Best practices for creating an internal knowledge base Best practices for creating an internal knowledge base

Best practices for creating an internal knowledge base

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If you are using Guide, it's likely you've set up an external knowledge base to support your customers, for example, to deflect support tickets, or to provide a whole range of information specific to their requirements.

There are many advantages to setting up an internal knowledge base, to equally meet the needs of your internal employees. For many companies, official internal content is stored on a shared drive or repository, but a great deal more might be hidden away in documents and spreadsheets, and in the heads of key subject matter experts. The same information might be stored in multiple places, with little visibility of what other teams are creating in terms of collateral.

You can think of an internal knowledge base as serving the same need as an external one - if there is a question that many employees ask, or a resource that everyone needs, take the pressure off Support by adding this content to a knowledge base. Ultimately, the real advantage of setting up an internal Guide knowledge base alongside your external one is that all your content can sit together at no extra cost, and be searchable internally as a single set.

Planning the structure of your internal knowledge base

Managing and sharing internal content is easy when you have a few employees, but as soon a company grows they need to consider a knowledge strategy and a method to keep ahead of the shared knowledge that they have.

Internal knowledge can include HR and legal processes and policies, IT instructions, company presentations, sales presentations, marketing collateral, design templates and images, and documents that your Support team can use to help with customer needs, for example, assisting them to port a phone number.

It's important to define your audience, as this will influence what content you want to include. For example, at Zendesk, even though many teams use the internal knowledge base, it's primary audience is the customer advocates.

If you already have an external knowledge base, you need to think about whether you are going to publish your internal knowledge base alongside your external content or you can publish your internal content as a new brand (not available on Suite Team), which allows you to publish the content to its own help center.

Defining your internal knowledge strategy and category structure is up to you, however the structure should center around your audience and their needs. Here are a few ideas for structuring your internal knowledge base, for example:
  • Structure by department:
    • Customer Service / Support: Customer FAQs and troubleshooting guides
    • HR: Vacation and expense policies, onboarding information
    • Legal: Contracts and legal policies
    • IT: How-to guides and installation documents
    • Design: Company logos and design guidelines
  • Structure by role or user type:
    • New hires: Onboarding information, company policies, getting started guides
    • Developers / Engineers: Tooling guides, code policies
    • Management: Company hierarchy and management policies
  • Create sections based around frequently asked questions:
    • Expenses: expense policies and expense cutoff times
    • IT issues: How-to guides and installation documents, how to get IT support
    • Training: Education resources

Some companies focus on search alone, and don't worry about the categories and sections, however this relies on having content with good keywords and tags that are likely to be used by your employees.

You should consider your initial scope, as this will define the type of content you create. At Zendesk, this initial scope was defined as "customer problems and how we solve them". Rules for creating content included:
  • All client-facing articles are stored in the external knowledge base
  • Only content that can't be shared with customers is stored as an internal KB article
  • Articles are not duplicated between the internal and external knowledge bases

There is nothing to stop you from starting with some sections and a small number of articles, and expanding and editing them later as your knowledge base grows. Alternatively, on Enterprise plans, you could add a few broad sections and add subsections as you create more content.

When you are happy with your plan, you are ready to set up the internal knowledge base.

Setting up the internal knowledge base

Choosing your help center setup

There are two help center options to consider when setting up your internal knowledge base, depending on your existing structure, Guide and Support plans, and segmentation. In most cases, you'll set up a single help center.

You can choose to set up a multibrand help center (not available on Suite Team).

These are the key elements of each type of help center:
  • A single help center is one help center that is shared between your external and internal content.

    This setup requires you to set specific visibility and management permissions using user segments, to ensure that customers and staff see the right content (see Setting view permissions on articles with user segments).

    Think about whether you want all internal content in its own category or section, or whether it will live in existing sections. If you create:
    • A new category or section for internal content: A new category or section for internal content allows you to organize things in their own place in the hierarchy. This part of the hierarchy will not be visible to any users who can't see this content. This approach also works if your internal section or category contains very different information to the content that you publish to customers (see Understanding Guide permissions for information on restricting viewing).
    • Internal articles in an existing category or section: these are useful, for example, for Support teams that are working with a specific product, and want to see all internal and external articles relating to that product alongside one another.

    On Enterprise plans you could also create subsections in your sections to segment content that you want to be internal only (see Adding subsections to create more levels in your help center).

  • Multiple help centers, or a multibrand help center allows you to have internal content in one help center, and your external content in one or more other help centers (capabilities vary by plan).

    The multibrand setup segments your internal and external content so that it is physically separate (see Creating a help center for one of your brands).

    If you are creating a new help center for your internal knowledge base, you need to enable your help center in setup mode to hide the knowledge base from end users, and you can then add content before you activate the help center.

    Consider having your internal knowledge base under your main brand. This will help your agents when searching for content, so that they don't have to select the brand every time that they search, or use the KC App. If you are setting up the internal knowledge base on another brand and your agents are using the KB frequently, consider disabling the auto-select brand for search setting in the KC App. This will preserve agent brand selection while using the app and switching between tickets.

Considerations when deciding on your help center setup

Here's a comparison of the single shared help center versus the multibrand help center setup.

Feature Single shared help center Multibrand help center
Search capability Search internal and external articles in one place Search internal and external articles separately in each help center
Visibility permissions Must set view permissions to limit article visibility No need to set special visibility permissions
Community forum, (requires a Gather plan) One shared community for the help center Separate communities for each help center
Plan availability No restrictions Not available on Suite Team (other restrictions)

At Zendesk, we moved our internal and external Documentation from a multibrand setup to a single shared help center, because the advantages of staff being able to search across all articles, whether they were internal or external, and the ability to have shared Community forums, outweighed the effort required to apply article viewing and management permissions.

Deciding on access and ownership

It's likely that you'll want all staff to be able to access your internal knowledge base. For Zendesk, this is anyone who is an agent, (because everyone in Zendesk is an agent). This is probably not the case for your organization, so you can create one or more user segments for your organization to ensure the right people can access your internal knowledge base.

You also need to define who will publish and own your content. Then you can set an article owner for any knowledge base article and set reminders to verify and review articles (Enterprise plans only).

Some organizations allocate one or more people who manage all the content in your internal knowledge base, however it's more likely that you'll split the ownership between various teams (for example, HR, Finance, Training), so that the subject matter experts for each area owns and updates content. An individual team can nominally own a section or a subsection of an internal knowledge base (you'll need an Enterprise plan to use subsections), although remember that you apply management permissions at an article level, not a section level.

You can also define different levels of permissions, for example, some staff can publish, others edit, and some are Guide admins (see Creating management permissions to define editing and publishing rights).

Providing training

Make sure you prepare some training for your end users and your agents for your internal knowledge base. Your staff might already be familiar with using your external Zendesk knowledge base, however your operating model will be different for your internal content.

For example, it's important that agents are aware of the importance of setting visibility and access permissions for the articles they create and edit. This approach also gives you a mechanism to publicize the new internal knowledge base and get buy-in.

Populating the internal knowledge base

For an internal knowledge base, it's likely that you'll already have some content that you can use to seed the knowledge base. This might be policy information or annual reports, for example. You can also consider adding content as questions arise.

If you don't have any existing content, you can start small with just a few articles that answer the most commonly-asked employee questions. For example, you could write an article explaining a recent computer virus that needs action. One tip for this approach is to look at the top questions raised in internal tickets, and write the articles from there. Use these approaches to find out what those top questions are:
  • Review employee Support tickets. They are the best record of your employee issues and pain points. But don't forget about other resources that might also help you pinpoint issues you should document in your knowledge base, including macros, tags, existing content, and consulting your community. See Best practices for finding issues to start your knowledge base for more information.
  • Use Content Cues to review Support tickets and write associated articles (Enterprise plans only).
  • Ask your support staff (agents), to contribute articles, based on tickets they've received.

    Your agents can contribute articles using the Knowledge Capture app every time a ticket is raised. You need to be a Guide admin or an agent with management permissions to create an article.

For example, an agent could create an article describing how to troubleshoot computer problems and install a software patch, and add labels like troubleshoot and patch to the article to boost it in search results, then employees could search and find this information and might not need to raise a ticket.

Keeping your internal content up-to-date

There is limited value in creating lots of great content if you don't keep your articles current and relevant. Here are some tips for keeping your content owners engaged and your content up-to-date:
  • Empower your agents: encourage your agents to use the KC app to flag internal knowledge base content that is out-of-date, inaccurate, or missing.
  • Promote ownership: Make sure you have defined owners for your content - this might be a subject matter expert, or a support team. Ensure agents collaborate to make sure there are no gaps or overlaps.
  • Allocate time: make sure that your owners have time allocated to update articles. At Zendesk, we have advocates whose full time job is advocacy, but they get around 10 hours a week to work on content.
  • Verify your articles and archive old content: any content that hasn’t been updated for a long time might not be relevant anymore. You could establish a review cadence and add a disclaimer to articles you’re archiving to indicate why you’re doing so. On Enterprise plans, you can use Content Cues to view statistics on articles that might need to be updated or archived.

    You can use scheduled unpublishing to archive articles with a shelf life, for example, release notes or announcements, (Enterprise plans only).

  • Use workflow: define a workflow to ensure your articles are reviewed regularly. You can use Team Publishing to set up workflows to review, approve, and publish content (Enterprise plans only).
  • Use analytics: use statistics on page views and user engagement as input to your content update process.

For other ideas on how to maintain your content (see Knowledge Manager Roundtable: What is your process for maintaining knowledge base content).

Analyzing internal knowledge base usage

There are a number of ways that you can analyze and measure the use of your knowledge base articles, using both built-in dashboards in Guide, and using Google Analytics, (for all Guide plans).

Viewing knowledge base activity is useful to see what your staff are most interested in, but also to see if they are not reading articles that you thought might be useful (see Guide Resources - Reporting for a range of options to explore with reporting).

Analyzing activity data

You can monitor the most popular articles in your knowledge base to see what areas you staff are most interested in, and then take action based on that information. This includes viewing votes, subscriptions and comments on articles. For example, if an article has a large number of comments, it might be because the subject matter is contentious (for example, the article is a company announcement that there will be no bonus this year), or is inaccurate, (for example, the article gives instructions on how to install a software update, but does not tell the user where to get the update from). Alternatively, the content is really great (for example, a very simple explanation of a complex process), and is popular for that reason.

You'll often need to drill down into the article, and possibly use other sources of information, to understand why it is so popular.

You can use the Reporting dashboard in Support to see the number of articles created, article views, and the total number of votes, subscriptions, and comments for articles in a knowledge base. For all plans, you can use Google Analytics to see similar information.

You can use content cues to view statistics on article usage data to help improve your existing content, or write new articles where there is missing content (Enterprise plans only). Information is taken from keywords that are commonly-mentioned in Support tickets to suggest new articles and statistics are also presented for articles that are most viewed (and might need to be updated) and least viewed (and might need to be archived). See Understanding Content Cues.

For more information on analyzing activity data, Google Analytics: Tracking customer actions. To review statistics in Support, see Analyzing knowledge base activity (not available on Suite Team).

Analyzing search activity

You might want to see which internal articles have the top views from search results. If it's the start of a new vacation year, you might expect this to be HR articles about how to book vacation, and how many vacation days are available.

If the HR vacation articles are not appearing in the top hits, you might need to add labels (not available on Suite Team), to the articles, update your content titles to make them more easily found by search, or remove old content that might be cluttering up your search results.

For more information on measuring search behavior, see Google Analytics: Measuring the effectiveness of search. To see search results in Support, see Analyzing help center search results (not available on Suite Team).

Analyzing Knowledge Capture activity

You can analyze your Knowledge Capture events and ticket activity. For example, you might want to see which articles are linked to the most, or which Support agents are creating the most internal articles, or are using the KC app the most (see Analyzing your KC activity). This feature is not available on Suite Team.

Analyzing Team Publishing activity

You can analyze your Team Publishing events. For example, you might want to see which team members are most active in Guide or view your top editors, content creators or publishers (see Analyzing Team Publishing activity). This feature is not available on Suite Team.

Implementing organizational change through your internal knowledge base

Shifting to a model where staff find the answers to their questions without asking agents for help requires some form of organizational change. Submitting, reviewing, and maintaining contributions to your knowledge base is key to its success, and one method to ensure engagement is by setting agent goals based on the metrics that you can capture, particularly the level of engagement agents have with the KC app (see Analyzing Knowledge Capture activity).

For example, at Zendesk, there are two elements used to ensure engagement with the knowledge base. Firstly, there is an ongoing communication plan, including a newsletter, survey and messaging channel to allow the team to communicate progress and success, and understand concerns and issues. The second element is the setting of targets for participation. For example, you might specify that at least 20% of tickets should have some kind of KCS engagement - for example, a response to a customer links to an existing article, or an agent raises a new request for missing content. The specific targets are up to you, and the targets should drive the right behaviors, not cause anxiety for your agents that they are not meeting targets (see Zendesk on Zendesk: encouraging ongoing engagement with the KC app).

If you are using Team Publishing (Enterprise plans only), you can set targets based on the statistics in Insights (see Analyzing Team Publishing activity).

If you are keen to find out more about knowledge base self-service, whether it's for internal staff or external customers, you can download the complete eBook on our website.

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