customer portal

Introduction

Customer experience remains a top priority for businesses in 2020. According to Forrester, CX differentiation is key to post-pandemic success. Their US 2020 Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) rankings state that 27% of brands achieved significantly higher scores over the past year. Better CX significantly contributes to revenue growth and ensures your customers are with you for the long haul.

With a majority of purchase decisions being made based off of CX, rather than cost, it’s important that you nail down a great customer experience strategy to get ahead in the game.

Fortunately, CX is a metric that accumulates while you build strong relationships with customers through communication. Simply put, if your customers like you and continue to like you, they’re going to keep doing business with you for a long time and recommending you to others. To communicate effectively with your customer, you must provide them with frictionless touchpoints for your company.

With the vast majority of your audience being online (where they’ve become accustomed to finding products and answers instantly), what better way to do this than by letting customers help themselves?

Customer self-service—what it is and how to do it right  

What is customer self-service?

Self-service is not a new concept—ATMs, self-pumping gas stations, vending machines, and buffet-style restaurants have been around for decades. Websites, forums, and chat apps have made almost unlimited information available if you’re willing to put in the time to find it. Self-service is any activity where the customer does the work and finds solutions by themselves without any assistance. 

The option to help themselves has been a game-changer in customers’ minds, as they move towards more independence, making self-service critical to the future of CX. However, self-service, particularly self-service technology, is often sold as a way for hard-up businesses and IT organizations, with overworked service desk staff, to save time and money. 

Self-service is about more than just cutting costs

Indeed, self-service offers companies a compelling opportunity to reduce spending, often drastically. However, looking at self-service with a singular focus on cost-cutting can compromise customer satisfaction. There are other benefits if self-service is done right.

Self-service technologies can help companies cut support call numbers using labor-saving automation for dealing with both issues and service requests. They can even provide 24/7 customer support in multiple languages and time zones. Customers find self-service capabilities intuitive and easy to use. Meeting modern support expectations, by giving them a choice of access and communication channels, demonstrates real commitment to customer service. 

Self-service statistics

The numbers speak for themselves. Here are some interesting customer service stats about self-service and automation which demonstrate how times are changing:

  • 67% of customers prefer self-service over speaking to a company representative. (Businesswire)

  • Customers prefer knowledge bases over all other self-service channels. (Forrester)

  • 33% of customers are most frustrated by having to wait on hold. (Hubspot)

  • 50% of customers think it’s important to solve product or service issues themselves. (Zendesk)

  • 70% of customers expect a company’s website to include a self-service application. (Steven Van Belleghem)

  • 63% of customers are happy to be served by a chatbot, if there is an option to escalate the conversation to a human. (Forrester)

Across industries, fully 81% of all customers attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative. And 90% of consumers expect an online portal for customer service. Self-service portals and knowledge-base tools have pushed a significant number of tasks from company-driven to customer-driven. If you’re ready to shift your service delivery into high gear, it’s time to whip up a self-service portal for your business.

What is a self-service portal? 

Self-service portals are simply web pages and applications that serve as gateways designed to provide customers, vendors, and partners with a single point of access to a company’s products, services, and knowledge base.

Why is a self-service portal important to business?   

The benefit here is substantial. When you let end users request services and find solutions, you empower them to solve their own problems, so you don’t have to. When customers find the answers they need, that, in turn, will automatically reduce the ticket volume for your customer team.

The specifics of common customer needs, however, vary greatly from business to business. But we’ll delve into that later.

How do you know your business needs a self-service portal?  

In relation to building your business, you may need an IT self-service portal if:

  • You have a large, active customer base that your IT team cannot support via conventional communication channels.

  • Your teams are spending too much time on routine tasks which can be automated—like password resets and other mundane help desk requests.

  • You don’t have the workforce to lead modernization initiatives.

  • You deal with slow response and/or resolution times, and your users express frustration over it.

  • Your teams are unable to spend enough time on business-driving initiatives.

  • You’re looking for ways to cut costs by working more efficiently.

  • You’re looking to advance your organization’s digital transformation.

  • Users are directly requesting self-service capabilities.

What are the benefits of self-service portals? 

At a high level, a self-service portal should offer information and functionality to help users address common needs efficiently and without help. However, in a world where outdated tech can put you at a disadvantage, an efficient portal can help your business keep up with the times.

The benefits are many:

  • Provides multiple options for customers – Consumers now prefer self-service over reaching out to a support representative. You can offer them a choice of access and communication channels—like guided options based on common issues or questions, live chat, or solution articles—before ringing up the support team.

  • Reduces technician workload – By providing information in a self-service portal that allows customers to identify and resolve their issue themselves, you’re taking a load off your support team, who would otherwise have to log, route, solve, and follow up on a ticket.

  • Enhance personalized CX – Your portal can be an extremely effective tool for personalizing customer experience. The portal can address customers by name when they enter, provide them with highly personalized information, keep track of the products or services they purchased, and effectively steer them to solutions.

  • Improve brand image – Self-service portals strengthen brand reputation by creating positive client interactions. Self-service resources—like a community forum, dedicated social media feeds, live chats, Q&A sections, and user guides—don’t just reduce agent workloads; they also increase positive customer recommendations. Social media activity on your portal can boost visibility as well as your brand voice.

  • Create a community – You can also establish a community of loyal users of your product, who are willing to help each other out. By implementing a support community, you can harness the power of crowd-based support. Peer-to-peer assistance can significantly alleviate the pressure on your own customer service staff.

  • Improve customer acquisition – A customized knowledge base linked to your portal acts as a useful tool for bringing in more website traffic; marking your business as an information source and authority in its field, thereby increasing the company’s credibility and brand visibility.

The modern consumer wants digital alternatives to manual processes, and they will procure it, whether it’s from your business, or from a competitor. Using an online portal, you can immediately offer your customer access to a wealth of digital resources, helping your brand image and propelling your business into the modern age. 

Self-service portal functionality checklist   

Self-service portals are great in theory, but unless your portal boasts functionality that people will actually use, it’s unlikely you’ll see much payoff. In this case, we want the payoff to be improved customer retention.

Provided they’re well-designed and easy to use, here are some things your customers will look for in a customer portal:

  • A knowledge base that answers common questions

  • Configurable request forms

  • Status updates and notifications via the web and mobile

  • Self-service password reset or recovery

  • Multi-device accessibility

  • Extensive FAQ list

  • Live chat support

  • Access to community forums

  • Quick ticket handling

Some examples of business portals   

As we mentioned earlier, the specifics of customer needs vary considerably from business to business. Thankfully, digital customer portals are highly flexible tools. While they’re more widely used in B2C websites, providing an intuitive platform and value-adding customer interface, B2B firms can still use them for recognition and lead generation. B2B customer portals render the necessary assistance to manufacturers, suppliers, and wholesalers.

Companies throughout different industries are employing platforms to build various kinds of portals for:

  • Support

  • Project management

  • Order handling and fulfillment

  • Supplier/vendor self-service

  • Merchant onboarding

  • HR management

  • Product return

  • Sales management

  • Help desk

  • IT self-service

  • Supply chain management

  • Banking & insurance

  • Patient management

  • Government

  • Employee management

  • Marketplace

  • Student and faculty gateways

Quality design and functionality are the key factors you need to consider when making an online portal. However, delivering a highly-personalized customer experience takes a bit more effort, the challenge being that there’s no single setup to develop portal-type applications that automatically apply to all those use-cases. Lightweight development platforms are the best solution for building such applications.  

Building online portals with minimal code

The latest offering in lightweight development environments are low-code platforms. In light of changing market needs, low-code development platforms (LCDPs) provide the technology mechanisms to facilitate and automate the development of client-facing portal applications.

No less than 90% of applications built on a low-code platform are either code-free, or only contain simple scripts for field formulas. LCDPs enable custom building and deployment of branded customer portals that can be scaled to meet changing business requirements. Low-code platforms include easy-to-use portal designers or builders that help you build customized portals for your business.

Low-code platforms include:

  • Customizable elements – Create custom forms, configure workflows, and build informative pages. Customize the three pages essential to a customer’s lifecycle—login, signup, and reset password pages.

  • White-labeled portals – Host your support portal on your own domain, to be accessed from your business website or from a private domain.

  • Multiplatform capabilities – Accessible on any device, from any location.

  • Branded portals – Present applications with personalized logos and visual elements, and customize the look and feel to match your brand.

  • Complete access control – Choose how and when customers access your service offerings and restricted info.

  • Efficient user management – You can add portal users individually, or import them in bulk or dynamically using scripts.

  • Strong authentication mechanisms – Choose from single sign-on (SSO), using a third-party identity provider, or federated logins (Google, Facebook).

  • Customizable notification preferences – Keep your customers connected and informed through web, email, and mobile push notifications.

IT self-service portals are expected to become more sophisticated, robust, and established in everyday business workflows. Portals are still on the rise, as smart IT teams continue to turn over more capabilities to end users. 

Make sure your business isn’t left behind. Take the first step towards a connected customer base. Learn about Zoho Creator’s powerful online portals now.

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