Rebecca Lane

By: Rebecca Lane on December 24th, 2021

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Internal vs External Knowledge Base: When Should You Use Each?

Sometimes when I look at the different types of knowledge bases available, I feel like I’m comparing an orange and a tangerine. They seem so similar and yet I know that they are different.

And it gets frustrating distinguishing the differences. It’s one of the moments where you want to flip a coin so you don’t have to make a decision. But, I wouldn’t advise that.

As I’ve gained more understanding about knowledge bases working for ScreenSteps — a knowledge base software platform for both internal and customer-facing knowledge bases — I’ve learned what makes these different types of knowledge bases unique.

So, I’ve dived into the nuances of internal and external knowledge bases so that you can figure out which option is best for your company. (You’re welcome.)

Below, I cover the basic information about internal and external knowledge bases — what they are, who uses them, features, and more. Based on that information, I sum up when you should use each (or both) at the end of the article.

Internal knowledge base

An internal knowledge base is a software system that provides employees within your organization access to the confidential information they need to do their job. It is also known as a private knowledge base.

It is used to share sensitive information that helps your employees complete policies, procedures, and processes.

Who uses it?

Only employees who work directly for your company, or contractors you’ve hired, can access this knowledge base and the information inside it.

An internal knowledge base can be used company-wide to support many different departments. Some of the departments that could benefit from an internal knowledge base include:

  • Call centers
  • Human resources
  • Marketing
  • IT
  • Accounting
  • Sales
  • Training team
  • And more

Within your organization, many internal knowledge base software companies allow you to limit access to specific information.

For example, maybe you have a detailed how-to article on how to reprogram a billing system that you only want the IT department to see. Your internal knowledge base would allow you to grant viewing permissions to that article to members of the IT department and exclude other departments.

What to include in your internal knowledge base

Information stored in an internal knowledge base is meant to improve your operations by supporting employees. Include information and resources that help your employees perform their jobs.

Since it is private, you can provide confidential information that you wouldn’t include in a public-facing knowledge base.

An internal knowledge base includes background information that adds perspective for your employees so they can better help customers or perform operations.

Some of the information you may choose to include in your public knowledge base include:

  • Policies
  • Processes and procedures
  • Background information on the company and its operations
  • Troubleshooting guides
  • Employee benefits
  • Company announcements
  • Setting up appointments

Features

The most distinguished feature difference between an internal and external knowledge base is that an internal knowledge base requires a login. To access the information in the knowledge base, employees need to type in a password.

Another advantage of an internal knowledge base is permission management. Depending on the company, you can decide who can see or author specific articles, manuals, etc. These permissions can be determined by either individuals, groups, or departments.

There are many features that both internal and external knowledge bases share. Some of those features include:

  • Content creation tools
  • Storage space
  • Manual and article organization
  • Search functionality
  • Usage reports and analytics
  • Integrations
  • Software security

Benefits

There are many benefits to using an internal knowledge base. First off, you have a one-stop shop for all the resources in your company. Employees know where to turn when they have a question.

As mentioned in the features section, managing permissions is an advantage of an internal knowledge base. It allows you to keep all your information in one location for your company and still restrict access so the right people see the information they need.

Also, it helps so your employees don’t get overwhelmed with too much information. Management, after all, needs more details than your interns.

External knowledge base

An external knowledge base is a platform that allows you to share information with the public about your company and products. As a help/support site, it is a resource that allows anyone searching the internet to gather information and understand your operations.

It is also considered a customer-facing knowledge base, customer service knowledge base, and other similar versions. Another name for an external knowledge base is a public knowledge base.

Tip: External knowledge base can also require a login — the main thing is that this knowledge base is meant for people who are outside of the operations of the business.

Who uses it?

Typically, an external knowledge base is focused on supporting your customers. The idea is that an external knowledge base serves as an advanced FAQs section for your customers to find answers.

It is a self-service option for your customers. If they have questions or issues with a product, they can try searching your external knowledge base for answers before reaching out to your customer service team.

Of course, your employees can also use your customer-facing knowledge base. For customer service reps, it can be helpful to send customers links to the help articles in your external knowledge base.

What to include in your external knowledge base

Since this is a customer-facing knowledge base and anyone can access the information, you want to include information that supports your customers’ actions.

Think about what actions your customers need to take with your products or questions they ask your customer service team. That is the information and help guides you’ll want to include in your public-facing knowledge base.

Some of the information you may choose to include in your public knowledge base include:

  • Troubleshooting guides
  • Contact information
  • How to request help
  • Setting up appointments
  • Store or office locations
  • Ordering
  • Billing (i.e. location, how to pay, etc.)
  • Shipping and tracking information
  • Returning
  • Authorized resellers
  • Recalled items
  • Company story and history

Information to exclude

With an external knowledge base, you don’t want to share any private information about your company. That means you will leave out any policies, procedures, or other confidential information that is solely meant for employees of your company.

Features

Generally speaking, there aren’t many different features between the different types of knowledge bases. All knowledge bases are meant to help companies create support documents, store that information in one location, and share it with a select group of people.

Most of the features of an internal and external knowledge base are the same. Some of those shared common knowledge base features include:

  • Content creation tools
  • Storage space
  • Manual and article organization
  • Search functionality
  • Usage reports and analytics
  • Integrations
  • Software security

However, there are some small differences between the required features of an external and internal knowledge base.

Different features for an external knowledge base

The biggest difference between an internal and external knowledge base is that a login isn’t required for an external knowledge base. Customers and the general public don’t need a login or password to access the information.

That means you won’t have features like single sign-on (SSO) because they are unnecessary.

Also, permissions management is not required because you are making all of the information available to everyone on the internet. You won’t be limiting who can see specific information on your public knowledge base.

Note: There are customer-facing knowledge bases that you can require a login to access help information and guides. This merges the idea of a private and public knowledge base.

Some knowledge base software companies offer this with viewing permissions. Talk to knowledge base providers to see how they handle this situation.

Benefits

The benefits of having a public knowledge base come in both improved analytics and customer experience.

You provide your customers with a better experience when you reduce the barriers between them and the answers they need. The less effort they need to put in to find answers, the happier your customers are.

And, if that means, they don’t need to call, message, or email your company, the better they’ll feel. This brings me to the second major advantage — saving time for your customer service team.

If your customers are able to find answers on their own, the less time your customer service team spends on the phones or messaging systems answering the same questions over and over again. This is especially helpful with simple questions.

Plus, a shorter wait time helps improve your call center metrics. Ideally, a well-organized external knowledge base with clear instructions will help your call center reduce average speed to answer, call abandonment rate, Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), and more.

When should you use each?

Choosing between an internal and external knowledge base can be as simple as deciding who you want the knowledge base to help. Here’s a quick summary of when to choose an internal or external (or both) knowledge base for your company.

When to use an internal knowledge base

Do you have private information that you don’t want your customers (or any random person on the internet) accessing?

If you have confidential information and you want to limit access to who sees which articles, an internal knowledge base is the right choice for your company.

When to use an external knowledge base

Are you looking for a way that customers can self-service? Are there procedures and information your customers call your customer service team that they could easily handle on their own if they had access to the right information?

If you are looking for a way to support your customers and optimize your customer service teams’ time, then a customer-facing knowledge base is a good option for your business.

Use both

But, you don’t always have to choose. Some knowledge bases can function as both an internal and external knowledge base.

With different sites on your knowledge base account, you can assign articles for your internal knowledge base and your customer-facing knowledge base. It relies on you setting viewing permissions for these different sites.

This is a unique feature that not all knowledge base companies have. Of course, you can always purchase a separate public and private knowledge base, but then you may need to duplicate your work.

Internal, external, or both knowledge bases: How to choose

There are many options available when it comes to choosing a knowledge base to support your company’s operations. The important part is understanding what you want to achieve with your knowledge base.

ScreenSteps is an all-in-one knowledge base for private and public sites. This means you can have an internal, external, or both knowledge base. It depends on your situation and who you want to serve.

Because ScreenSteps is set up on a cloud-based site, you can assign viewing permissions for both an internal and external knowledge base. Plus, you can share articles with both your public and private sites so you don’t have to duplicate work.

Learn more about your knowledge base options with ScreenSteps as well as the perks of private and public knowledge bases below.

What Are My Options With ScreenSteps?

 

About Rebecca Lane

Content Marketing Manager