The Truth Is You Might Not Need a Knowledge Base

Over the past few weeks, I’d been preparing myself for my first ever webinar, in partnership with our friends at Gorgias.

Sid from Gorgias came up with the idea of a webinar around scaling support during the holidays without hiring, and I agreed to deliver a part about creating a knowledge base to reduce incoming tickets. It felt like a good project for us—I’d get to talk about knowledge bases and HelpDocs—and I set to work on the slides.

As I was working on my slides, I set out to present something valuable. Something educational, but not patronizing. I wanted to offer a little advice to people who might not know much about knowledge bases and self-service, and particularly those asking if a knowledge base is the best way into the latter.

The trouble is, the answer is no!

I know, I know, I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to tell you your business and team can reap infinite rewards by using our software.

I’m supposed to tell you that using HelpDocs can help 10X the productivity of your support team while halving your support queue.

I’m supposed to convince you that by not using HelpDocs, you’re inadvertently damaging your business, and for every day you don’t use HelpDocs as your knowledge base software, somewhere, a unicorn dies.

You don’t want to be responsible for dead unicorns, do you? 🦄✨

I’m supposed to sell you the idea knowledge bases are the difference between being delivering great support to your customers and, well, not. But if you’re a regular reader of the blog—or if you’ve ever spoken to us—you’ve probably realized that’s not how we roll.

Do you Really Need a Knowledge Base?

Probably not!

Don’t get me wrong, documentation is crucial for customer service. A knowledge base can basically be a user manual for your product or service. It’s a guide, leading your customers to solutions to both simple and issues, or educating them on how to use complicated features.

It’s true, having a knowledge base in place can help boost productivity and reduce support tickets. In fact, one of the things we help our customers see is just how many tickets have been avoided by using a knowledge base.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for every business. It’s probably not.

In fact, for many, a powerful knowledge base is overkill. What’s more, it can become a time and cash suck.

Before you rush into it, you need to ask yourself do I need a knowledge base?

Many skip this crucial step, to their detriment. The trouble is, rushing head-on into deploying a knowledge base before you’re certain you really need one, is simply excessive.

Of course, I’d love for everyone to sign up as a HelpDocs user—And if you do sign up, I’ll do everything I can to support you using it—But ultimately, if you don’t know you need a knowledge base, our relationship is going to be short-lived.

After a while, you’ll see it as an unnecessary overhead and probably won’t get what you want out of it. As a result, our relationship is unlikely to last as long as I’d like. 😔

At this point, it’s important for me to point out asking whether you need a knowledge base is not the same as questioning whether you need to get into self-service altogether.

The answer to which is always usually yes.

Every business can benefit from self-service. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in e-commerce, SaaS, or something completely unique. It’s just logical that giving your customers/users the ability to help themselves will save them time and hassle, and will help you be more customer-centric.

And yes, as a result, you can reduce your incoming support tickets and save yourself a lot of time—and probably money—in the process.

The thing is, a knowledge base is not your first step into self-service.

Your first step to self-service should be to understand how to help your customers help themselves, and in doing so, deploy a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

Your First Step in Self-Service

I don’t want to get too salesy about it. An FAQ can be a wonderful thing. What’s more, the benefits of building a good FAQ are vast. Contrary to its title, it’s not just a list of the questions you’re asked on the regular, and instead requires a great deal of empathy to really get right.

I won't go into too much detail on FAQs. Jarratt already wrote a pretty comprehensive guide on Creating a knowledge base from scratch and included a section about getting started with an FAQ. I highly recommend reading it. 🙃

The thing is, the format of your self-service in itself is isn’t really important.

A simple product with a single function and no user accounts probably doesn't require much documentation. On the flip side, a complex product with user accounts and a confusing unique interface will probably have pages and pages of instructions—and it's likely to graduate from the FAQ stage pretty quickly.

As I said, the format is not really important. What’s important is whether that format is commensurate to the size of your user base, customer list, and complexity of your documentation.

My Selfish Quest for Self-Service

You might have realized by now that I'm not really interested in selling knowledge base software for the sake of it. My motivation is far more simple than that: I hate being forced to contact people, and therefore find myself on a quest to encourage more companies into self-service.

To be honest, I’m one of those annoying people who would rather try and find a solution myself, or continue struggling without one.

I know this is probably super frustrating for people focused on reducing churn rates, but the truth is I rarely even bother getting in touch with a support team anymore.

I’d rather find answers to questions for myself. If you don't provide that self-serve solution—be it in the form of an easy-to-find FAQ answer or a knowledge base article—chances are I’ll go elsewhere. 🤷