5 Signs That Your Knowledge Base Is Failing

Implementing a knowledge base has become one of those things support providers know they need to do, but often they’re not sure how to do it well, or they try hard but aren’t sure if their knowledge base is achieving its desired result. A well-built knowledge base can show success in two common factors:

  • End users are able to find information and solutions to the issues they are having.
  • More complex issues can be easily resolved at the first tier of support.

It doesn’t matter whether the knowledge base is provided by IT, HR or another service provider, knowledge and self-service provide the ability to scale support and provide a higher level of satisfaction by offering immediate answers to consumers.

Another important factor about knowledge bases that are just beginning to be realized is that they underpin chatbot capabilities, so without knowledge, this innovation is out of reach. 

If you’ve already implemented a knowledge base, how do you know if it’s successful? Here are five signs that could indicate your knowledge base is failing. Keys to turning each around is provided.


Sign 1 Sign 2 Sign 3 Sign 4 Sign 5
Low Customer Adoption Low First Tier Resolution No Contribution by Level 2 Staff High Staff Turnover Continual Staff Increases Needed


Sign 1: Low Customer Adoption

While many knowledge bases are started at a service desk to help the analysts provide better support, more and more organizations are beginning to take knowledge bases out to their consumers. This is true of IT and HR to a large degree, but other providers will soon follow suit if they haven’t already started. The problem is, just making knowledge public doesn’t guarantee success. Thus, the biggest sign your knowledge base is failing is low customer adoption. 

Low adoption can occur for several reasons:

  • Insufficient marketing of the portal and/or knowledge use.
  • Not using ticket-deflection techniques that push knowledge to an end-user when they enter a question or short description.
  • Not putting a search bar up front and center on the portal.
  • Not providing knowledge that is helpful to the end-user, the customer/employee.
  • Not providing enough answers, having limited knowledge.


Fixing low adoption: To fix the problem, it’s critical to know the source, which takes metrics. Most knowledge bases now include feedback loops that enable knowledge base users to rate an article, flag it as “not helpful” and comment on why. This is a critical component and should be added if it’s not in use today.

To raise general adoption, add a marketing campaign around knowledge and start tracking knowledge usage, to see if it is increasing. Two areas to look at are the total number of knowledge searches and the number of knowledge searches that return no results. Work on improving knowledge so that the first number keeps growing and the second number keeps going down.


Use reports offering details on the unsuccessful searches to provide information on what information people need. This can be used to help target the knowledge team on which articles they need to write, helping prioritize the work.


Sign 2: Low first-tier resolution

There can be two reasons for low first-tier resolution: the quality of the knowledge they have accessible to them or they’re not using the knowledge that is available. Many service management systems provide the ability to instantly search the knowledge base on entering a short description, making it hard for the tier one analysts to avoid it. They also provide the ability to attach the articles used to the incident being logged. Configuring incident management to make use of both of these features helps in the following ways:

  • The service desk manager can review incidents that were referred outside of the service desk to see if certain agents are ignoring knowledge articles routinely.
  • Attaching knowledge articles can make public-facing answers available to the end-user via the portal, by enabling it to be displayed with the incident. This can be incorporated into the call process to help drive up customer adoption.

Increasing first-tier resolution: To fix this issue, steps need to be taken to determine whether knowledge is ignored or unavailable. Escalation reasons and resolution codes can help. When an incident is reassigned to a second level team, include a drop-down reason code that the first-tier can use to indicate why they couldn’t use knowledge to fix the problem. Include choices such as:

  • No knowledge found on a common issue.
  • Existing knowledge didn’t work.
  • New known error.

Resolution codes can also be added for tier two to confirm this selection:

  • Knowledge used to resolve.
  • Tier 2 level knowledge used to resolve.
  • Knowledge article drafted.
  • Problem ticket opened.

When tier-two finds knowledge after tier one does not, it confirms the need to coach the service desk to use knowledge consistently. When there is no knowledge, tier-two should be incented to write a knowledge article and the ability to track new known errors resulting in problems being opened is an additional metric that’s beneficial to improvement efforts. A similar approach can be used by non-IT teams, just leaving out the technical selections of “new known error” and “problem ticket opened” or stating them in generic terms like “improvement opportunity logged.”


Sign 3: Little contribution outside of the Service Desk

When the second or third level teams don’t contribute knowledge articles, the level of support provided may not be sufficient to drive adoption. The only answers are very basic things many end users can get off the Internet or figure out if they spend a few minutes on the issue themselves. The Service Desk may be able to provide additional articles, but not at a much higher level unless they’re a very advanced team. Given this, the most useful articles will come from subject matter experts. 

Fixing the low contribution issue: This is a bit of a vicious circle: adoption is poor due to the quality of articles included in the knowledge base, while subject matter experts feel there’s no point in wasting time writing articles. This is where knowledge needs to become a management-level initiative, potentially supported with gamification. Gamification of knowledge initiatives is on the horizon, soon to be a trend.


Sign 4: High Staff Turnover

One of the reasons for staff turnover is dissatisfaction with the work environment. When people have the tools they need to get the job done, they accomplish better results, increasing their overall satisfaction with the job. Service portals that enable employees to get the support they need from any department and enable them to make requests of any department help drive up satisfaction levels by making it easier for people to get answers and produce results. 

The same is true at the service desk: having workarounds available makes it far easier to resolve issues and resolving issues raises their satisfaction level with the job. For these two reasons, high staff turnover could be a sign that it takes too long for people to obtain support for simple problems, resulting in frustration and higher levels of dissatisfaction. This is why many HR organizations have robust knowledge bases even if they are in tools that make it hard to find the knowledge, they understand its importance.

Fixing the high turnover issue: By taking knowledge management seriously and engaging in an appropriate initiative: either improving internal knowledge or starting an employee/customer-facing initiative if there is only an internally used knowledge base in place.


Sign  5: Staff Increases needed

When knowledge management is working well, and robust knowledge bases exist that are easy to find, search or which offer knowledge up during logging requests for support, adoption increases. As organizations continue to focus on self-service through knowledge management initiatives and automation, end users can self-resolve or self-fulfill their needs in growing numbers. The result should be a decrease in calls, emails and support tickets being logged to the service desk and fulfillment teams. Thus, staffing needs should stabilize or decrease, allowing the staff to focus on adding more self-service opportunities. If this is not happening, and call volumes are increasing, it’s a sign the knowledge base is failing.

Fixing the growing staff issue: Get serious about a knowledge management initiative! For organizations that are immature in self-service and knowledge, or don’t have a formal initiative, this is the call to action. This is an area where the right tools, those that include the ability to build knowledge and integrate it into support processes both at the service desk and in the service portal can make a real difference. They make it easy to get started, but still require you to also make a strategic decision to empower your company with a great knowledge base solution that’s easy for everyone to use.

Cover Image by Swetha Kanithi