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If you sell any kind of product or service, no matter how simple, your customers will encounter problems that need to be solved. And the more complex the product is, the more often problems arise. This is why any sufficiently large organization has a customer service department that is optimized for dealing with customer problems efficiently and quickly.

But even an efficient customer service offering can be extremely expensive, both for the business and the customer. As a business, you have to adequately staff your customer service department, and the more calls it receives the more employees that need to be available. And depending on the service, the customer might be required to pay for any support they receive.

This is precisely why you should introduce a knowledge base for your customers. What is a knowledge base? Think of it as a FAQ — a digital repository that addresses common problems your customers encounter and explains, in detail, how to solve them. This way, rather than writing out a long email listing steps to solve a problem, you can publish those steps as an article to an easily-searchable database, either one that’s password-protected or available on the open web.

There are two main advantages to implementing a knowledge base.The first is that it saves time for your customer support staff. My customer support team at Cobalt handles support tickets from organizations that, in total, employ thousands of employees. With that many people using your product, you can imagine how often they turn to us when they have a question about said product. By offering a knowledge base, we can save the hundreds of man hours each year we would otherwise spend answering support tickets for problems customers can solve themselves. Because of this, we’re able to focus on the thornier issues that require more creative solutions. And since each of our customers pay for customer support, we’re saving them money when they don’t need to reach out to us.

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The second advantage to implementing a knowledge base is that you can use it as a business intelligence tool. Using analytics, you can measure which articles within the knowledge base are getting the most visits. By visualizing which problems customers run into the most, you can gain insight into your product’s weaknesses and either fix them or launch an entirely new product that addresses a market need. For instance, if you see lots of customers searching for a way to integrate with the API of a third party tool, you could build an integration where all the client needs to do is click a button. Some knowledge base software even allows you to poll users on which features they would like to see, which provides an avenue for even more direct feedback.

But just because you build it doesn’t necessarily mean they will come. One of the most difficult challenges for getting effective use out of your knowledge base is conditioning your customers to search through it before they reach out to you. To do this, you should first make sure your knowledge base has a sufficient amount of information before introducing it to customers. At Cobalt, we waited quite awhile after the launch of our knowledge base before we made it available to customers; we wanted to make sure there were plenty of articles customers could search for. If we’d opened the knowledge base immediately after launching, then customers would have tried it out once, not found what they were looking for, and then never returned.

You also need to properly educate your customers on using your knowledge base and navigating its UI. Often when a customer asks a question for a problem we know is addressed in the knowledge base, we’ll conduct a search and then send them a link to the search results. This way they can see for themselves how we navigated to that particular solution.

Maintaining a knowledge base takes time and work, but the potential payoff is tremendous. Not only will it help you deliver better customer service, but, when implemented effectively, it can provide insight into your customer’s needs and improve your product. Those are opportunities you can’t afford to pass up.

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