Internal knowledge base: A guide

Share the gift of knowledge company-wide for higher customer and employee satisfaction.

A guide to the best internal knowledge base

Your business is a treasure trove of information — but keeping it all stored in your employees’ email inboxes (and brains) is time-wasting and risky. Having an internal knowledge base makes all of that information accessible to anyone who needs it by compiling it onto a single platform. With the right internal knowledge base software, this repository of information can empower your workforce to find their own solutions.

In this guide, we’ll explain the basics of using an internal KB, how to create an internal knowledge base for your company, and what to look for when shopping around for internal knowledge base tools.

What is an internal knowledge base?

An internal knowledge base is precisely what it sounds like — a knowledge base for internal use within your company. It’s like a digital library or encyclopedia of your business’s information, organized in such a way that makes it easy for employees and team members to find what they need quickly. Without an internal KB, employees would have to reach out to colleagues with every single question, or dig through mounds of documents and data — which can seriously drive down productivity.

There’s nothing wrong with fostering a work culture in which employees help each other with their questions. But you also need to optimize your workforces’ time. An internal knowledge base helps ensure that questions get answered with the most relevant, accurate information, without monopolizing anyone’s schedule.

What is the purpose of an internal knowledge base?

Just as your customers may need an online knowledge base to educate themselves on your product or service, employees need an internal knowledge base to help them perform their jobs. Having a customer-facing knowledge base helps your clients find their own solutions, which reduces the number of calls to your customer service team. In the same way, having an internal knowledge base for your employees ensures that all of your employees are working with accurate, up-to-date information — without having to run around the office asking for it.

Where can a company create an internal knowledge base?

An internal knowledge base is a software program, either on-premise or in the cloud, that serves as a digital library of all the information your employees could possibly need. There are software programs designed exclusively for knowledge base functions, as well as end-to-end software suites that offer internal knowledge base tools as an additional feature.

When deciding how to set up a company knowledge base, you have two options for where the software tool is operating. If you opt for on-premise software, the internal knowledge base tool will be installed directly onto your computer hardware, and run on your own servers. These programs typically involve higher up-front costs, and require devoted IT expertise to maintain and update the software as needed. On the other hand, SaaS programs — software as a service — are run on the software provider’s servers, and operated by the user through an internet browser or app.

What are some advantages of an internal knowledge base?

  1. Shorter wait time for solutions

    No one likes to be put on hold. Especially when “one brief moment” turns into several agonizing minutes while an agent goes searching for answers. Now, imagine that scenario if that same agent could turn to an internal KB full of vetted answers to customer FAQs. When customer-facing employees have to wait for their information, those minutes get passed on to the customer — and with every long minute that goes by, their dissatisfaction grows. Eliminating wait time is one of the best ways to increase productivity and churn out solution after solution.

  2. Faster onboarding

    An internal knowledge base isn’t just great for customers — it’s a powerful resource for your entire team. We’ve all been new at a company and felt like we were starting from scratch. An internal KB is the first day of work gift that keeps on giving.

    There’s no need to waste time fumbling for information that’s out there. Whether it’s information about employee benefits or holiday schedules, your team can find answers quickly and focus on what matters — their work.

  3. Less employee frustration

    Confusion leads to frustration, and frustration leads to poor performance. When employees are forced to run around in circles hunting for the information they need, they can quickly become dissatisfied with their position — they may even get snippy with customers.

    Having a company knowledge base provides a clear route for problem-solving, which reduces frustration and improves both employee and customer satisfaction. And while maintaining an accurate knowledge base involves some work on your part, the time and frustration saved by having a clear avenue for problem-solving more than makes up for the effort it requires to keep it organized and accessible.

  4. Reduced HR workload

    In addition to using your internal knowledge base to give support to your existing customer service skills, internal KB software can be used as a repository of personal information related to your employment. Instead of reaching out to members of your HR team for sensitive information like company policies and payroll, all of that information can be housed securely through your company’s internal knowledge base. That’s less strain on your HR team and less time wasted by employees trying to track them down.

  5. Increased accuracy and standardization of information

    The ad hoc approach of providing internal information — in which every employee has “their own system” — does not work. From duplicating work to burying important data, it’s impossible to update that kind of system with the most recent and accurate information.

    With an internal knowledge base, the information is vetted by the best sources within your company, and approved for access to specific teams and users. This means that not only can you retrieve what you need quickly, you can operate with more confidence knowing that the information has been approved. Because the last thing you want to do is handle a situation with a customer using an outdated method you learned from a random employee who left years ago.

  6. Higher customer satisfaction

    In the end, the customer is the most important part of the equation. Even though your customers will never see a single pixel of your internal knowledge base, they’ll certainly be able to feel its effects. Customer service teams using an internal KB are better equipped to field customer questions quickly, troubleshoot problems with success, and handle interactions with frustration-free helpfulness.

    Whether your agent is supporting a customer in real-time by phone or responding to a support ticket, the knowledge an internal KB contains allows your agents to give customers exactly what they want — a quick resolution to their problem.

What is the difference between an internal and external knowledge base?

The difference is in who has access. Your external knowledge base is for customers or other curious users wanting to know more about your business, product, or service. For this reason, you need to be careful not to post too much information in your external knowledge base — or your competitors might be able to leverage it for their own use.

An internal knowledge base may contain some of the same information, such as how the product works, how to troubleshoot, or what steps to take if something goes wrong. But your internal knowledge base will also contain much more data that your customers — and your competitors — never need to know. Plus, internal knowledge bases tend to have many more permissions settings, which control who can see what based on their role within the company.

What should be included in the internal knowledge base?

Now that you know what an internal KB is for, you may be wondering — what does an internal knowledge base look like?

What to include in your internal knowledge base is entirely up to you and what your teams need to be as productive as possible. Some of the most common information stored in a company’s internal KB are:

  • Basic company information. Location, website, stock symbols, procedure handbooks, safety policies, company announcements and newsletters, etc.
  • Onboarding & training. Policies for new hires, onboarding paperwork and protocols, and training materials specific to each new role.
  • Tech assistance. Device and software setup, IT troubleshooting, tech stack information, security, etc.
  • Personnel directory. A comprehensive list of the chain of command, contact details, and team structures.
  • Calendars & events. Important dates, holidays, milestones, and events.
  • Employee compensation & benefits. Paystubs, medical and dental insurance coverage information, PTO policies, parental leave permissions, etc.
  • Department-specific information. Team goals and statistics, processes, and troubleshooting guides, etc.
  • Customer issue resolutions. A collection of the best answers to the most commonly asked customer questions, easy-to-follow instructions for fixing issues, and notes from other customer service reps.

How to create an internal knowledge base?

  1. Know where and what the questions are. The first step is to perform an internal audit to discover where the disconnect exists between your employees and the information they need. Look at the average duration of your onboarding and training periods, average wait times in your call center, and even employee complaints to HR. Seeing where the most requests for information are coming from is key to knowing what tools you’ll need to answer them efficiently.
  2. Research your options. There are many internal KB software tools out there, but not every platform is going to be right for your business. Do a deep dive into user reviews, package prices and features, and scaling capabilities. Make a list of features, recommendations from business partners, and budgetary restraints that might limit your options.
  3. Strategize your approach. Once you have a solid grasp on the best internal knowledge base software options, it’s time to do a little matching up with your needs from Step #1. Prioritize your needs, then make a list of the software features and functions you believe would best help to serve them. One key factor to keep in mind is integration. If you’re currently using a CRM or end-to-end customer service platform, you’ll want to make sure that your internal KB tool can integrate with it for ease of use and functionality.
  4. Select an internal knowledge base software tool. Having done your research and prioritized your needs, you’ll finally have to make the big leap. One way to soften the landing is to test drive software — if they offer a free trial period. This is a fantastic way of making sure your chosen software tool is actually a good fit. If the implementation is smooth sailing, you’ve found your platform.
  5. Build your knowledge base… then keep building. Once you’ve selected your platform and revved it up, it’s time to build. This will include determining user permissions, since not every employee should have access to every piece of company data. It will also include importing all of your company information from wherever it’s currently stored — even if that’s in people’s heads. The best internal knowledge base software will make it easy to create and organize your knowledge base — in fact, you may end up using the software provider’s knowledge base to build your own!

What issues are you looking to solve with internal knowledge base software?

Your internal knowledge base should be a one-stop centralized location for seeking answers. For customer service reps, this means it should contain the answers for any question a customer might ask as well. If a customer calls to inquire how to use a brand new product, the agent doesn’t have to rely on their memory from that morning’s staff meeting — they can simply consult their internal KB and provide a quick, accurate answer.

Customers may ask questions about how to troubleshoot their product, process a return, or figure out any number of queries that are specific to your product or service. Providing your customer service reps with a knowledge base means they don’t have to dig through emails for answers, ask a coworker, or give an inaccurate answer just for the sake of limiting the customer’s wait time.

Aside from providing lightning fast answers to customers, here are some the most common issues solved by having an internal KB tool:

  • Disorganized and lengthy onboarding and training periods.
  • Messy or nonexistent collaboration and data sharing between teams
  • Overwhelmed HR with questions about the same issues.
  • Senior employees constantly fielding the same questions from junior colleagues.
  • Team members using their email inbox as their repository for information.
  • Team members using different methods to solve the same problems, with varying degrees of success.

How to structure an internal knowledge base?

Using an internal knowledge base isn’t as simple as importing all of your information and letting the software do the organizing. You still need to determine a structure for how you’re going to organize your information, so that when someone needs a quick answer, they can find it in just a few easy steps.

If your company has a variety of employee-types, you can structure your KB by roles. This would let you create a separate internal knowledge place for full-time employees, part-time, and contractors. Or, if your product or service contains a lot of steps, you could structure your internal KB by activity, which can provide clear step-by-step guides to the entire process. If you have a long list of products, you can organize your KB by product type, so that when customers call with a question, your customer service reps have a complete source of information about every component.

Who will manage and/or write articles for your internal knowledge base?

Once you’ve made the decision to implement internal knowledge base software into your operations, you’ll need to appoint a team to write and manage it. This internal knowledge base team should be composed of team members who can coordinate with employees across the organization, write succinct articles that are factually correct, and devise a way to organize and update all of that information regularly.

It’s a knowledge administrator or manager’s job to delegate the writing and managing of all the company’s information within the knowledge base. This individual should have a broad range of visibility into every department within your organization.

Who should have access and editing capabilities for each part of the knowledge base?

Unlike Wikipedia, your internal knowledge base shouldn’t be open to edits or contributions from just anyone. When structuring the company knowledge base, the knowledge administrator sets permissions that grant or deny access to certain areas of the internal KB. They can also assign editing capabilities to different employees, allowing them to create, modify, or delete information in an area of their greatest expertise.

Do you need to be able to provide content in multiple languages?

Your internal knowledge base should be available in whatever languages are used by your team members, whether they’re full-time, part-time, contractors. If you need a knowledge base with multiple language options, make sure you know exactly what those languages are. Then, when shopping around for the best internal knowledge base software, double-check with providers to make sure they can provide the language support you need most.

How to optimize your internal knowledge base?

When creating an internal knowledge base, you may experience some growing pains as you continue finding out what works and what doesn’t. One of the best ways to optimize your internal KB is to get feedback from its users. Conduct regular surveys that allow employees to speak frankly about where the system is meeting expectations, and where it’s falling short. Then, using that feedback, you can incrementally improve your internal knowledge base.

You can also track analytics to get feedback on how well the program is working. If wait times for customer service interactions are just as long as they were before implementation, you may need to strategize and optimize specifically within the customer service realm to bring those wait times down.

Another way to optimize your internal KB is to add different mediums of content. For instance, you may find that for some explanations, a video tutorial will be more helpful than a step-by-step written guidebook.

How would you categorize your content?

The less knowledge you have to sift through to find your answer, the better. That’s why the simplest way to categorize your internal knowledge base is to divide it up by departments. For instance, you can have an internal KB for human resources, a separate one for customer service, another for sales, etc. The key is to only make the information available that is relevant to the user’s responsibilities, and not clutter their knowledge base with information they’ll never need to know.

How will you use keywords to make your content easy to find?

You can optimize your content by including keyword-dense articles that boost traffic. By including keywords that are relevant to the article topic, you can drive higher volumes of visitors to specific articles, while still providing them with the information they need. That way, when they enter a particular question into the search field, all of the best articles containing those keywords will appear as results. Then, the users can scan the results and deduce which article probably contains the answer they’re looking for.

What kind of content will you create again and again?

The kind of content you’ll create depends on your organization’s processes and needs. Most content will come in the form of articles. When you’re just starting out with creating an internal knowledge base, you’ll probably write articles that provide simple answers to the most frequently asked questions in the company. From there, your library of articles and content can grow to include videos, step-by-step troubleshooting guides, sales presentations, policy information, annual reports, training materials, calendars, and more.

Your company knowledge base team will feel after a while that they’re writing the same answers over and over again, but with slight variations. For instance, you may have a line of products that are all very similar, but with slight differences between each iteration. Writing a separate article to describe each product from scratch would be tedious and time-consuming, which is why many internal KB teams opt to use templates.

When you look at the favored articles, were they considered helpful, or were people trying to solve a different but similar issue?

Sometimes you’ll find that the most-often viewed articles don’t really solve much — but they do provide a gateway to the anwer. Some articles won’t solve issues so much as point users to where the solution actually is, which is still helpful in its own way. This can be done by placing internal links throughout your articles, rather like a Wikipedia page. Then, you can track activity in your internal knowledge base to determine if the most trafficked articles are actually solving problems, or if it’s simply a good jumping off point.

How to choose the best internal knowledge base software?

When choosing an internal knowledge base tool for your business, here are some criteria and factors to consider:

  • Do you want on-premise or cloud software? Remember that on-premise or self-hosted software requires more up front expenses, as well as having a dedicated IT for maintenance and security. An internal knowledge base operating in the cloud, however, can be accessed from any compatible device, and has a monthly or annual subscription package.
  • What is your team’s IT capability? If you have some coding wizards on your team, you can always opt for a free open source internal knowledge base. This is a cost effective option that’s good for companies that want more customization options for their internal knowledge base tools. Another cost effective option is an end-to-end help center software like Zendesk, which offers a complete internal knowledge base solution in addition to its many other customer-centric features.
  • What devices do your employees use? Depending on where your employees are working from, they may not always have access to a desktop computer. In this case, it might be best to opt for software that has mobile device capability.
  • How user-friendly is the platform? If you’ve done all of your research and chosen a platform, it’s best to give it a test drive before making a commitment. Testing out a platform for a few days — and really dedicating some hours to learning how it works — will give you a better idea of its user-friendliness than any online review can.
  • All-in-one customer service platforms like Zendesk are best for keeping all customer care tools accessible from a single point of entry. Zendesk’s cloud-based system lets businesses build a knowledge base that their team can access from anywhere, and it’s user-friendly enough for users to implement quickly. It also has mobile capability which allows teams to search for solutions from devices besides their computers, which is becoming increasingly important as more teams make shifts to hybrid work paradigms.

    Zendesk makes it easy to create and track tickets, seek out solutions to customer issues, and ensure everyone is working with the most accurate information company-wide. Plus, its intuitive interface is a welcome feature compared to other more complex platforms that can take long to learn and implement.

Frequently asked questions

Does any tool on the market have all the features required to create an internal knowledge base?

There’s a wide range of knowledge base features and functionalities, and you’ll find a different assortment on each platform. Not only will the best internal knowledge base software platforms provide the most basic features such as a fast search engine and library database, they’ll also include options for posting different mediums of content, like videos and .gifs.

What kind of information is captured in a company knowledge base?

To be blunt — anything. Whatever information you feel will help employees perform their job with greater efficiency can be included in your company knowledge base. Most often, however, the internal KB includes in-depth information about products, step-by-step troubleshooting directions or tutorials, department goals and targets, employee payroll and HR information, and department- and company-wide policies and procedures.

Will you be able to measure how employees are using the knowledge base?

Yes. If your internal knowledge base software has analytics and dashboard features, you should be able to view how your team is using it. This will let you measure the platform’s effectiveness, and provide clues as to where further optimizations may be needed.

Ready for your internal knowledge base?

Now you know an internal knowledge base is exactly what your company needs to support both employees and customers. Before your stress, there’s no need to worry about how to build an internal KB from scratch. You’ve got us for that.

Zendesk's internal knowledge base software is intuitive and easy to use, and it’s built for employees at all levels. Zendesk allows support teams to create a robust internal knowledge base that grows and improves over time, making sure support agents always have quick access to the information they need.

Beyond an internal knowledge base, Zendesk helps you manage and streamline all employee support interactions into one organized location. Plus, our analytics and dashboards enable your HR and IT teams to make better decisions about what’s working for both your customers and employees.