, 77% of customers have a more favorable view of brands that ask for and accept customer feedback.

This can be done by providing short surveys to fill out at end of an article — you can simply ask "How useful was this article?" and have customers rate it on a 1-5 scale. You can also take a look at the most popular search terms or most-read articles and try to make that content even more visible. Finally, consider adding an email address where more feedback or suggestions can be sent. With this information, you can update and refine your external knowledge base to include more relevant content. It's both recommended and encouraged that you do this since, at the end of the day, it's a continuous learning process for everyone involved.

4. Review and update content

The golden rule of a successful knowledge base is to never think of it as complete. Your products, services, and company are bound to change through time, and so should your external knowledge base. If you neglect it, the content will become outdated and customers will notice. Update, review and add new content where it's needed, but keep in mind that you don't want to repeat the same information over and over again. Depending on how often your product team ships out new updates and features, some inaccuracies might be less critical than others so it's best to assess what needs to be changed immediately and what can wait. If you're not sure how to go about it, ask yourself: is this particular piece of information inaccurate to the point where it will confuse customers, or is it something that won't hinder the customer's ability to understand and use the product? Maintaining your external knowledge base up to date is essential and a great level of prioritization will help you do it in a smart, efficient way. 

5. Share it everywhere

Last, but not least — share your external knowledge base everywhere. One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is create a helpful knowledge base and then completely overlook the fact that it has to be visible. You should link it from as many sources as possible to ensure it's easy to reach: website, sales presentation, support, marketing content, and so on. While your external knowledge base should live in its own special space, you don't want the content to be forgotten and have customers never read or use it. That would just make all of your company's hard work to centralize information redundant which is definitely not what you want.

We hope this article helped shed some light on how and why an external knowledge base can be the driving force behind better customer support, higher retention rates, and improved customer satisfaction. While it takes time and effort to get right, it is well worth it in the long term for both your organization and its customers. All in all, an organization can always do better and a knowledge base can be a great starting place.

If you are ready to get on board and turn your customer service strategy with a knowledge base, XWiki could be the right tool to get you started. Try it for free or get in touch with one of our experts to discuss a custom project.

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