Internal vs External Knowledge Bases (And Why You Need Both)

Steph Lundberg
Steph Lundberg
January 23, 2024

A great knowledge base can be a power-up for your customer service team and your customers. 

That’s because a knowledge base equips anyone who uses it with information so that they’re empowered to act – to answer a question, fix a problem, or level up their product knowledge.

But what’s the difference between an internal and external knowledge base, and do you really need both?

What’s the difference between an internal and external knowledge base?

Internal and external knowledge bases both lead to better customer experiences; they just get there from different directions.

So to answer the question above: yes, you absolutely do need both!

Internal Knowledge Bases

  1. Your employees are the audience

With an internal knowledge base, your employees are the main audience. It’s the single source for the accurate and up-to-date information that every team member needs to do their work confidently.

For instance, an internal knowledge base is a natural place for company policies and information about benefits.

It can even be a good place for other resources like company updates and announcements.

2. Share and document product knowledge

It’s also the best way to document and share product knowledge efficiently. Your support, engineering, and product team are all experts in their work, and an internal knowledge base allows them to drive clarity and understanding so that everyone can build your product and serve your customers.

External Knowledge Bases

  1. Self service by customers

While the primary aim of an internal knowledge base is to make sharing information across your company more effective and efficient, the objective of an external knowledge base is to be a self-service resource for your customers. 

In other words, it’s there any time your customers need help, so they don’t have to contact you unless they really want to. 

2. Help customers manage their accounts

External knowledge bases are also often called help centers or customer knowledge bases, and you’ve probably seen these terms used interchangeably. Regardless of the name you use, an external knowledge base allows your customers to learn how to use your product, how to get the most out of it, and how to troubleshoot issues whenever they run into a problem.

A good help center will also include other information, such as your billing and subscription options, refund and return policies, and everything customers need to manage their accounts.

Now that we understand how internal and external knowledge bases differ, let’s dig into why they’re both important to your business.

Benefits of an internal knowledge base

Increased efficiency

Having an internal knowledge base as the single source of truth saves your employees time. 

McKinsey has found that the average worker spends 20% of their time either looking for information or for a colleague who can help them complete a task, but that having a single, searchable source of information can cut that time by as much as 35%.

Another study by Panopto translated that time into actual numbers. If your team knows exactly where to find the details they need or the name of the person who can help them, that’s potentially 5.3 hours they can save every single week — time they would have had to spend hunting down or waiting for that information.

Efficiency is essential for customer support and customer success teams. Both teams work directly with customers and need to provide quick, trustworthy assistance.

Agents don’t have time to waste looking for the correct answer in multiple documents across different platforms — that’s a sure recipe for creating frustrated customers. 

A central source of knowledge like an internal knowledge base is a must-have.

Improved employee engagement

A reliable, easy-to-access internal knowledge base makes it easier for agents to engage with the content and each other. It helps your team members feel capable and adept at their jobs, which is motivating and engagenting.

This is particularly true when agents can get information without leaving the tool they’re in, such as with Tettra’s Slack integration.

Support agents can ask questions and share answers from your Tettra wiki all in the same Slack conversation. They can also add content to your Tettra wiki right from Slack. 

Over 80% of employees have said they get frustrated when they can’t find or access the information they need to do their jobs; readily-available knowledge base content can help you avoid that frustration altogether.

Enhanced collaboration and learning

Internal knowledge bases foster a knowledge sharing culture, so support agents are empowered to grow their knowledge and share what they know so their team can grow, too.

Features like Tettra’s Q&A tool help agents and team leads create answers to common questions from the team. They can also work together to identify gaps in the knowledge base and request new pages in Tettra from specific experts.

When your support and success teams aren’t wasting time looking for the knowledge they need to help customers, they can spend more time working together to create and document knowledge instead.

Greater cost savings

Internal knowledge base software serves as a critical onboarding and training tool. 

Providing thorough product documentation and reference material decreases the time it takes to get a new support agent from training to the queue. It also shows new and existing agents that you’re invested in their success.

A study by Brandon Hall Group found that a high-quality onboarding experience increases employee productivity by over 70% and retention by over 80%.

Improved problem-solving capabilities

Documenting common issues in your internal knowledge base (or internal KB) means that your support team can move past trying to solve the same problems over and over. Since they’ve been seen before and solutions are documented, your team can quickly resolve those issues and move on. 

Because of the time saved, when new and previously unknown issues or bugs pop up, your support team has extra time to focus on troubleshooting them, solving them, and then documenting the solution so that the next agent has the tools they need to solve the problem.

It’s a never-ending cycle that makes life better for everyone. 

Improved customer service

All of the benefits we covered above mean that your support team can deliver what’s most important: excellent customer service.

Internal knowledge bases make for more confident support agents, faster troubleshooting, and more trustworthy solutions. Agents can spend less time looking for information and help and more working one-on-one with customers, giving them the customer experience they deserve.

How do you structure an internal knowledge base?

The structure of your internal knowledge base will depend heavily on your company’s structure and your employees’ needs.

Having said that, here are two common ways that companies structure their knowledge bases:

  • By team/division. Each team has its own category, and then information is divided up into sections under that. So you might see it organized like this:
    • People Ops > Company Handbook > Security Policy
    • Customer Support > Troubleshooting > iOS App > Restarting the app
  • By theme. The knowledge base is categorized under overarching topics, and further divided up into relevant sections. So you might see it organized like this:
    • Company Information > Company Handbook > Security Policy
    • iOS App > Troubleshooting > Restarting the app

For a deeper dive, check out this guide on the best practices to structure your internal knowledge base.

Benefits of an external knowledge base

Increased visibility and branding

Offering a help center shows your customers that you value their time and their preferences. Nearly 80% of customers say they view companies more positively if they provide a self-service option for support.

Pause for a second: When you’re having an issue with a product or service, what’s the first thing you do?

If you’re like most people, you probably search Google or YouTube for a solution. This highlights another major benefit of external help centers: it allows you to put solutions where your customers are looking for them. 

By having a robust external knowledge base that’s optimized for search engines, you’re positioning your company’s verified resources as the right answers to their questions. The increased web traffic and engagement from these searches and clicks can also lead to other positive impacts for your business, like increasing your site’s authority and generating new business.

Reduced costs

Zendesk found that 67% of customers prefer trying to solve an issue themselves before reaching out to a support team and that 91% would use a knowledge base if one were available.

Customers are motivated to help themselves — do you really want to force them to reach out to your team?

Maybe in select situations — like super complex issues — but, by and large, your customers and your business will be happier if you can enable self-service. By making a help center available, you’re deflecting support tickets and reducing the volume of requests in your support inbox. 

This means you can keep your ticket queue manageable and scale your customer support team far more efficiently.

Faster response and resolution times

There’s another benefit to self-service and having less tickets in your support queue: it means your support team will be freed up to focus on more meaningful issues — the ones that really require their attention. 

This extra bandwidth and focus means they can work together and with other teams to find solutions faster, without sacrificing quality. Solving issues quicker positively impacts customer satisfaction, so it’s a win for both your customers and your support team.

Improved customer support

As with an internal knowledge base, the ultimate goal – and benefit – of internal knowledge bases is better customer support

Taken together, each of the benefits mentioned above leads to a significantly better customer experience. The best customer support teams meet users on their preferred support channel (which is usually self-service), respond to customers promptly, and resolve issues quickly.

A thorough and updated external knowledge base enables you to achieve all of this and more. 

Get more tips on knowledge bases from Tettra:

Deliver great experiences with a knowledge base in Tettra

An internal knowledge base is a great way to share organizational knowledge. It gives your team the tools and info they need to do their jobs with confidence. 

An external one gives customers the freedom to find solutions themselves on their own time. 

Both help your company deliver top-notch service that creates happy customers and fosters brand loyalty.

Investing in building internal and external knowledge bases shows your team and customers you’re committed to helping them succeed. While it takes some time and effort to create processes for documenting and updating your knowledge base, it pays off in major ways for everyone involved. 

Tettra’s AI-powered knowledge management system makes all of this easier for your team, especially your support team.

Tettra is an intuitive platform for the creation, organization, and sharing of knowledge, and it integrates with all kinds of tools you’re probably already using.

With Tettra, your support team can have:

  1. Efficient Information Access: Tettra’s AI-powered knowledge base and advanced search capabilities enable support teams to quickly find accurate information, reducing response times and improving overall customer satisfaction.
  2. Streamlined Q&A Workflow: The Q&A feature in Tettra allows support teams to easily capture frequent customer questions and document comprehensive answers, enhancing the quality of support and reducing repetitive inquiries.
  3. Integrated Knowledge Management: With integrations to platforms like Slack, MS Teams, Google Docs, and GitHub, Tettra ensures that support teams have seamless access to essential information and documentation, enabling more effective collaboration and knowledge sharing.
  4. Content Verification and Expertise Utilization: Tettra’s content verification system, combined with the ability to designate “knowledge experts”, ensures that the information used by support teams is always accurate and up-to-date, thereby enhancing the reliability of support services.

Start your free trial of Tettra today!

Steph Lundberg is a writer and fractional Customer Support leader and consultant. When she’s not screaming into the void for catharsis, you can find her crafting, hanging with her kids, or spending entirely too much time on Tumblr. You can learn more about Steph’s work on her website.