What is a Customer Portal & How Can It Improve a Customer’s Self-Service Journey?

Alleviate support team workloads and ramp up customer service with multi-functional self-service channels housed in a dedicated customer portal.

What Is a Customer Portal?

A Customer Portal is a one-stop self-service hub where a company’s customers can resolve support issues themselves. Something that 70% of online visitors prefer.

Historically, self-service portals provide access to a company’s knowledge base (KB), support tools, community forums, FAQ sheets, and feedback channels. But modern Customer Portals go much further. They integrate with numerous backend and external systems, offering customers and support teams shortcuts to application software.

It’s Help, with a capital H, on tap.

A customer self-service portal workflow

For support teams, a Customer Portal is a content distribution, customer behaviour monitoring, and reporting mechanism. It enables businesses to alleviate the workload on support teams, automate many administrative processes, and securely gather customer data.

A Customer Portal is not just a website designed by web developers to showcase a company’s products. Or house a KB. It is a company’s engine room, hosting customer and support team workflows, and the necessary tools to execute them

The cumulative benefits of a well-oiled Customer Portal have a direct, positive effect on a company’s efficiency, financial bottom line, industry reputation, and customer satisfaction.

However, a Customer Portal is always a work in progress. It continuously evolves with input from multiple teams and stakeholders across an organisation, and from customer feedback.

Well-planned, multi-functional Customer Portal Software has numerous benefits for customers and an organisation’s support teams.

Use our sophisticated software comparison tool to find a help desk system that matches your self-service customer portal requirements.

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Benefits of a Self-Service Customer Portal for Customers

The workday is short. Customers want to get the job done quickly and efficiently.

  • Time-agnostic: Allows customers to address support issues and perform numerous tasks, from changing a password to accessing online training, in their own time, anytime.
  • Positive user experience: Psychologically, self-service options give customers a feeling of accomplishment, which in turn creates a warm and fuzzy feeling, and promotes brand loyalty. Increasing customer retention rates (CRR) as a valuable by-product.
  • Issue monitoring: Customers can track the progress of their support queries instead of phoning the support desk. If they are unhappy with progress, customers may escalate their ticket online instead of dealing with an outsourced call centre, which is often a frustrating experience.
  • Centralised information repository: A Customer Portal is a one-stop resource. Customers can easily search for answers to common problems.
  • Newbie support: New customers can get up to speed by working through a Getting Started guide or typical workflow, ask questions on community forums, and personalise their accounts.
  • Advanced support: Surveys, polls, and customer behaviour analytics pinpoint areas of customer dissatisfaction and identify areas that are working well. This process helps business analysts plan new features and retire unused ones.
  • Personalised experience: A personalised interface takes into account whether a customer is new to the platform, their historical behaviour and preferences, their subscription plan, and what their core business is. Different industries will prioritise different functionality. For instance, a legal undertaking may prioritise content and file management, while an online store may prioritise accounting and distribution features.
  • Account management: Through a Customer Portal, customers can browse past activities and manage their personal, billing, and shipping information. For instance, customers may change passwords, upload documents required for new services, and query accounts.

Customers prefer self-service help from a knowledge base

Benefits of Customer Portal Software for Support Teams

  • Improved operational processes: A customer self-service portal frees up support teams to analyse system performance and add business value proactively. For example, monitoring service-level elements like resource usage (e.g. storage), ticket response rates, the status of performance targets, and SLA compliance.
  • Enhanced customer experience: Based on customer feedback, usage, and service-level indicators (SLIs), monitoring the use of a Customer Portal may help to identify areas of improvement and unused features. Systems architects may identify gaps for new features.
  • Personalisation with AI: A Customer Portal’s AI-powered chatbot, responding to natural language queries, can provide relevant links for customers to explore possible solutions on their own. AI is also the main driver behind personalising a customer’s journey.
  • Reduced support hours: A Customer Portal operates 24/7, reducing overtime.
  • Reduced compliance breaches: Service-level agreements (SLAs) and other legal documents uploaded to a Customer Portal ensure customers are aware of what they can expect from a business, and what their rights and responsibilities are.
  • Keeping customers informed: Digital-savvy customers expect 99.99% uptime. A Customer Portal allows support teams to keep customers updated when there are unforeseen problems, for instance, unplanned (and planned) maintenance or a security breach.
  • Enhanced security: Instead of securing disparate modules and applications individually, a Customer Portal may use a multi-layered security umbrella with a single point of entry for all integrated applications.

Why Create a Customer Portal?

Competitive Advantage

A recent survey found that 41% of businesses thought their self-service options were sufficient. However, 81% of consumers wanted more, smarter, self-service options.

Raising the self-service bar can give a business a significant competitive advantage and engender brand loyalty.

Alleviate Support Team Workload

For a company’s support teams and service reps, a Customer Portal keeps the information they need to service customers in one place. It provides a single pane of glass (SPOG) to monitor, manage, and improve a customer’s overall experience with the business. It reduces support teams’ workload, for instance, by automating routine tasks.

Personalise Customer Experience

A 2023 Khoros study found that 79% of consumers surveyed gave the thumbs up to chatting online with a customer service representative. With a reduced workload, support teams can respond personally to individual customer queries telephonically and by direct messaging, across multiple channels.

The study found that 77% of consumers wanted support teams to be able to follow a conversational thread across multiple channels, one of the intrinsic capabilities of a Customer Portal.

Add Business Value

Satisfied customers, productive employees, automation, and a centralised repository of services and information; features that contribute to a business’s bottom line.

A self-service portal reduces labour hours spent on routine and repetitive tasks, across the board. For instance, automatic software updates reduce the workload for IT teams so they can focus on new, income-generating features instead. Auto-generated reports keep management teams in the loop, reducing the number of meetings to get team leaders up to speed.

Working efficiently, a Customer Portal can identify service issues that can be resolved before they become a problem.

What to Include When Creating a Customer Portal

  • Training programs and searchable information resources
  • Real-time collaboration workspace
  • Task-specific workflows and guides
  • Account management modules
  • Communication tools
  • Multiple feedback channels
  • Access control and security
  • File sharing and document storage options
  • Data gathering capabilities coupled with analytic and reporting functionality
  • Community forums and webinars
  • A platform status page and user-friendly error notifications
  • Customised branding options
  • Internal and external application integration

Applications integration is the bedrock of a scalable Customer Portal.

Backend systems to integrate include inventory, payment and tracking, user management, security, storage, administration and configuration, and analytics and reporting modules.

Other types of integration are brand and user interface templates, and external applications. External applications may include email, surveys, online meetings, and data-gathering services.

Why a Customer Portal Isn’t Working. And, How to Fix It

There are a few reasons a Customer Portal may be ticking customers off instead of reeling them in:

  • Outdated information, content errors, jargon, and keyword stuffing
  • Not enough feedback channels or scope for interaction
  • Not enough functionality and/or too much reliance on up-selling a service
  • Platform and network issues, like slow page rendering, frequent downtime, and legacy dependencies
  • Cluttered pages, confusing navigation, and non-responsive design across disparate devices
  • Invisibility

Resolving challenges is a company-wide effort. Ideally, a designated project planner needs to schedule brainstorming sessions involving selected teams and interest groups and develop a formal plan of action.

Who needs to be involved when optimising a customer portal?

  • Outdated, low-quality information: Technical writers, marketing copywriters, and automation experts from the IT department
  • Feedback channels: Input from support desk teams
  • Functionality: Customer feedback and sales teams
  • Unreliable networks: Systems architects and operations teams
  • Poor interface design: Web and graphic designers
  • Invisibility: Marketing and sales teams, and web developers

After developing and deploying a Customer Portal, a link to it should be included on the company website. This will solve the issue of invisibility for customers.

For casual website visitors, a Customer Portal demo may clinch a product deal.

Next Steps

A Customer Portal is a work in progress. A small business may implement the first version of its portal as a simple centre for ticket monitoring. However, a well-designed Customer Portal is eminently scalable.

Designing a Customer Portal is a project involving multiple teams and stakeholders. Exploratory meetings may be the first step to get buy-in from different interest groups, bounce ideas around, and create wish lists.

To achieve scalability, businesses need to plan. The second step, with input from the exploratory meetings, is to list agreed features and timelines for their implementation. The key to success is to build in the possibility of changing user requirements, changing business needs, and changing platform capabilities in the future.

Developing a Customer Portal can be a massive, and costly, undertaking. For large enterprises, outsourcing or hybrid solutions may be feasible. However, the potential cost could be a lack of control. For SMEs and businesses with budgetary constraints, there are no-code and low-code options.The potential cost could be a string and brown paper solution that requires constant maintenance.