The first step in setting up a support team is answering support tickets. It’s the core of the job and it never goes away. But for many support teams, the second step in creating a strong team is creating a knowledge base.
The reason is obvious.
Self-service solutions have been growing in customer support for decades, but nothing has replaced the knowledge base (also known as a help center) as the cornerstone of self-service. Knowledge bases are so ubiquitous within customer support nowadays that every customer expects the company they’re buying from to have one.
Getting knowledge bases right, though, takes time and effort. Knowing that a knowledge base exists doesn’t necessarily mean that your customers will use it when you want them to. Even if they do use it, your knowledge base might not have the result you’d like — namely, helping customers solve their problems to scale your customer support more efficiently.
The challenge of investing in knowledge management
Once support teams get past a certain size, they usually promote or hire one person to directly manage help center content. Documenting knowledge is always a team effort, but this individual becomes primarily responsible.
For many teams, this is the first time that operational costs become visible that aren’t tied to directly answering tickets.
If you’re tracking cost metrics in your team, such as cost per ticket, dedicating one or more people to your knowledge base will immediately push those metrics up..
As a support leader, investing in the people and tools you need to create an effective help center is a no-brainer. The closer you are to interacting with customers, the more obvious the value of the knowledge base is.
But that additional cost can feel unnecessary if you have a little more distance from your customers — as your boss might. To increase investment in your self-service resources, you need to clearly show that it’s a wise and strategic investment.
4 ways investing in your knowledge base will impact your business
Think of your knowledge base as a multipurpose tool.
It isn’t there just to make life easier for your support team or to deflect tickets, although that’s how many senior leaders might view it.
Your knowledge base is something that a significant proportion of your customers will interact with. That means it naturally influences your brand identity. It changes how people perceive your company. A great knowledge base can even help you acquire customers, because it helps prospects know whom your product is suitable for, how to use your product, and what your commitment to your customers looks like.
Adopting this mindset will help you leverage your knowledge base to its full potential. When used well, your knowledge base will help your business:
Increase customer loyalty
Provide help at scale
Improve your customer experience
Increase customer loyalty
Customer loyalty is a catch-all phrase that usually refers to one or all of these three behaviors:
Loyal customers keep buying from you — either they maintain a subscription or repurchase products over time.
They buy more expensive products from you.
They advocate for you by providing word-of-mouth recommendations to others.
The problem is that, generally speaking, support interactions are 4x more likely to drive disloyalty than loyalty.
That’s because those interactions only happen when there’s already something going wrong. Add to that the fact that people have a natural tendency to talk much more about negative experiences than positive ones, and you have a compounding negative effect.
In many ways, investing in your knowledge base is simply meeting your customers’ expectations:
Providing excellent, accurate, tailored help that’s available to your customers on-demand reduces support interactions while also giving your customers the experience they’re hoping for. It’s a small but significant way that you show your customers you care about their success.
Provide help at scale
There’s a temptation to view the support queue as the be-all, end-all of support. Tickets are virtually always present. You know exactly how many customers are waiting for you to get back to them. You know how important fast responses are.
Add all this together and it’s understandable that your ticket queue feels like a screaming baby, always wanting more of your attention.
Hiring support agents to handle your growing workload or investing in a help desk tool to manage incoming tickets isn’t really in question. These are the default options for most companies, and it’s generally understood that your support team’s headcount will scale as your customer base grows.
Your knowledge base might be less visible than the queue is, but the impact it has on your customers goes much further.
One of the easiest ways to measure this is to look at the ratio of views versus the number of tickets submitted. Another option — recommended by Zendesk — is to measure your self-service score, which looks at the number of unique visitors and ticket creators. Companies often end up with numbers like the following:
20x as many help center views as tickets
4x as many customers looking for help versus creating a ticket
A single help article can reach thousands of customers — if your help center is easy to find — whereas every ticket you answer only helps one person. Self-service is the most scalable way to provide customer service.
When you compare the cost of investing in your help center versus the cost of adding new team members, choosing the help center is often a no-brainer.
To convince your boss or executives to invest more in your knowledge base, start by calculating these KPIs for your company. If they’re low, make conservative estimates showing how further investments will improve these numbers. When you compare the cost of investing in your help center versus the cost of adding new team members, choosing the help center is often a no-brainer.
Improve customer experience
The customer experience (CX) you create defines how your customers perceive you.
A great example of this is online reviews. Online reviews are so powerful that 88% of consumers trust them as much as they would trust a personal recommendation. And what’s one of the biggest drivers of both positive and negative reviews?
You guessed it: customer experience.
A knowledge base can influence almost every measurement of good CX:
It leads to a lower contact rate and fewer tickets since more customers can solve their problems independently.
It results in better response times because your team will have more time available to handle incoming tickets.
It reduces the time to resolution. Articles can either be used supplementally, to improve the quality of an answer, or they can help customers check the basics before they reach out to an agent.
It reduces friction for your customers because they aren’t forced to wait for responses.
Investing in your knowledge base is a way to improve virtually every other support KPI you think is important.
Now, it’s important to note that if you aren’t seeing those results already, don’t be discouraged. The potential is there. Leveling up your help center isn’t just about putting more time into it. A better approach is to rely on clear analytics to help you evaluate why your knowledge base isn’t performing the way you want it to.
That’s where the power of data comes in. You can look at multiple sources of data, such as customer searches, zero-result searches, or direct feedback, then make improvements based on those. While you might not be able to pinpoint improvements in your metrics in response to every individual action, you’ll still be able to see broader trends as those small improvements add up.
The final, most obvious, bottom-line impact is that a knowledge base is extremely cost-effective.
But wait, didn’t we just say that cost per ticket might go up?
Yes, the cost per ticket can and is, in fact, likely to go up if ticket deflection is successful. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t saving money on the whole.
Your knowledge base is a far more scalable solution than any other support channel. If you want to prove how cost-effective it is, look into measuring its return on investment. Once you understand the impact your help center has on deflecting tickets (because customers are self-serving), you can extrapolate to estimate how much money you’ve saved.
The best way to gauge this is to track it at the point of ticket creation — if you’re serving up articles to customers right before they create a ticket and can measure their interactions, you can understand how many are helped there versus how many go on to submit tickets. If that isn’t possible (because of your tool), the second best way is to simply look at your contact rate and the ratio of visits to tickets.
The conditions that show you’re on the right track are:
A smaller proportion of your customers are contacting your support team even though your user base is growing
Visits to your knowledge base are increasing faster than your support ticket volume.
In the long run, you want to grow your support team’s headcount slower than you grow your revenue and customer count. The fewer tickets you receive, the less staff you’ll need to serve your customers well.
Leveraging your knowledge base
To build the best knowledge base you can, start with an MVP (minimum viable product):
Define the areas where you think a knowledge base will have the greatest impact (e.g. the top issues that result in ticket creation).
Create content targeting those improvements as quickly as possible.
Measure and share the results. Once you have some success, it’s easier to build a business case for investing more.
Many companies get stuck in the measurement stage. We know intuitively that self-service helps a lot of customers, but we struggle to show the impact. If that’s you, or if you don’t know where to start improving your knowledge base, we’ve created an analytics tool for Zendesk that’s built to help you understand and improve your knowledge base.
You can give it a try by starting a free trial today!
Written by Nouran Smogluk
Nouran is a passionate people manager who believes that work should be a place where people grow, develop, and thrive. She writes for Supported Content and also blogs about a variety of topics, including remote work, leadership, and creating great customer experiences.