Yesterday, it took me 10 minutes to find some bin bags at the Supermarket. I walked up and down the middle isle like a zombie trying to find them – eventually I had to ask someone. “We get asked that a lot”, he said. He took me to a dark corner of the store. Hidden away behind pillars and cat food were the bin bags.

“Ahhh! That’s where they are.” If only I’d known.

Odd way to start a blog post on knowledge bases? Not really. The principles are just as relevant. If customers can’t find what they’re looking for because stuff isn’t put where they think it is, they’ll ask. For you, that means a call to customer service – negating the very reason you have a knowledge base in the first place.

Customer knowledge bases are a cornerstone of self service

Self-service resources are nothing without thoughtful, user-driven structuring of information and engaging content that helps. Knowledge bases come from internal knowledge, and often get put together as the business sees it. This view can sometimes be diametrically opposed to how a customer does.

You think the bin bags go here. They think that’s crazy.

Whether you’re starting out on the journey to get a knowledge base together for your customers, or you already have one purring away in the background – here’s some grounding principles you should be thinking about.

1. Before you do anything, consider the overall structure of your customer knowledge base from a customer perspective.

Someone (I think it was me) said “data is nothing without understanding”. In this case that means your knowledge is worthless unless a customer can access it in a way that makes sense to them.

Tiering information around customer queries is a good start, and optimising structures from how users navigate and access the information is another. I’ve seen more than one occasion where data from the Search facility in a knowledge base tells a very different story to how the business imagined customers would access it.

People like structures to be simple – they especially like them like this while they’re cooking supper with one hand and feeding the cat with the other.

You overall “information design” needs to be immediately clear and relevant to them. In fact, customer knowledge bases should be built on these principles.

2. Make navigation within the material relevant and designed around user needs and journey

If you’re lacking overarching structure you’ll almost certainly be struggling with navigation within the content too. Knowledge bases should be journey based, allowing users to flow from an initial query to secondary help and support.

I have yet to come across a knowledge base that does this effectively. That’s partly a software issue, but also comes down to what journeys you’re assuming users take.

3. Improving the accessibility of your customer knowledge base with wayfinding tools

If you’re unfamiliar with wayfinding here’s an article here about it. With your knowledge base it’s about using visual navigation tools, contents pages and indices to make things simpler for users.

At the very least you should consider:

  • Using a three-level structure to enable easy scanning, navigation and understanding
  • Using a series of break points so that users know where to find more information – or call for help
  • Changing the tone of voice of your documents
  • Concentrating on clear, concise help
  • Using glossaries, contents and indices to ease navigation

Users can find it difficult to navigate their way through your current material if there’s a ton of cross referencing.

There are a whole host of great systems out there to help you manage and maintain a customer knowledge base, but that’s only half the battle. If customers can’t understand or use the information easily the benefit quickly gets lost and all those enquiries you were hoping to avoid continue to pile in.

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