I recently introduced my kids to the world of LEGOⓇ to further nurture their creativity here at home.
After scouring the shelves for a good starter kit, my daughter picked the Moana Island Adventure set. While putting the bricks together I noticed that the building instructions were missing. The box was empty and the kids have no idea what it looked like, so we were stuck with green and brown bricks that should’ve been Te Fiti’s cave.
Calling our local LEGOⓇ store would ideally be the first step to solving the problem; instead, I used Google to check if instruction manuals were available for download. It turns out the company’s customer service portal has a section called “Building Instructions” where customers can search for manuals based on their set number, theme, and year. It’s convenient, easy to use, and helped us get the job done.
Providing the option to self-serve did more for LEGOⓇ than simply helping their customers finish their sets. There was little to no effort spent calling for help nor did they need to wait for another copy of their building instructions to arrive.
At the end of the day, customers are more than happy with their experience with the iconic toy brand.
Organizations who offer or have just begun to offer self-service options realize that it benefits them as well.
A knowledge base offers your customers 24/7 support
By giving customers 24/7 self-service, support teams have more bandwidth to handle more complex customer questions and issues. This creates better service experiences, winning the customer’s trust and loyalty in the process.
What the heck am I waiting for then? You ask yourself, your hand itching to pull out pen and paper to brainstorm your own self-service content.
But where exactly do you begin?
Let’s first understand what self-service is and the kinds of content that can address the questions and issues your customers may have.
What exactly does self-service look like?
Self-service puts the customer behind the wheel when deciding how and when to ask for help. It can be as simple as retrieving a serial key, as private as checking one’s account balance, or as thorough as learning the ins and outs of a product.
Postbox’s automatic license lookup page is a great example of this. Customers who purchased the email app can easily retrieve their license code in case their copies go missing.
Whatever the form or method, self-service is usually available at your support portal or Help Center. Depending on your organization, products or services, the Help Center provides access to content that addresses your customer’s concerns.
How self-service content is displayed and structured will depend on your business and how your customers reach out for support.
Shopify, one of the most popular e-commerce platforms used by small businesses, set up their Help Center by categorizing their self-service content by topic: understanding Shopify, the different ways to sell online, and how to setup your first online store.
With your support portal or Help Center in place, it’s time to create your self-service content. If you’re starting from scratch, a knowledge base article is a good stepping stone to creating a self-service library for your customers.
What is a knowledge base article?
A knowledge base article is a comprehensive overview of the different aspects of your product or service. It’s detailed, informational, and may include step-by-step instructions to teach the customer how to accomplish a task.
Going beyond the how behind the product, a knowledge base article explains why such a feature exists and how it can benefit the customer.
With so much information to cover, knowledge base content are longer and richer in media than other kinds of self-service content.
Kayako’s knowledge base comprises of instructions and reference articles written to educate the customer about how Kayako works. Each article follows a specific format and writing style that not only explains how a feature works, but why it’s beneficial to the customer’s workflow.
What’s the difference between a knowledge base article and a FAQ?
It’s easy to confuse a knowledge base article and a FAQ article, since both are designed to help your customer self-serve. The difference between a knowledge base article and a FAQ article are:
- Knowledge base or instructions articles offer more room to explain the why and how of a product’s features and functionality. They illustrate how this feature helps the customer’s workflow with examples of how they can be used in one’s everyday operations.
- Frequently Asked Questions or FAQs are best used for common customer questions and recurring issues. They’re shorter in length (about 2-3 paragraphs), direct and to-the-point with links to more in-depth information.
At Kayako, our Help Center houses a good mix of FAQs, reference guides, and knowledge base or “instructions” articles to help our customers understand the product’s features and how it can enhance their support workflows. We decide on the content type based on the coverage and complexity of the topic or question.
A well-written and organized knowledge base empowers customers to search for their own solutions. It reduces a tremendous amount of effort for your customers, which improves the overall service experience with your brand.
On the flipside, your support team can save as much time from teaching your customers how to use your product or service through phone or email.
By identifying and understanding your customer’s questions, issues, and challenges, you’ll know what kind of self-service content best addresses these problems effectively.
Below is an easy knowledge base article template you can use to guide and educate your customers about your product or service. Make sure to check out the sample knowledge base template for download at the end to use for your own Help Center.
Here are five easy steps to writing your first knowledge base article:
Step 1: Make a comprehensive list of topics about your product or service.
Take 10-30 minutes to list down topics that cover the different aspects about your product or service. They can define basic and advanced features, provide step-by-step instructions on how to use these features, and offer real-life examples your customers can use.
Kelly O’Brien, Kayako’s Self-service Content Manager, uses a spreadsheet to catalog all of the knowledge base topics that need to be written or revised. Each topic is assigned a priority and marked as Complete when the article passes inspection and is published on the Help Center.
Tip: If you’re struggling to come up with topics, you can ask your support team to collect and tag conversations wherein your customers are asking for more information or are struggling with some aspect of your product. You can turn these conversations into knowledge base article topics for your Help Center.
Step 2: Identify your reader.
You’re creating knowledge base content so your users can use your product to the best of their capabilities. It’s therefore crucial that your content speaks to your users in the tone and language that makes the most sense to them.
Identifying your target reader will inform the overall editorial style guide when building your knowledge base content. Write the Docs, a global community and resource hub for documentation, shares the same advice for people working on open source projects:
First, you need to ask yourself who you’re writing for. At first, you generally just need to appeal to two audiences:
Users are people who simply want to use your code, and don’t care how it works. Developers are people who want to contribute back to your code.
If you’re writing to developers, your knowledge base should have the technical information they need to contribute back to your project.
If you’re writing to users, your content should use customer vocabulary when explaining how your product works. Technical jargon won’t make sense at all, forcing them to switch channels or stop using your product altogether.
Step 3: Write your knowledge base article.
With your topic list on one hand and your target reader on the other, you’re ready to write your first knowledge base article. Here are several best practices when writing articles that are accessible and useful for your customers:
- Keep your article title short and search-friendly. Based on a study we conducted on design standards of the top 100 e-commerce Help Centers, 94% of these use short titles for their self-service articles. These titles contain main keywords customers use search on the Help Center.
- Make use of all that white space. Break large paragraphs into smaller chunks of 1-2 lines to make it easier for your reader to flow through the article. You can also emphasize details using bullet points, numbered lists, headings and subheadings. The goal is to guide your reader’s eye to the information they need the most.
- Keep a close watch on the tone and language. You may find yourself overly simplifying instructions (e.g. “You can simply click on” or “Just press this button”), or using company vocabulary when explaining how a product feature works. Your articles are meant to serve and guide your customers, so the reading experience should encourage them to stick and read through to the end.
- Use a balanced number of visual references—emphasis on the word “balanced,” as it can be tempting to let screenshots and GIFs do all the work for us. If your Help Center supports HTML, consider using the available formatting tools you have to design your articles.
Step 4: Categorize your knowledge base articles.
You now have a full list of knowledge base articles ready for publishing. The next step is to organize your content so your customers know exactly where to find the information they need.
How you structure your information will depend on your product or service, as well as your user base.
TripAdvisor, one of the world’s leading travel review sites, caters to travelers planning their dream vacation, as well as property owners interested in expanding their online reach. It makes sense to have different sets of guidelines for both users to ensure safety and transparency for everyone.
In the case of software, users have to go through a learning curve to understand how the application works. Asana, a project management software company, categorizes their knowledge base based on the experience level of the user.
Rather than simply dumping the user with documentation, Asana sections their guides using descriptive titles that reflect the user’s current experience. This makes it easy to identify which section fits their user’s current needs with right away.
Whichever direction you may choose, the end goal is to make your information accessible and sensible for your customer. Finding the information they need shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes to do, else you risk forcing your customers to switch channels and ultimately give up on your product.
Step 5: Update your knowledge base articles.
New and current customers will often visit your Help Center for product information, so keeping your knowledge base updated and accurate is crucial to your self-service strategy.
If your product team releases or removes a good number of features, yet your knowledge base doesn’t cover these changes, your customers will end up feeling confused and unsure about your product.
Schedule a knowledge base audit where you would note down articles that need revisions or topics that need to be written about. You can use user feedback to gauge if an article lacks details, or if there are details about your product that they can’t find any information about.
Here are three questions to ask when updating your knowledge base content:
- Are customers still contacting your support team with questions already addressed in your knowledge base articles? These articles may not be as clear and detailed, convincing your customers to switch to phone or email for clarification.
- Did you update, add, or remove features from the product or service in the last six months? These changes should be included in your content audit so you can create new articles, revise existing articles, or remove outdated articles that are no longer relevant.
- Are customers asking for additional information that your knowledge base doesn’t cover? You can ask your support teams to tag these conversations. If a good number of people have asked for it, you can create a new knowledge base article or supplement an existing article with that information.
Ready to create your first knowledge base article?
Writing knowledge base articles can be an overwhelming project for anyone new to self-service. You can use the knowledge base article template above to break the process into small steps so it’s easier to start.
Once you have a healthy self-service content library in place, your customers can now find the answers they need without stepping in line for your support team’s help.