Knowledge Base

How to Add a Knowledge Base to Your Ecommerce Business

Ever-familiar to those in the tech space, a knowledge base is always a useful resource. Then again, it’s not something you see on every eCommerce store; usually on larger sites or businesses with more technical products.

If you run a storefront, should you add a knowledge base to your site? We say yes, and there’s a good reason for that.

What Precisely Is a Knowledge Base?

A knowledge base is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a website, or a section of a website, that contains information. It can take the form of a wiki, a large FAQ page, or an interconnected series of webpages. Here’s Nike’s, for example.

Nike Help Desk

A good knowledge base contains robust information that is specific enough to be useful to individuals in specific situations, but general enough to cover most of your bases.

A knowledge base a combination of self-service support and product resource. It’s a place where users can go to find the documentation they discarded, information about usage or maintenance for products, and answers to common support questions.

You can think of it as the first line of defense between a customer and your support staff.

Why You Want a Knowledge Base

If “the biggest online stores in the world have one” isn’t a good enough argument for you, we have two words.

Customer service.

  • 90% of customers cite the presence and quality of customer service as an influence when deciding where they want to shop.
  • 90% of customers want an immediate response to their inquiries.
  • A majority of customers want to be able to find answers on their own whenever possible.

Statistics from Forrester and Hubspot.

Help Center Design

A knowledge base does many things for your business, particularly through customer service channels.

  • First of all, a knowledge base allows users to answer common questions without needing to contact your support staff. This lets customers get answers faster and easier, so they’re more satisfied with the results. It also lightens the load on your customer service crew, to allow them more time and energy to dedicate to unique, one-off cases and more important support cases that require more work to solve.
  • Second, a knowledge base lets you present information that can alleviate common concerns a user might have before they even make a purchase. A knowledge base isn’t only for existing customers, after all. If a user wants to know how to care for a pan they buy from you, your knowledge base can include instructions they can read so they can decide if it’s too much work before they even buy it.
  • Third, a knowledge base offers clarification for business processes. While you might have documents like your privacy policy and returns process sequestered away in system pages, putting them in your knowledge base allows customers to read them (or a plain English version of them)  in an easier-to-locate place. Many customers want to know that they’ll have a minimum amount of trouble returning a faulty item, for example.

A knowledge base is both proactive and reactive. It’s proactive because it puts answers to questions out in the open before your customers have even asked the question. You can give them the information they don’t even know they want until they see it. It’s reactive because, to know what information to put in your knowledge base, you need to know what kind of questions your users are going to ask. Most of the time, the easiest way to learn that is to wait for them to ask, and then add to your knowledge base as you go.

The larger your business is, the more you need a knowledge base to take some of the burdens off of your service staff. A small business might be able to handle the volume of calls they get each day, but a larger business has so many customers that even a normal call volume for that number is too much for a small team to handle.

And, of course, there’s the matter of cost. It’s a lot cheaper to develop a knowledge base than it is to hire and train more support staff.

Picking a Type of Knowledge Base

If you’ve decided that you need a knowledge base for your eCommerce store, the next decision you need to make is what kind of knowledge base you want to implement. There are three general categories.

First up, you have an out of the box solution. There are a couple of different companies that provide knowledge base frameworks, ready to be implemented on your site. These have a few benefits, such as easy configuration and setup, but they have drawbacks as well. They cost money, often on an ongoing basis, and they may not include all of the features you want for your knowledge base.

Example Knowledge Base Software

You might, for example, want a category structure that isn’t supported by the framework. You can’t edit the framework, so you’ll need to find a different solution, either from another vendor or one of the other options.

The second option is to use a generic page builder. For this option, you’ll need to determine a structure for your knowledge base, and build out templates for the pages you need. A central hub page, a template for category pages, and templates for individual questions and answers will cover most of the bases.

This option can be easy to do on your own but may require purchasing a tool or service to design your pages. Depending on the tool, you may need to pay a fee for the number of pages you want to create. A lot of the ease of this method depends on your skill level and knowledge of web design and usability, and how much you’re willing to mimic existing knowledge bases.

The third choice is to commission a company to design your knowledge base for you. This is guaranteed to get you the design, configuration, and layout you want with no extra cruft or features you pay for but don’t use. On the other hand, it’s generally a more expensive option, depending on who and how you commission your custom knowledge base.

Custom Knowledge Base

All three options can get you a knowledge base that is perfectly usable for your customers and your staff, it’s just a matter of picking one that is easy for you to fill out, maintain, and update as your business evolves. Cost is a consideration as well, as it always is for business processes and decisions.

Designing and Building a Knowledge Base

Even if you’re not coding a knowledge base from scratch or using a page builder to do it, you do still need to put some thought into the design of your system. You need to consider factors such as user experience, SEO, and even architecture.

The first step to designing a knowledge base is the overall structure. Let’s take a look again at Nike’s knowledge base.

At the top of this knowledge base (below the store navigation, anyway) is a search box. Most knowledge bases have this kind of search box. They allow a user to ask a question, and use the keywords in that question to bring up the most likely possible answers in your knowledge base.

Search Bar

The quality of the search engine you use is a huge part of how usable your knowledge base is. You never know if a user is going to think about a problem in the same way you do, and may look in the wrong categories for the answer to a question they have. You can’t answer the same question in multiple categories, because you’ll clutter up your database and make it harder to navigate for everyone. A search, then, becomes a core function of the knowledge base.

Below the search box, you have the “quick assists” box. This offers broad categories (in Nike’s case, Shipping & Delivery, Returns, Nike Membership, etc), as well as a selection of the most commonly asked questions from each section. A user who has one of those questions can easily click through to their answer.

One thing Nike doesn’t do (but other companies do) is adding links to their category pages from the category subheadings on their knowledge base page. You’ll notice that you can’t click “Shipping & Delivery” to get a list of all of the fulfillment questions.  Perhaps Nike has found that having that functionality wasn’t important. Perhaps they’re a large enough company that their support staff can handle any volume of contacts. Perhaps their search is good enough that they haven’t needed those category links. It’s up to you whether you want to include them or not.

Finally, below the quick questions section, you see a contact section. This is the natural extension of a knowledge base: an ever-present option for what a user can do if they don’t see an answer to their question on the page. In Nike’s case, they have general contact methods for different departments, such as company info, products and orders, and a store locator. Users can pick the method of support that works best for their needs.

Contact Below Knowledge Base

Let’s take a look at another knowledge base to dissect. SteelSeries is a maker of computer peripherals, including keyboards, mice, headsets, and controllers.

At the top, again, you have a search bar. Below it, though, you have categories of products a user might want to get support for. If you want support for a headset, you can click on headsets, and it takes you to a page with each headset they sell and the common support questions asked about that headset.

Search Bar on Steelseries

Below the product section is their most recently updated questions feed. This can be useful if a user has a question about a new release, and it can showcase recently updated pages about common support topics, but it’s perhaps not the most effective way to organize support information.

Each knowledge base has a different design, but they serve the same purpose.

Sculpting Your Knowledge Base

To pick a design, you might find it easiest to draft your knowledge base questions and answers first. What categories do you need? Should Shipping and Fulfillment be in the same category or different sections? Should you have general product support as a category, or individual categories for each product you sell? Should you include a category for a referral program or other engagement program you’re running? These are questions you need to ask, and you can’t answer them until you know what kinds of information is going in your knowledge base.

The easiest way to do this is to look at your support system. What questions do your support agents answer on the phone or via email? Do you have a chatbot, and if so, what questions do you answer there? What questions are most commonly asked on your social media pages? The more commonly a question is asked, the more important it is to have a knowledge base article for it. You can also use social listening to look for questions people have but aren’t asking you directly.

When writing an actual knowledge base page, make sure to include all relevant information necessary for troubleshooting a problem. You probably have a framework for this established for your customer service process already, so transcribing it into a self-service process shouldn’t be too hard.

Wireframing Knowledgebase

You can also include images and even video in your knowledge base pages, but make sure you have complete text transcripts for SEO purposes and for the people who can’t or don’t want to watch a video to solve their problem.

Before going live with your knowledge base, give it a once-over to look for typos and mistakes. Make sure your search works and that a user can find answers to any question they may have. Then, monitor your support. When users have a question you don’t already answer, create a new page to answer it. That way, you’ll fill in the gaps and build a more robust knowledge base.

Setting up a knowledge base generally ends up being more planning than implementation, but it does require constant maintenance. Whenever a process changes, a product changes, or a system is discontinued, adjust your knowledge base accordingly. Remember that some people will have an old version, some a new version, and all will need their support questions answered.

William Smith