The rise of automation and self-service has led to the creation of new tools that can help companies and their support teams enhance customer relationships. One of the most popular tools in recent years has been the customer portal. In a recent survey by Microsoft, 90% of respondents said that they expect a brand to offer a customer portal for self-service. This overwhelming majority is a clear sign that consumers see the value in self-service and are taking advantage of the benefits that these systems can offer.
A customer portal helps create an engaging platform for customers to interact with your brand, provides a dedicated space for customers to track and manage their customer support requests, and connects them to other customer support resources. Providing this easy access for customers is becoming a requirement in today’s markets, and the most driven customer support departments are finding unique ways to incorporate them into their workflows. In many ways, a customer portal is a path to reducing technical and communication barriers between customers and your company.
Companies and software developers continue to release new features for customer portals and the many services to which they can connect. In this guide, we'll explore the following topics:
- What is a Self-Service Customer Portal?
- Why Would a Business Need a Customer Portal?
- What are the Benefits of Using a Customer Portal?
- How to Choose a Customer Portal Platform
- How to Effectively Deploy a Customer Portal
- What Are Some Best Practices for Leveraging Customer Portals?
- How to Get the Most Out of a Customer Portal
Read on to learn more about customer portals, how your business can benefit from implementing them, and best practices for leveraging customer portals to boost customer satisfaction.
What is a Self-Service Customer Portal?
A customer portal provides a dedicated hub through which customers can access a number of useful self-service functions. Some of the typical activities include creating support requests, reviewing customer support ticket and service status, and viewing product update notifications. By providing a birds-eye view of all previous support requests, answers, and solutions, a customer portal becomes a valuable knowledge resource. Customers can also typically access a knowledge base through the portal, which allows them to view helpful reference material like product documentation, FAQs, and how-to guides.
Portals can be kept private and password-protected or made public on a corporate website allowing access for an entire customer base. Well-developed customer portals are also highly interactive, providing direct communication between support staff and customers. They can also include forums and other opportunities for customers to interact with each other. A customer portal is often an integral part of an overall customer experience strategy.
Customers can take advantage of many common customer portal features including:
- Access 24 x 7 electronic support
- Place and manage orders
- Review updates for emergency service updates or outages
- Attach supporting documentation to tickets
- View real-time updates for service request
- Resolve common issues by reviewing the knowledge base
- Download product documentation and manuals
- Update personal account information and preferences
A customer portal also provides some great features that businesses can use to improve their operations and customer support capabilities. These include:
- Custom company branding to the portal
- Advanced privacy and security options
- Sending customer satisfaction surveys directly to customers
- Customer support and satisfaction metrics
An effective customer portal should display just enough information to be useful without adding too much clutter. Customers are often visiting a self-service portal to find quick updates to their questions. A customer portal can provide a better experience than a website or email because you can curate the content, so it focuses on only the most important topics. Also, since you are sharing information directly from your system, you do not need to create unique updates for the portal itself. Your team can maintain a central database of helpful content within your knowledge base that can then be easily shared at any time.
Why Would a Business Need a Customer Portal?
Regardless of the product or service offering, improving customer experience has become an essential focus for any business. Investing in quality, personalized tools that are user-friendly and easy to access is becoming a crucial part of differentiation in many industries. As customer service technology continues to evolve, many companies realize several important benefits from deploying a customer portal.
Eight out of 10 customers say the experience they have with a company is just as important as the quality of its products or services. What's more, 57% of customers say they've stopped buying from a company because they could get better service from a competitor. A customer service portal can create a sense of community, provides a centralized location for accessing information, tools, and customer support, and helps to foster positive customer relationships.
Any organization that is focused on improving customer satisfaction and developing a unique customer experience is likely to benefit from the direct access between company and customer that a self-service portal provides.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Customer Portal?
Having a customer portal provides your customers with direct, 24/7 access to support and product resources. Since this access extends beyond traditional work hours, it gives your customers the peace of mind to find information when they need it. It also reduces the burden on your support staff to answer common issues during their shifts. Instead, they can focus their efforts on complex and high-value requests that can make a real impact on customer success. By providing a direct line of contact and access to other self-service options, customer portals can save customers time and reduce your company's customer support costs.
Another essential benefit of using pre-built customer portal software is the ease of installation and deployment. These easy to implement tools are intuitive for your customer support team to use, resulting in minimal onboarding requirements.
A customer portal can also help streamline an organization’s customer support activities by consolidating all requests into a shared team inbox. Managing the requests from a single location helps keep priorities and assignments clear while simplifying workflows for support staff. Extending access to your support resources through a customer portal also allows you to involve your customers directly in the support process. You can request feedback during many points of their customer support experience and make improvements based on your findings. Custom branding and enhanced security also allow companies to personalize the customer portal experience to fit their unique style and market needs.
The team at Codeless Platforms highlights some additional benefits of using a customer portal, including:
- Improved visibility and access to real-time information 24/7, 365 days a year
- Increase in company cash flow by making it easier for customers to make payments online
- Removal of costly, non-value adding data entry tasks
- Improved customer experience and retention levels
- Enhanced visibility of transactional information
- Scalable IT licensing options
- Reduced internal email traffic to source information
- Improved internal and customer communication
How to Choose a Customer Portal Platform
Choosing the right customer portal software requires a careful consideration of the costs, features, and unique benefits that it can provide your operation. The first step is to think about how customers will access your portal and what the offering will look like from the customer perspective. The portal should be accessible with minimal effort, easy to use, and contain as much useful information as possible.
The best customer portal platforms also allow a high level of customization and integrations with other frequently used software tools to facilitate smooth implementation. It is always best to choose a software that fits well with your existing workflows and can streamline your team's activities, without causing a lot of disruptions or rework. Some of the other essential capabilities to look for in a customer portal software include ticket management with a shared inbox, robust knowledge base software, and tools for developing your online community.
How to Effectively Deploy a Customer Portal
Since a customer portal is an extension of existing services, set up can be as easy as a few clicks. With SupportBee's customer portal software, for example, you can easily create and deploy a customer portal directly from the settings menu. Once created, a link to the portal can be shared with all customer support ticket emails and also sent to customers directly. Once a customer has access to the portal, they will be able to view tickets and features that you have shared. Seamless customer portal setup will allow you to focus more effort on other value-added customer support tasks.
You also can create and customize customer groups that you can use to give access to a shared pool of information for a particular team or company. Customized customer groups are often a useful feature for B2B companies that may be communicating with multiple employees from one company. Before sharing your portal with customers, it is helpful to think about your market segmentation and the best way that you can provide access for unique individuals or teams that require specific information. You will also be able to train your customer support staff on the best techniques for sharing content through the funnel, and helpful notes about individual customer requirements can be easily shared among team members within the system.
Another critical factor during deployment is the cloud-based nature of many modern customer portal software systems. It's a best practice to examine your overall network setup to make sure that your system can handle the traffic from your new portal software. You can also prepare for adequate system backups and integrations with other cloud-based tools. The transition from a local ticketing system to a cloud-based help desk can help improve the effectiveness of your customer support operation.
What Are Some Best Practices for Leveraging Customer Portals?
When deploying a customer portal, there are several best practices that can help you along the way. One of the most valuable actions is to ensure that you have a consistent brand experience across all communication channels. When a customer visits your website, social media channels, or portal and sees a unified theme and feel to the experience, they are more likely to stay engaged. When planning for a customer portal, think about your brand experience and what you can do to ensure that the portal truly represents your core values and messaging.
Another recommendation is to take full advantage of the collaboration tools that your portal provides. As mentioned earlier, the more engaging that your portal becomes, the more likely customers are to visit repeatedly and recommend the service to others. One of the best ways to monitor the level of engagement is to track important metrics like portal usage and FAQ views so you can identify areas of improvement.
Since a knowledge base will usually support media formats of all times, another suggestion is to make your customer portal content as immersive as possible. Take advantage of rich media types like videos, infographics, and high-quality diagrams to help explain topics and give your customers a high-value experience. Advanced communication tools like real-time chat and video calls are also great ways to enhance your offering beyond traditional service calls. It always makes sense to tailor your customer portal experience to the unique preferences an
How to Get the Most Out of a Customer Portal
You will get the most value out of a customer portal by making it seamless, engaging, and an integral part of how you do business. Once your customer portal is deployed and actively used, there are two major areas of improvement to monitor: engagement and value. We have already talked about the benefits of creating an engaging customer experience. Still, one of the best ways to create long-term value is by making your customers an active and central part of all your service activities.
There are several ways to encourage customer engagement, such as formalizing your processes for collecting and using customer feedback. You should also set clear expectations among your support staff for the maintenance of knowledge base content. The best knowledge base material will be current and directly related to any existing processes or issues that customers may encounter. It's also a good idea to review your privacy settings and customer segmentation from time to time. Reviewing privacy settings and customer segmentation gives you the chance to optimize your portal structure based upon any product changes or new market offerings. You may also see benefits from adding additional customer portals that are created for specific projects, products, or customer segments.
The demand for customer portals is likely to rise in the near future. Customer portals are becoming a standard component of many customer support operations. Giving customers direct access to your system through a portal is an efficient way to extend your service offering while maintaining control of your processes and security. When considering a new customer portal software system, it is always best to consider the costs and capabilities of each platform as compared to the needs of your organization. The age of self-service is upon us, and the more that you can personalize your customer experience, the better chance you have for retaining customers for many years to come.
Further Reading on Customer Portals
For more insights on leveraging customer portals for customer support and customer satisfaction, visit the following resources:
- Leveraging Analytics for Customer-Facing Portals and Applications
- 4 reasons customer portals drive business
- 15 Awesome Customer Portal Examples
- Understanding the True Value of an Online Customer Portal
- Changing Operations: Integrate Your Customer Engagement Portal Into Marketing, Sales & Customer Care
- Why Your Business Needs A Self-Service Customer Portal
- Key Considerations When Launching a Customer Portal
- Not Translating Your Customer Portals? You May Be Harming Brand Loyalty
- Your client portal is not your client experience
- For B2B, Customer Portals Can Be a Game Changer
- Digital Self Service and customer engagement: guiding customers to their needle in the haystack
- Do-it-yourself : The importance of customer portals