A great knowledge base will not only crush your support ticket volume, but also help you keep more users (aka: reduce churn) at every stage of the user journey.
In this blog, we’ll show you the right way to build and maintain a knowledge base that delivers for you and your users.
- Users overwhelmingly prefer self-serve help
- The difference between a knowledge base and a FAQ
- What a knowledge base can do for SaaS products
- Focus on key activation points
- Segment resources for every stage of the user journey
- Use feedback to improve the knowledge base over time
- Add Interactive experiences
- Combine all resources in an always-available widget
- Complement your knowledge base with other resources
What is a knowledge base and why do I need one?
A knowledge base is a structured set of resources that SaaS users can access in-app, geared towards helping them get the most out of the product.
This is our online Knowledge Base:
But we also have an in-app one (created in Userpilot as well!) – called the Resource Center:
Userpilot’s Resource Center
Whatever you call your version, it’s there to provide help whenever users have questions or difficulties.
So why do you need one?
Users overwhelmingly prefer self-serve help
As long ago as 2017, Harvard Business Review found that 81% of software users try to solve their own problems before seeking help.
- 89% of millennials prefer self serve help and onboarding to dealing with people on the phone
- A Coleman Parkes survey found that 91% of respondents would use a knowledge base if one was provided
- Companies have seen their retention improve by as much as 85% when they introduce a self serve knowledge base
- According to Oracle, 55% of customers are more likely to stay loyal when product information and support is easy to find
The difference between a knowledge base and a FAQ
Some businesses make the mistake of confusing the idea of a knowledge base with that of a FAQ document.
An FAQ aims to answer the most common questions about a product or a company in one place – usually a single web page.
But a knowledge base does something else. It offers contextual solutions in-app to problems as users come across them. That is, when it’s needed, without taking the user away from what they’re doing.
Moreover – the big advantage of a Knowledge Base over FAQ is that it can support a wide range of different educational media to suit all learner types – not just documents and videos.
For instance – Userpilot’s Resource Center can trigger various in-app experiences that will literally guide the user to adopt a certain solution or feature of your product.
Sometimes it’s easier to show how to do something than to describe it.
Look at the example of a social media planning tool below: if the user wants to know how to group accounts, they can click on the relevant item in the Resource Center, and a tooltip pointing them to the feature shows up:
By clicking on the tooltip, the user actually learns by doing.
These experiences can be different UI patterns – ranging from tooltips, through modals to driven actions – nudging the user to perform a certain action in-app.
What a knowledge base can do for SaaS products
SaaS products depend on users:
- Getting up to speed fast, and
- Continuing to get more and more value over time
Retently has broken the numbers down like this:
Let’s say you don’t have a knowledge base:
- Users experiencing difficulties in getting value will either give up and churn, or they’ll contact your support desk
- If you’re scaling up fast, you run the risk of being overwhelmed with support tickets that you can’t solve quickly enough to keep users happy and engaged – or your customer success team costs will be disproportionately high
Take a look at these figures from across Zendesk’s entire customer base for one-to-one customer support:
Can your users wait an average of 24.2 hours before you get back to them? (Or a more appropriate question to ask: do they really need to wait for so long if you can offer them self-serve help?)
Is answering the same common queries over and over again a good use of customer success resources?
No and no.
That’s why your SaaS needs a knowledge base.
How to Create the Perfect Knowledge Base?
What questions should my knowledge base answer?
The simple answer to this question is:
Every question a user might have about getting value from your SaaS product!
That rules out some of the typical FAQ answers, which might focus on wider matters than product success (how to upgrade your account, what payment methods are available, what your data protection policy is etc).
But it’s still extremely wide. Hubspot, Salesforce and other SaaS giants may aspire to complete coverage, but for most companies we’ll need to narrow this down a bit.
Let’s see how to create the perfect Knowledge Base!
1. Where to start? Anticipate the main problems and focus on key activation points
When you’re setting up a knowledge base from scratch or when your resources are limited, you should focus your efforts on helping users achieve key activation points.
That is, tasks and actions that you know (from user stories, from analytics) are strongly correlated with progress along the user journey.
This usually consists of a series of jumps from Aha moments (when a user realizes what your tool could do for them) to Activation points (when they actually get it done and experience the value).
They’re the actions you know from experience and from data that users have to complete before they get the benefit from using your tool.
This is basically your user’s “Path to Value”.
Leaving your user alone on that path is the equivalent of leaving someone alone on a mountain trail. And the Knowledge Base is the equivalent of a helpful tour guide, who will show them the shortest way to their destination and make sure they don’t get lost on the way.
For example, at Userpilot we know that getting value out of our product adoption functionality depends on two essential preliminary actions:
- Installing our Chrome browser extension
- Adding our JS snippet to your website
Speaking of product adoption:
That’s why our primary onboarding aims to drive new users to do these actions before anything else.
After that, the next Key Activation Point is creating a first Experience in our app.
So our onboarding aims to show users why they should want to do this (Aha!) and then enable them to do it (Activate).
Beyond that, new feature adoption is a big driver of additional value – so we turn our attention to that.
They kept receiving requests for features that already existed in their product. This led to the realization that many users were only aware of a handful of Kommunicate.io’s capabilities – and were therefore not getting full value.
Working with Userpilot, they introduced a whole raft of contextual onboarding experiences to draw attention to features that were being ignored.
This led to 86% completion of the widget customization Key Activation Point, in turn leading to a 3% overall increase in feature usage.
And as Parth Shrivastava, Senior Product Marketing Manager, says:
It’s a substantial increase for us as well – even if it’s just 5% increase – it then translates into a 2-3% increase in revenue, which has a substantial impact on our MRR.
Map your Key Activation Points or CCAs so that you have a clear idea of the hurdles users need to overcome on the main pathways to value – that is, create a step-by-step guide to each of the main use cases you see among your users.
Here are all the sections covered in Userpilot’s knowledge base, for example.
Once you know what the common problems that occur are, you can give answers to the questions that arise before they’re even asked.
2. Create Knowledge Base for every stage of the User Journey
The best knowledge bases anticipate the sorts of questions users are likely to ask to put the best answers close to hand.
Some knowledge base software tools like Helpshelf, for example, use AI to work out which help documents are most relevant to particular users.
This may be overkill for a lot of SaaS companies, however.
If you can build activity-based segments of users and correlate these to Key Activation Points associated with their use cases – like the Userpilot example below – you can design help experiences that show them the most useful materials at the most relevant times.
This is easier than it sounds – e.g. the segments can include:
- new users (signed up < 30 days ago)
- activated users (more then 30 days, basic key activation points have occurred, but still basic)
- older slipping away users (> 90 days, declining activity patterns)
- older power users (> 90 days, increasing activity patterns)
In this way, you can provide proactive onboarding guidance to users. This means you take the initiative and guide them to a desired result proactively. But you should also make sure that reactive options (when you simply respond to user’s actions in-app) are available as well.
- Organise topics clearly
- Classify and write content from the user’s perspective – so think problems and obstacles not features
- Include a search function and avoid internal jargon that new users are unlikely to be familiar with
Here’s how we’ve done all those things in our help widget.
This allows users to work their own way to the information they need, as well as being led to it.
And here’s Campaign Monitor’s help center.
While Asana divides up its support materials on the basis of the level of expertise:
All these methods help users find the best material for their needs, quickly.
3. Use feedback to improve the knowledge base over time
Of course, you may not have perfect visibility over all of your Key Activation Points.
Fortunately, your users will be trying to tell you about that!
- Monitor support tickets, helpdesk enquiries, chatbot logs, staff experience, reviews and all other sources of data to find out what kind of difficulties users are running up against. If the same problems are seen to recur, create resources to solve them and add to your knowledge base
- Why not host a forum to encourage this kind of discussion, like Salesforce does?
- Talk to your power users! These guys know your tool, they’re invested in it and they know how they overcame the problems that new users may be experiencing.
- Add a “did you find this useful?” microsurvey at the end of each resource. Monitor the responses to improve resources over time and to identify gaps in provision. By tapping all these other sources of data, your knowledge base can be constantly growing, solving more and more problems for more and more users.
And every time you provide an in-app solution, that’s one topic your customer success agents won’t have to handle in person again!
What resources should it include?
Users learn in different ways.
It may be neat and tidy in your mind if every help resource you provide is in a common format – but is that what will best serve all those users?
The best knowledge bases provide a mix of different types of resources – including resources that are interactive.
That means your knowledge base should not just be a list of links to help documents and announcements.
Firstly, if you are not using videos to show users how to do things (as opposed to telling them), you’ll be failing to serve a whole group of users who don’t learn effectively from written resources.
Plus, it’s often far more efficient to demonstrate how to use a web app in a video than it is to explain it in words.
Asana understands this, and uses a lot of video in its educational content.
4. Include Interactive experiences
If showing is better than telling, doing is better than showing.
As we’ve said before, interactive walkthroughs are one of the best onboarding tactics around – because they teach users how to complete tasks, while they are actually completing them.
At the end of one of Salesflare’s onboarding flows, for example, users are prompted to use what they’ve learned to connect a calendar to the CRM.
And here’s how Kommunicate.io prompts users to take a very simple installation action.
Lots of SaaS products recognize the impact that Interactive Walkthroughs can have.
But it’s still quite unusual to see this kind of interactive experience appearing as an on-demand part of a knowledge base.
If you can put together relevant interactive workflow experiences and integrate them into your knowledge base, you’re taking your in-app support to the next level.
Userpilot’s Resource Center is one of the only tools for building knowledge bases and help widgets out there that allow you to deploy interactive elements like this in exactly the same way as others support documents and videos.
It allows you to add all of the following to your base:
- Onboarding experiences (which can be interactive, through our unique Driven Actions capabilities)
- Lists of onboarding experiences
- Custom JS to run other interactive features (for example, live chat windows)
5. Combine all resources in an always-available widget
The best knowledge bases are always there when users need them.
That means not putting them on a website outside the app!
If a user has to change tabs or click into a browser to access help documents, it removes them from the immediate problem and the need they have mid-task. And that’s a risk.
“Beacon”-style widgets in-app allow you to provide resources when and where they are needed, with minimal interruption.
Here’s our widget – minimized but visible, ready to be activated when needed.
As we’ve already mentioned Userpilot enables you to build your own knowledge base widgets like our own one.
Yours doesn’t have to be click-triggered like this one.
Userpilot’s Resource Center tool supports custom JS triggering so you can design your own terms. Plus, you can set the page level for it to actually appears at all.
Airtable does something similar, putting their whole range of courses subtly on display in the bottom corner of the app.
However you present it, trigger it or target it, your widget should be a one-stop shop for all your knowledge base resources and the ways of finding them. So you need:
- Search functionality – preferably using technology that autocompletes user queries. Remember, new users will often not know what they are looking for!
- Resources arranged by use case and problem, in a way that is intuitive to search through and progressive to learn from
- The option to access live chat or telephone support. Don’t forget, there’s still a sizeable minority of users who don’t want self serve help, or whose situations may be too complex or unusual for you to have them covered
7. Complement your knowledge base with other resources
That last point is worth repeating. You shouldn’t rely solely on a knowledge base to handle all customer success issues.
There will be some cases that need human attention – although a lot of early interactions can be handled and triaged by chatbots.
And as we have already mentioned, those user questions and support tickets provide essential feedback for you to bolster your knowledge base with new material.
But as well as your in-app resources, there are other educational materials you should complement them with:
- A Product Academy provides one or more formal course teaching users to become experts with your tools. Hubspot does this brilliantly, with loads of resources that are accessible to people who register but who are not customers. It’s educational, but it’s also product marketing.
- Your blog provides smaller-scale opportunities to do the same thing. In the product-led era, your best-performing blog topics are likely to be ones that focus on use case problems and case studies. You should use your blog to illustrate how particular users solved particular problems, to complement the more general material in the knowledge base.
If your knowledge base is underperforming, try out the tactics we’ve talked about in this blog.
Who should produce the knowledge base materials?
This is not the only virtuous circle you can create with a knowledge base.
If your customer success team owns the knowledge base, they will become better at their jobs:
- Managing the resources will keep their skills and knowledge up to date
- It also increases their familiarity with it, so that inquiries can quickly be referred to pre-existing resources
- It will be easy for them to dip in and out to make minor changes when new features, patches or other changes are introduced
- They will be invested in updating and maintaining it, because it keeps their ticket numbers down!
As a general rule, you should produce your knowledge base in-house. After all, you should have more expertise than anyone else!
The main exception to this rule is where your product relies on being integrated into an existing technical ecosystem or it operates in a very specialized vertical (such as healthcare). In those cases, it may be necessary to work with outsourced experts.
Next Steps – Get Help With Your Knowledge Base
If you’re interested in using the unique functionality we’ve talked about – particularly triggering interactive experiences directly from the help widget – then we’d love to give you a free demo of Userpilot to show you how to set up your own Resource Center!
And if you don’t have a knowledge base at all – what are you waiting for?