Clicky is almost 7 years old and we’ve always been a very small team. We’ve handled all of the email ourselves since the beginning, using gmail, which we like. I doubt there’s a single human being that enjoys doing tech support, but it’s critical to customer satisfaction. It’s also one of those things that quickly spirals out of control if you’re not on top of it every single day, and it takes away precious time from what we really want do (write code).

At our peak we were getting almost 50 emails a day. Now we’re down to about 20. How did we do that? Black magic? No. What we did was build a knowledge base with hundreds of topics (over 300 and counting), including many guides/howto’s and tons of the most common problems people have.

Aside from hoping to get less emails, we really just wanted thorough guides and articles with screenshots to make things as easy as possible to understand for new and old customers alike, instead of having to type the same email 10 times a day when someone asks “where’s my tracking code?”. When a customer reads an article we link them to, they’re now aware of the knowledge base if they weren’t already, and will hopefully turn there first in the future when in need of help.

We released this silently back in March and the effect was immediately noticeable. Email volume dropped in half almost overnight, and has slowly declined a bit more since then as more people become aware of it. It also helps that the contact page is now only available as a link from the knowledge base page. We’re not trying to hide our contact info like some companies do, rather we just want people to see the knowledge base first.

It was a solid two weeks of work coming up with a list of articles to write, categorizing them into a tree, cross-linking them, and writing them all out with screenshots etc. It was an extremely boring and repetitive two weeks, but let me tell you: it was worth every dreadful second.

It’s been especially insightful using our heatmap tracking to see what items people are most interested in on each page, and how many people are exploring the knowledge base rather than clicking the link to contact us.

The only thing missing it from it was a search form. That’s part of the reason for today’s post, to announce that we finally added a search form to the page. The reason it didn’t have one before was because I was going to write a custom search with customized weighting and things like that. But out of the blue yesterday, it was suggested to me that I just use Google’s search for it. Not a bad idea, I thought. At the very least it’s better than a kick in the pants. It only took about 5 minutes of work to do that, which was great, but also made me sad I didn’t think of this before.

Anyways, when you do a search now, it redirects you to with “ inurl:/help/” appended onto the end of your search, so the results are only from our help section (which is mainly the knowledge base). Yeah, I could do their embedded search thing, but I don’t like that.

I was not planning to leave it as a Google search forever, but then I thought about the thousands of man-years of experience that Google has building a search engine, and frankly they’re pretty dang good at it. With things like automatic spelling correction, accounting for word varations, and semantic analysis, it works really well. I tested tons of searches (to the point of getting banned because they thought I was a robot) and everything I threw at it worked great, including the order of the search results. I don’t like that it takes people off our site, but for now I don’t see a better option.

The real point of this post is just to say that building a knowledge base has been the best return on investment we ever made. We easily save 1-2 hours every single day because our email load has dropped so much, and I imagine with the new search functionality, it will drop even more.

Other amazing returns for us have been virtualizing all of our servers, which we wrapped up last year, and automated deployment to all production servers when we push new code to our main web server with Git. These save us huge amounts of time, and time is money my friends. Virtualization was probably the biggest project we’ve ever done, taking about a full year, so the investment was gigantic. But everytime I deploy a new server with a single command, I am one happy panda.

What’s the best ROI your company has had?