Discover what a knowledge management system is and how developing one can help your customers.
In today's world of constant connectivity and multiple digital communication channels, customers don't want to call a support line and wait on hold when they need help. They want answers to their problems, and they want them quickly – and often, they're seeking self-service solutions that don't require contacting the business at all.
What is a customer knowledge management system?
No matter what industry you're in, your business will likely get the same types of questions from customers about your products or services. A customer knowledge management system allows you to provide a database of answers to those frequently asked questions for real-time, DIY assistance, without the need for the customer to contact a company representative.
In its most basic form, a customer knowledge base may look like a simple FAQs page on your website. However, depending on your business and the complexity of your customer questions, you can build or implement a robust, searchable knowledge management system that allows your customers to dig deeper and find comprehensive answers to highly specific questions.
The importance of self-service customer care
According to a survey by Nuance Enterprise, three-quarters of consumers believe self-service is a convenient way to address customer service issues, and nearly 70% of them prefer self-service over speaking to a company representative. A customer knowledge base or knowledge management system is a convenient way to give your customers the support they need, at the exact moment they need it, without the intervention of a customer service rep.
"Most customers don't like calling a customer service number," said Paul Miller, CPA and managing partner of Miller & Company LLP. "Years of [hearing] 'your call is very important to us' amid long hold times have persuaded people to seek alternative ways to solve a problem. A knowledge management system ... is something your customers can access whenever they need support."
"The customer service experience nowadays needs to be instant," added William Gaunitz, certified trichologist and creator of the Gaunitz Trichology Method. "If it is not, then you will ultimately have a lesser service experience than your competitor who does have a customer knowledge database."
A centralized, self-service knowledge base also allows you to provide more efficient and effective customer service for common, recurring issues without expending additional resources on outsourced support or in-house staff. It also improves your knowledge-sharing between teams.
What information lives in a customer knowledge base?
While every customer knowledge management system is specific to the business that operates it, these are typical components of the databases:
Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs): A good FAQs page is the cornerstone of customer self-service. This content should cover all the basic questions a customer may have before they purchase from you or as soon as they begin using your product or service. FAQs content can be especially helpful for service-based businesses with different packages and add-on services.
Community forums or discussion boards: Sites like Quora and Reddit have proven that customers love to help each other with common issues. Your brand's superusers are likely passionate enough about your product or service to share their knowledge and troubleshooting tips in a way that makes sense to other customers.
How-to articles and tutorials: Many businesses create how-to and tutorial content for their blogs and social media channels to help customers better navigate their product or service experience. This content can and should also live in your knowledge management system for easy, centralized access.
Case studies: Your business can showcase success stories from customers who have used your product or service and highlight unique use cases that could help other customers get more value out of their relationship with your brand.
- Recorded webinars: If your business regularly hosts webinars and online conferences to educate and provide value to its customers, you should provide on-demand access to the recordings in your customer knowledge base for future reference.
Benefits of knowledge management systems
While it may take some time and effort upfront to build out a robust customer knowledge management system, it's well worth the investment as a long-term customer service solution. Not only does it improve the experience for your customers, it can deliver lasting business results.
Benefits for customers
- Faster, more efficient service: A centralized, self-service customer knowledge management tool lets customers easily access information that helps them use a product or service more efficiently or get the answers they want without taking too many steps, said Gaunitz.
- Greater value and knowledge of your products or services: In a customer's search for the answer to their issue, they may discover new product uses or service options they weren't aware of previously. They may also learn new ways to interact with and extract value from your business as they dive deeper into your knowledge base.
- A better overall experience: A customer knowledge management tool provides more consistent customer support, said Miller. It delivers proactive customer service, anticipating problems and supplying answers almost as quickly as your customers can think of the right question to ask. This type of experience leads to happy customers, who often remain loyal to brands that provide excellent service.
Benefits for businesses
- Less time and money wasted on repeat customer service issues: Paying live customer service representatives to answer the same questions over and over again is a waste of their time and your money. A self-service customer knowledge base will reduce the number of phone calls and helpdesk tickets your support staff receives by empowering customers with solutions to common issues so they can help themselves. This frees up your reps to handle the more difficult and unique customer issues that require in-depth attention.
- Higher rates of customer retention and referrals: Customers who have a good experience with your business are more likely to stick with you. They'll be your loyal customers who continue to buy from you, and they may even become vocal brand ambassadors for your business. HubSpot research found that 93% of consumers were more likely to be repeat customers of a company if they received excellent customer service.
- Increased brand authority and trust: With a robust, accessible customer knowledge base, you can position your business as an industry expert, said Miller. Customers may return to your database over and over again, not just for answers to product and service issues but for insights on industry trends. This gives you a competitive advantage by driving repeat business and improving customer engagement.
Types of knowledge management systems and how they work
Depending on your business's needs, you can leverage a few different types of customer knowledge management systems.
Basic FAQs page
For businesses on a budget, a basic webpage with the answers to frequently asked questions can be a good starting point for your customer knowledge base. To make it more comprehensive, you can link to other resources, such as helpful articles, webinars and video content.
Automated live chat
The next step up in customer knowledge management is installing an AI-powered chatbot on your website that's programmed with answers to common questions. When the customer enters specific keywords or phases into the chat box, they'll receive an answer immediately, based on the customer knowledge base available. If their question hasn't been answered, the automated system can then connect them to a live support representative.
"This is extremely helpful because you can actually supply customers with an automated experience that feels like a personal one, thus giving the customer a feeling of attention and excellent customer service," Gaunitz told business.com.
Knowledge management software
Numerous companies offer prebuilt software solutions for your customer knowledge management needs (we'll give examples later in this article). These software-as-a-service providers have various features that can help you better serve your customers through organized, indexable content. Many knowledge management system solutions integrate with existing software and analytics programs for easy database building, and some offer community forum functionality to connect customers with each other.
Custom-built proprietary knowledge base
Larger companies with the resources to build out their own proprietary knowledge base can offer customers a fully branded experience with in-depth search functionality, community features and more. This option is usually best for tech brands with a large pool of software users. You can see example knowledge bases from Microsoft, Google, Tableau, Evernote and Canva.
The best knowledge management systems for sales teams
Knowledge management systems aren't just for your external customers. You can also leverage them internally to help your sales and customer service teams have more productive interactions with current and prospective customers.
When looking for the best knowledge management system for your sales team, you'll want to look for something intuitive, well organized and collaborative so everyone using it has access to the most up-to-date information. The software you choose should integrate with the products you already use – like your email, calendar, file-sharing software and chat provider – to streamline data input and processing when your team has sales calls or needs to add new information to the system.
Some knowledge management systems can even perform double duty as customer-facing helpdesk software, letting you meet the needs of both internal and external users with a single solution.
Here are a few popular helpdesk software options to consider:
- Freshdesk by Freshworks combines helpdesk ticketing, customer self-service and reporting for businesses of all sizes. Knowledge base functionality is included in the free version of this software.
- Jitbit claims to deliver "everything you need from a help desk," including a customer knowledge base, asset tracking, file attachments, tagging, ticket categories, email integration and live chat.
- Kayako can be used as a customer-facing self-service solution, ticketing system and internal help desk. It helps your team visualize and contextualize each customer's journey by collecting all their interactions in one place.
- Mojo Helpdesk claims to help businesses cut up to 90% of incoming customer requests with its searchable self-service knowledge base.
- Zendesk is popular helpdesk software with a robust knowledge base feature that's easy to customize and use. It can be leveraged as an internal knowledge base for IT and support agents or as a customer-facing FAQs tool.
Building a knowledge management strategy
Before you can put your customer knowledge management system to work, you and your team will need to work together to develop a knowledge management strategy that enables sharing knowledge and leveraging it for organizational learning. A cohesive plan that everyone can follow will ensure the knowledge base stays up to date and that both customers and staff members get continuous value from your chosen solution.
Follow these steps to develop and implement a solid knowledge management strategy.
1. Interview your frontline customer service representatives.
When you're compiling your initial FAQ list, it's important to speak with the people who are on the front lines of your business, fielding customer questions day in and day out, said Gaunitz. These employees will know best what information is most important to your customers, as well as what solutions have worked for them.
"Start there and build a knowledge base based on those questions," Gaunitz said. "You will mitigate hundreds of man-hours over the course of the year and improve customer satisfaction."
This interview process will help you get to know your customers more deeply and understand the types of questions they typically ask – effectively letting you help them help themselves, said Miller.
2. Sift through your current business data for more FAQs, behaviors and usage patterns.
In addition to speaking with your employees directly, you can use business data from multiple systems to support and add to your list of potential knowledge base content.
- Helpdesk tickets: If you already have a helpdesk software solution, it can be a rich source of customer complaints, issues and questions.
- Website analytics: Find out what your website visitors are already searching for with your site's built-in search function. Google Analytics allows you to find specific on-site search terms and identify trends over certain periods of time.
- Social media: Your business has likely encountered comments and direct messages from customers who follow you on social media regarding your product or service. See what people are saying about you (and your industry competitors), and try to identify the problems and concerns that continually pop up.
3. Carefully select your question categories to organize your information.
After you conduct your internal research and identify the right questions to include, Miller recommends organizing those questions into categories. This allows you to create a hierarchy of information and see what you've been missing.
"If you've developed a hierarchical organization to the information in your knowledge base, the categories you display must have meaning to your customers," Miller said. "If you're asking them to pick a topic, the choices better be obvious."
Another benefit of categorizing and tagging your knowledge base content is that it's easier to cross-reference related articles to help your users, said Miller. For example, you can program your system to populate a list of similar or related questions when a user is exploring a particular category.
4. Standardize the Q&A format and information presentation.
When you've defined the specific questions and categories of information for your knowledge base, you'll want to decide on a consistent format for presenting information and sharing knowledge. This, said Miller, helps your customers know what to expect as they navigate the database.
"Give each article a complete, descriptive title," he recommended. "Use an easy-to-read format with subheadings and lists, [and] use screenshots and video where appropriate."
Before each component of your system goes live, check the content for accuracy, spelling, and grammar, and test it to ensure it's working properly, said Miller.
5. Continually update and improve your knowledge base.
A customer knowledge base is not a one-and-done initiative. It should be a living, dynamic record of all your pertinent product and service information, and that means keeping it up to date.
Once you've published your initial version, appoint an internal staff member to stay on top of updates and coordinate with other departments to keep the knowledge management system current.
"Start with an FAQ page, and then add more and more questions and answers," Miller said. "Name a gatekeeper to determine what goes up on the published system, even if many people contribute to the system."
6. Develop a system for capturing user feedback.
Miller noted that businesses should have a way to capture user feedback from customers who use your knowledge management system. A simple "was this page helpful?" feedback form at the bottom of each page can help you continually improve the system and provide exactly what your customers are looking for. Your appointed "gatekeeper" should be in charge of processing this user feedback and ensuring it's incorporated into the next iteration.
Remember, the goal of your customer knowledge management system is to provide as much useful information as possible, in the best possible format for your users. By focusing on an incredible customer experience and top-notch self-service, you'll develop a truly helpful resource that customers will come back to over and over again.