Knowledge Base 101
Are your company’s documents and resources scattered in different locations? Are your company policies and procedures stuck in someone’s head? At ScreenSteps, we’ve worked with many businesses from different industries trying to find a better solution for knowledge management like these.
If you’re ready to get your company’s documentation in one place, this guide is for you.
This ultimate guide will help you understand the basics of knowledge base software, determine if a knowledge base would be helpful for your company, and teach you how to go about choosing a knowledge base software for your business.
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A knowledge base is a cloud-based software system that helps you create, store, and share information and resources throughout your organization. It is a digital library where your end-users can find any information they need to complete a task.
The purpose of a knowledge base is to centralize all of your company’s information so that your end-users have 24/7 support with quick access to your job aids.
It is a one-stop shop for your company’s knowledge. It helps your employees when they get stuck on the job and don’t know what to do. A good knowledge base is easy for your end-users to navigate and easily accessible.
One way to look at a knowledge base is it is “Google for your business.” Depending on the type of knowledge base you use, employees and/or customers can search your site exclusively to find answers to their operations questions.
Essentially, a knowledge base is a GPS for your business. It helps end-users know what to say and do.
There are many different types of knowledge base software options available. Those options are determined by who will have access to your knowledge base.
There are three main types of knowledge base services:
An internal knowledge base is a private knowledge base for your company. The primary audience for an internal knowledge base is your employees. Only workers who are granted access are able to access the information stored in your internal knowledge base.
With an internal knowledge base, you can provide your employees with the confidential information they need to do their jobs. The resources in your internal knowledge base help your employees complete policies, procedures, and processes.
To access an internal knowledge base, each employee needs a personal login and password.
An external knowledge base is a customer-facing knowledge base. It’s also known as a public knowledge base. The primary audience for an external knowledge base is your customers.
With an external knowledge base, customers can self-service their questions by searching your knowledge base.
An external knowledge base can be open to the public or gated. In the first situation, anyone with internet access could see the information in your knowledge base. A gated customer-facing knowledge base means it would require the customers to have a login and password to access your knowledge base.
A partner knowledge base allows you to expand your circle of users to a wider trusted group. In addition to your employees, a partner knowledge base allows external partners access to your documents and resources.
With a partner knowledge base, you grant permission to agencies, collaborators, etc. to see specific content. This way, the information the external partners see is only the information for what their assignment is with the company.
A partner knowledge base requires a login and a password.
Because a knowledge base can support training and also function as an employee enablement tool, often a knowledge base is confused with other employee support or operations systems.
While there are similarities between a knowledge base and other software applications, they are significant differences that separate these services. It’s important to understand the differences between varying software tools, which typically come with understanding the purpose of a software service.
Here are five software applications that have some cross-over with knowledge bases, including their purpose, similarities, and differences with a knowledge base.
A document library is a cloud-based software where you can store and share your documents. Like a knowledge base, a document library helps centralize your company resources so that you can share files across your organization. Another name for a document library is a document repository.
The purpose of a document library is to store your company’s documents in one location.
The main differences between a document library and a knowledge base are two-fold.
First, a document library doesn’t typically have an opportunity for creating your documents. That means you need an external drafting program (like Google Sheets, Microsoft Word, or another system), to author your policies and procedures.
Second, the search function is less robust. It works more like desktop folders where you can organize your documents in multiple sub-folders. The danger with this is it is easy to lose files as they get nestled in your organization system.
One way to look at a document library is it is the training wheels to getting a knowledge base — it gets you in the habit of centralizing your knowledge, but doesn’t support employees or help them improve their performance.
For a more comprehensive comparison, read about the differences between a document library and a knowledge base here.
A learning management system (LMS) is a collection of self-paced training courses for your employees. Companies use an LMS to organize e-learning, create custom courses, and build upon classroom learning.
The purpose of an LMS is to teach employees new skills by filling in the gaps that were missed in classroom training as well as build on the knowledge employees gained during onboarding.
While an LMS and knowledge base can both help with training employees, their roles in training are different. An LMS is a tool for independent learning that provides employees with a background education on skills and company information.
Alternatively, a knowledge base is used in training as a hands-on learning tool. Because your employees will use a knowledge base in their day-to-day job, you use a knowledge base in onboarding as part of scenario-based training.
Then they can learn in the workflow as they encounter new situations and use the knowledge base to complete tasks.
See when it’s best to use an LMS, when to use a knowledge base, and when to use both to improve employee performance here.
An intranet is an internal company website. It is a private online network that centralizes company operational information and allows companies to communicate with employees.
The purpose of an intranet is to increase communication and connection between the company and employees as well as employees across the organization.
The main difference between an intranet and a knowledge base is the information that you store on each site.
Typically, an intranet is used to share company announcements, upload files, send messages, view organizational charts, and other company communications and organizational information. While you can store policies and procedures in an intranet, that isn’t the purpose of an intranet.
Comparatively, you store policies, procedures, how-to guides, call flows, and other employee support materials that help your employees perform their jobs in a knowledge base.
Dive into a more detailed comparison of the role of an intranet vs. a knowledge base here.
A corporate wiki is a website — either private or public — that is created through collaboration. Think of it as Wikipedia for your company information. It is a centralized repository to store, share, and collaborate on content.
The purpose of a wiki is to provide an opportunity for employees to crowdsource information and share their knowledge.
In many ways, a wiki is a cross between a knowledge base and an intranet. The main difference between a wiki and a knowledge base is its collaborative nature. Wikis rely on tribal knowledge and are less controlled. A knowledge base relies on expert knowledge.
Understand more of the differences between a wiki and a knowledge base here.
A flowchart diagram tool is a visual representation of a decision tree.
The purpose of a flowchart diagram is to present processes and procedures in a visual manner. They walk end-users through a procedure step-by-step by presenting choices with outcomes.
While a knowledge base hosts processes and procedures, it typically presents decision trees differently. Often, a knowledge base uses a standard word article or interactive workflow articles to walk an end-user through a procedure.
However, some knowledge base software services have a flowchart diagram tool as part of their knowledge base.
Your knowledge base is a centralized hub for all of your company knowledge. That means you are storing a variety of resources in your knowledge base. In your knowledge base, you create knowledge base articles.
Knowledge base articles are the documented resources you store in your knowledge base. Your knowledge base articles answer your end-users frequently asked questions and provide guides that help them complete tasks.
Ultimately, your knowledge base articles are the documented resources that help your employees when they are stuck.
While not a comprehensive list, here are nine types of knowledge base articles you can store in your knowledge base:
Blog Post: What Information Do You Store in a Knowledge Base? (8 Resources)
Without your knowledge base articles, your knowledge base is as good as an empty folder.
Writing knowledge base articles involves more than typing words on a page. You want to provide clear instructions — both with explanations and visual examples — to tell and show end-users what to do.
It helps to follow a few simple steps. Follow these four steps when writing knowledge base articles to fill your knowledge base with guides that can stand on their own.
Identify who will be using your knowledge base articles. Who will be using your knowledge base? How much do they already know?
There are two main audiences for a knowledge base: customers and employees. It can be tricky to create a knowledge base for your customers because they don’t have a wide range of background knowledge.
Your employees should have a similar background because they go through onboard training.
As you write your knowledge base articles, keep in mind who you are writing the guide for and what information they already know. This will help you decide what to include and exclude from your articles.
Once you know who you are writing the knowledge base articles for, you need to figure out when they will be using these help guides.
Your end-users will use your knowledge base articles when they are in a middle of a task and they get stuck. If they don’t know what the next step in a procedure is or don’t know the details of a policy, they will turn to your knowledge base for answers.
To get a better picture, here are a few examples to illustrate these situations in different industries. Employees check would need to reference a knowledge base article when:
It’s good to have knowledge base articles that help your end-users. However, those articles are no good if your end-users can’t find them when they need them. That’s why optimizing your articles for search is such a critical step in your content creation process.
Write titles using the wording and phrasing for how your end-users would say them. What will the readers search for when they need help? You want to write article titles that are close to those questions.
Creating knowledge base articles goes beyond the words you use. Your end-users will be using your knowledge base articles when they are in the middle of the task. That means they don’t have a lot of time to read lengthy paragraphs and explanations.
Format your articles so it is easy to skim the articles and find the information they need. Design the guide to be flexible. It should help an end-user who is using it for the first time as well as an end-user referencing the guide for the 100th time.
Consider: What is the best user experience for your end-users?
Include different design elements to make your articles more skimmable. Those could include:
Call centers, customer support, or other customer-facing teams are your frontline employees. They interact with customers every day. Customers expect them to be experts in every aspect of your business. But, that is challenging.
With a knowledge base, your call center agents have the resources they need at their fingertips. That includes call flows, call center scripts, policies, procedures, reference guides, and other help guides.
In healthcare, mistakes can be costly, whether that is unnecessarily exchanging equipment or scheduling a patient for the wrong office. Plus, healthcare is a heavily regulated industry where compliance is essential.
Accessible documented policies and procedures help your employees avoid mistakes. They have quick access to documentation.
With financial institutions, compliance is critical. You need bank and credit union employees to perform procedures perfectly.
A knowledge base helps so your employees don’t miss steps, forget something, and make mistakes. It provides a one-stop shop so your employees know where to turn for answers.
The travel industry requires a lot of resources. There are thousands of different vacation destinations, flights, rental properties, rental cars, etc. People in the travel industry need to keep track of multiple details when scheduling.
A knowledge base makes it easy for employees to access the information they need. You can store documents like cancellation policies, rental property locations, booking procedures, and more in your knowledge base to help transactions run smoothly.
Every business is unique and has its own policies and procedures. But, employees don’t always remember those various procedures. That’s where a knowledge base comes into play.
Knowledge base software puts the answers at your employees’ fingertips. Whether that is a shipping company with truck deliveries or a human resource department processing payroll, a knowledge base can provide instructions on how employees do day-to-day tasks.
Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite subject — money. Knowledge base software has a wide price point because the industry has a wide range of offerings.
This explains why knowledge base software runs for anywhere from free to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If we look at the average knowledge base software cost, it ranges from $5 per user per month up to more than $400 per user per month.
Typically, knowledge base software companies offer a free trial before you purchase their service. Another perk to look for is most knowledge base companies offer a discount for purchasing an annual subscription as opposed to paying monthly.
Of course, these numbers are determined by multiple factors.
The price tag on knowledge base software is driven by a variety of factors. Some of the main factors include:
As mentioned above, there are many different types of knowledge base options. The three main types of knowledge bases people use are internal, external, and partner knowledge bases.
When you know who will be using your knowledge base — whether that is your employees, customers, company partners, or a mix — you can choose the type of knowledge base you need.
Once you know what type of knowledge base you need, the next factor that drives the price is the number of users. How many users will be using your knowledge base?
The more seats you have the cost usually goes up. However, most knowledge bases give you a price break the higher the number of users you have, so the cost per seat goes down.
Most knowledge base software companies have multiple plans for you to select from. Each plan has certain features that come with that plan. Higher-level plans often include more advanced features.
Some knowledge base software companies charge according to the amount of cloud storage you need. The amount of storage you get could be according to the number of articles or the number of megabits or gigabits of storage you need.
These are included in the different-level subscriptions.
There are both benefits and challenges with purchasing and implementing a knowledge base for your company. The key to purchasing any new software for your business is to know what challenges are ahead so that you can prepare for them.
Here are a few pros and cons of using an internal knowledge base to manage your company’s knowledge and support your employees.
When you use a knowledge base to manage your company resources, there are many advantages. While not comprehensive, here are five of those benefits.
A knowledge base provides a single location where you can store your company resources. Your employees know where to turn to find help guides that help answer their questions.
This means employees don’t need to check in multiple locations (i.e. desktop folders, email, chat messages, etc.) to discover where the information they need is stored.
Your leaders and subject matter experts are not always available to answer questions. With a knowledge base, you capture the expert knowledge and make it accessible to everyone.
It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Customers and employees with permissions can search your knowledge base and get expert-level support by following your knowledge base articles.
When your customer-facing teams use knowledge base articles to walk them through a process or procedure, you provide your customers with a consistent experience.
Without a knowledge base, the customer experience can vary depending on which agent the customer talks to.
How much time do your employees lose waiting on answers? Employees don’t know what they don’t know. You can train them and have them memorize information, but you have to leave room for human error. Eventually, your employees will forget something.
With a knowledge base, your employees have all the answers at their fingertips. This eliminates roadblocks since employees don’t have to wait on a leader or co-worker to help them solve their problems.
It doesn’t matter if your employees are working in the office or they are working from home. Since a knowledge base is a cloud-based software, your knowledge base articles are accessible anywhere your employees have internet access and a login.
Now that you are completely sold on investing in a knowledge base, it is only fair that you are warned of some of the challenges with having a knowledge base. Here are a few things to be aware of before purchasing knowledge base software.
Your knowledge base is not a one-and-done project. Because your policies and procedures are constantly changing and evolving, your knowledge base articles will also need to change.
To avoid employees referencing inaccurate and outdated guides, you will need to create a plan to maintain your knowledge base. Your knowledge base is only useful as long as it is accurate.
If you are going to keep your knowledge base up to date, you are going to need to designate a point person to manage your knowledge base.
Ideally, that person can focus solely on maintaining your knowledge base. But, if you are a small business, you may be able to split a knowledge manager’s time with other responsibilities. It depends on how many articles are in your knowledge base.
The person owning the success of the knowledge base is in charge of:
Knowledge base software is not cheap. It is an investment for your company. There are knowledge base solutions available as low as $5 per user per month and as much as $400 per user per month.
While there are free versions of knowledge base software, those have limited capabilities. If you want to solve a problem, you need to be willing to invest in a solution.
When you add new software to your company, you need to develop a training program to teach your employees how to use the software. Developing that training program takes time and effort. Then there is the actual training portion with employees.
If you’re searching for knowledge base software, chances are you have a problem you are looking to solve in your business. (Don’t worry, we’ve all been there … multiple times.)
A knowledge base can be a solution to a host of problems. From employee enablement to onboarding new employees, a knowledge base is a home to your company’s knowledge. Because of that, it helps unite your company and simplifies processes and procedures.
If you have any of these pain points, a knowledge base may be the solution you are looking for.
How a knowledge base helps
Your team is constantly confused
You have a single source of truth so your employees know where to turn for answers.
Your team is constantly searching through Slack, Teams, or email threads for answers to questions
A knowledge base has features to make it faster and easier for end-users to find the article they need.
Your organization relies on tribal knowledge
For a knowledge base, you need to standardize your SOPs in order to document them.
Everyone has their own way to perform a procedure
You formalize your procedures to include in your knowledge base, which means there is one proper way to do things.
Supervisors or managers have to help employees when they get stuck
Supervisors and managers spend less time answering questions because employees have access to answers in their knowledge base.
Updating knowledge base articles or procedural guides is time-consuming
You are more agile and have tools in your knowledge base to simplify updating your articles.
It’s difficult to write and format documents
You have specific tools and templates to help you clearly format your documents.
Your help guides all look different and are difficult for employees to follow
|Your authoring tools make it easier for you to create a knowledge base style guide so your articles are consistent.|
End-users are constantly asking: “How do I do this?”
You have job aids that employees have access to on the job and you can use in training to prepare them for real-job scenarios.
Training programs won’t scale
When you have knowledge base articles that you can use in training, you can break into as many groups as you need to role-play on-the-job situations.
Training employees takes too long and requires a lot of memorization
A knowledge base is a continuous learning solution.
You don't know how anyone is using your help guides or what they are searching for
Your knowledge base has analytics and reports to provide insights into your end-users behavior.
This is a watered-down version of the problems and solutions a knowledge base can solve. For a more in-depth explanation of what these problems are as well as how a knowledge base helps resolve them, learn more here.
Building a knowledge base for your company takes a lot of work. After all, you are centralizing all of your company’s knowledge, which takes planning and diligence.
Creating a knowledge base involves customizing your knowledge base site, writing your knowledge base articles, developing a training program to teach your employees how to use your knowledge base, and building a plan for ongoing content optimization.
For an in-depth look at what creating a knowledge base looks like, follow these 10 steps to creating a knowledge base. For an overview of how to get started creating a knowledge base, keep reading.
Companies don’t typically build a knowledge base from scratch. That’s because there is enough work to do in creating your knowledge base without coding an entirely new software program.
Creating a knowledge base can mean one of two things:
While coding your own knowledge base is uncommon, here are a few options for building your company’s knowledge base from scratch and for purchasing ready-made knowledge base software.
While it is rare that companies build a knowledge base from scratch, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Because of the already long to-do list for creating a knowledge base when purchasing the software, it isn’t recommended.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information on the internet about how to code a knowledge base site.
Alternatively, some companies try using HTML, Drupal, or WordPress sites to build their own knowledge base. However, those tend to end up being low-end knowledge management systems or corporate wikis with fewer tools and capabilities.
The more common approach to creating a knowledge base is to purchase ready-made knowledge base software. These ready-made knowledge base software companies have worked out the back-end coding, the structure, etc.
But, there is still a lot of work to be done when you use ready-made knowledge base software.
When you purchase ready-made knowledge base software, you still need to set up your knowledge base site. Most companies let you customize your site.
After you set up your site, the real work begins. You’ll need to fill your knowledge base with all of your resources and documentation. However, you don’t just want to upload everything you have. Your files might be outdated and inaccurate.
As you create your knowledge base, you want to optimize your knowledge base articles for performance. Then you’ll want to outline a plan for optimizing your content and keeping your articles up-to-date.
What is the purpose of your company getting a knowledge base? What do you want to accomplish?
If you have a knowledge base and are looking for new software, why isn’t your current knowledge base working?
You want to assess your problems so you can find the knowledge base software that solves them. Some knowledge base software services are only good for storing information while others help improve employee performance.
If you don’t know what your problems and goals are, you won’t be equipped to make the best decision for your knowledge base.
As you begin your search and listen to demos for knowledge bases, you’ll notice that there are a variety of features and tools available.
Unfortunately, not every knowledge base company has all the tools. Knowledge base companies approach the functionality of these tools in different ways.
You’ll need to pick which tools you need. What tools can’t you live without? What tools “would be nice” but won’t have a strong effect on your knowledge base goals?
Separate that list according to needs and wants.
These are your deal-breakers. These are the things that would stop you from considering a knowledge base company.
Some deal-breakers could be:
Set parameters before you begin your search so that you can easily rule out companies that don’t fit within your parameters.
When you begin having demos and meeting with knowledge base questions, you want to show up with questions that you need to be answered.
These meetings are your interview process. You want to make sure that the knowledge base software company will make a good partner for knowledge management.
These questions can be anything from how the knowledge base tools work to how the company works with its customers in ensuring your success.
Find questions to help you evaluate your problems and desired solutions here.
This last consideration ties in with the first consideration. Have a vision for where you want your knowledge base to take you.
Of course, you can’t know how far you’ve come if you don’t know where you started. Write down analytics for where your company is at this moment.
How often are employees making mistakes doing procedures? How much do these mistakes cost your company? If you work in a call center, how are your call center metrics? What are your NSP and QA scores?
When you have a base, you can measure your progress and track how your new knowledge base helps you in the future.
You need a knowledge base that is as agile as you are and will grow with your company.
With a ScreenSteps knowledge base, you achieve more than creating, storing, and sharing your knowledge base articles across your company. It enables employees to reach their peak performance, decreases mistakes, and increases productivity.
A ScreenSteps knowledge base helps train knowledgeable, consistent, and efficient employees in 30 days or less.
How does ScreenSteps do this? With simple yet powerful content creation tools and a robust search engine, you can quickly create articles and your employees can find what they need in as few as two clicks.
See for yourself. Watch these pre-recorded demos to see how ScreenSteps’ content creation tools work and see the different functions of a ScreenSteps knowledge base.
Watch these pre-recorded demo videos to see how a ScreenSteps' knowledge base works.