The help desk knowledge base is a library of valuable articles available for access by help desk technicians and end-users being supported by those technicians. It is usually managed by the IT team but can sometimes be updated by end-users or a documentation team. A knowledge base, when implemented correctly, can be a crucial part of operating a world class help desk. In this article, we will discuss how to build a help desk knowledge base.

In any company, there could be times when the help desk receives an overflow of tickets. As the inflow of tickets rises, chances are that some percentage of the help desk tickets received will be about issues that help desk technicians have resolved in the past for other users. Without a knowledge base and a staff that is familiar with utilizing it, your technicians will be spending time troubleshooting issues which have already been solved previously. This results in wasted time, effort and ultimately money for your help desk operation as well as taking away time that your technicians could be spending working on more critical problems.

A comprehensive knowledge base can help resolve this issue. A knowledge base contains articles created from historical help desk ticket resolutions. Technicians can use this information to solve help desk tickets much more quickly. End users can also access and use this information without any support from the help desk. This empowers users to address some of their problems themselves. All of this saved time frees up help desk technicians to focus on more important issues or special projects.

Using help desk software with an integrated knowledge base will allow an IT team to create and maintain a valuable library of solutions and provide easy access for end users and help desk technicians alike.  

Types of Knowledge Base Content

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) articles answer the most common questions presented by users. The help desk team creates these articles using common questions from the history of help desk tickets. The FAQ is typically structured as a list of common questions and their answers, often with an index allowing users to browse the question-and-answer pairs that are available.

Troubleshooting articles typically address a single issue that end-users may face and contain details on how to go about resolving that issue. These articles are also usually created using data from resolved help desk tickets but may also come from external knowledge base systems for other products or from solutions found online that are relevant to your environment. Data from end-user surveys can sometimes be a valuable source of information for articles as well, especially for documenting non technical issues that may involve the way help desk services are requested or delivered. 

How-to articles are instructions on how to perform certain tasks. Articles in this format typically deal with configuration related program settings, installing software or recovering from a less serious error caused by an end user’s own mistake. These articles usually focus on step-by-step instructions meant to guide the user through accomplishing the specific task. 

For help desk technicians, previously-handled help desk tickets can be a valuable asset. Resolved help desk ticket solutions can help technicians gather data and ideas for similar tickets, review data regarding actions performed, software and tools utilized, and how much time was involved in the fix. When all of these things are documented in knowledge base articles, the help desk team can benefit greatly from this information. 

A tale of two types articles

In any organization there are usually solutions that are easy for an end user to follow and that are perfectly safe for them to attempt on their own. On the flip side, there are also issues that no end user should attempt on their own or that the help desk and IT staff are not comfortable with end users attempting. For this reason, it is a help desk best practice to separate internal, IT staff only articles from external, safe for end users to try articles. Help desk technicians will rarely need to discuss issues in layman’s terms which allows them to describe much more technical solutions in internal articles. End-users on the other hand will seldom need or want access to highly-technical or sensitive information and typically prefer easier to understand solutions. Understanding the difference between the information needs of the help desk vs. end users and how that information is documented will help organize your knowledge base and ensure the proper articles are available to the proper users. 

Internal Knowledge Base Articles

An internal knowledge base article is designed to assist the help desk team resolve tickets. The internal knowledge base helps new help desk employees learn quickly and allows team members to share technical information with each other. When properly utilized, internal knowledge base articles will help the help desk team save time by avoiding having to re-discover solutions or spend time on actions that will not provide an optimal solution to the presented problem. Internal knowledge base articles are a private catalog of articles that only the help desk staff should be able to access. 

External Knowledge Base Articles

An external knowledge base article focuses on helping the end-user. The goal of maintaining an external knowledge base is to give end-users access to common solutions they can solve themselves without requiring the intervention of a help desk technician. The data in external knowledge base articles should be presented in a way that non-technical users can understand and have instructions that are easy to follow. The information in an external knowledge base article should be free of sensitive company information and be written with the end-user in mind. These articles should present technical solutions in a way that is as simple to understand as possible and avoid covering issues with too technical of a solution or where any small error performing the solution could compromise the user’s system or company security if not performed correctly. Typically low risk configuration how-to articles are the best type of articles to provide directly to users. 

Structuring a Knowledge Base

The goal of a knowledge base should be to make it simple for users to find pertinent information. A well-structured knowledge base will include categories and subcategories of topics, provide understandable categorization for articles and easy navigation. The structure, articles, and design should also be consistent throughout the knowledge base. The knowledge base should also include a search option through which users can type in keywords of the topic and quickly find relevant articles.

Best Practices for a Better Knowledge Base

Assign a Knowledge Base Manager

Assigning a dedicated resource to manage the knowledge base is crucial to keeping the knowledge base current and useful. Knowledge base managers should include new content, edit and archive old content, structure the knowledge base, construct a consistent design and tone throughout the knowledge base, and ensure relevant keywords are present in the articles. These tasks, when performed properly, will greatly reduce the amount of time it takes for end-users and help desk technicians to find what they need.

Keep the Content Easy-To-Understand

Data in the knowledge base should be as clear and concise as possible for both the end-user and the help desk staff. Articles should minimize any fluff and only adequately address the topic being covered. Care should also be taken to ensure the content is written for the technical level of the reader. It is ok to have more technical articles for help desk technicians while being careful to provide slightly less complicated and less technical solutions for end-users. Of course this could vary depending on your organization but this is something that should be carefully considered. 

Update the Knowledge Base Regularly

Keeping the knowledge base up-to-date is critical. Information, features, and solutions change over time and updating the Knowledge base as new information becomes available is key to a useful knowledge base. A combination of scheduled updates and high-priority updates for critical issues will ensure that the information in the knowledge base remains useful to both the end-user and the help desk technicians.

Utilize Resolved Help Desk Tickets to Build the Knowledge Base

Resolved help desk tickets are a gold mine of useful information. This is especially the case when the help desk ticket pertains to a common problem that affects multiple users. The information in help desk tickets can be used to create content in the knowledge base so the help desk team and end users can both benefit from the solutions discovered solving those tickets.

Leverage Help Desk Software to Manage the External Knowledge Base

Selecting the right help desk software can make managing your knowledge base easier. Track-It! help desk software can help with this task by providing functionality for a self-service web portal that external users can access and search for self-service solutions as well as a mechanism for restricting internal articles to access only by help desk technicians. Track-It! also allows searching the contents of help desk tickets themselves in addition to the knowledge base which can help technicians find solutions to more obscure problems more quickly. This type of functionality can greatly benefit any help desk team.

Define Technical Terms When They’re Unavoidable in External Knowledge Base Articles

When it comes to technical terms in the external knowledge base, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid them when possible. When using alternative terms or language is not possible, technical terms must be clearly explained so that less technical users can understand their meaning. Sometimes this will provide new and useful information to an end-user. It is critical for the user to understand the terminology or it may cause confusion and prevent them from being able to follow the article. In most cases, a few sentences will suffice to explain a term or acronym. When this is not the case, consider creating a separate short article for the term in question and then a link to that article can be included whenever necessary. If an article being targeted for the external knowledge base contains too many technical terms, that may be a red flag that the article is really not meant for end user consumption. When this happens, simply flipping the article from a public article to a private one for helpdesk users only is usually the best option. A good knowledge base system should allow you to easily flip articles from public to private and vice versa. 

Proofread Articles and Proofread Them Again

There is a significant difference between stripping out excessive technical jargon from an article and neglecting proper syntax and punctuation. Before publishing an article for your knowledge base, be sure to proofread it at least twice for misspelled words, incorrect punctuation, overall flow, and other potential problems. It is also a good idea to have someone technical review the article for technical correctness. If the article is meant for the external end user knowledge base, it is a good idea to have a non technical user review the solution to see if they are able understand the steps and follow them. Having the correct technical information is critical for every knowledge base article to be useful but if the reader is constantly distracted by grammar or spelling errors, that can also greatly detract from its usefulness. Poor quality articles can also cause users to lose faith in the knowledge base in general and lead to users not utilizing the resource at all. If users don’t use the knowledge base, all the time and effort creating, reviewing and updating the articles is wasted effort and the potential time savings for the help desk staff from having a high quality knowledge base will never be realized. It is critical that the content be written carefully, using proper grammar, correct punctuation, and be reviewed regularly to ensure the content is up to date.  

A well-maintained knowledge base is a priceless asset for the help desk as well as the entire organization. Recording common problems, actions, and knowledge for future access reduces the time that help desk technicians spend solving the same problems in the future. Making the information easy to access for end users gives them the ability to troubleshoot many of their own issues which saves them and the help desk time. Track-It! help desk software provides multiple functions that simplify a help desk team’s effort to create, publish and maintain a successful knowledge base and can help you optimize your help desk operation.

Cris Coffey

Cris Coffey

Cris is the Principal Product Manager for Track-It! and BMC Client Management. Track-It! is a help desk software application designed for small to medium sized businesses and Client Management is an End Point Management software application designed for Medium to Large sized businesses.