Over the past decade, businesses everywhere have witnessed a distinct shift in how consumers think of customer service. With the advent of the internet, online shopping, and social media came more confident, informed, and independent consumers — and with that new breed of consumers came an entirely new set of expectations. Rather than place their trust in someone else’s hands, today’s consumer has a do-it-yourself mentality, one that extends to every aspect of the customer journey, including customer service.
The data doesn’t lie: 88% of consumers now expect brands and organizations to have some form of self-service portal — ideally, one that is mobile-responsive. Although live agents and customer service representatives (CSRs) needn’t worry about job security — they’ll always play an important role in customer service — customers overwhelmingly expect brands to offer them the tools to resolve lower-level issues on their own. In this new landscape, customer portals are essential to meeting that expectation.
What is a Customer Portal?
A customer portal is a website or software program that acts as a centralized repository for all of your business’s self-service functions. Here are just a few of the things that a customer portal can enable customers to do:
- Access detailed product information, technical specs, step-by-step tutorials, instructional videos, FAQs, and other valuable content via consolidated knowledge base
- Submit support requests and monitor the status of open support tickets
- Schedule field service appointments
- View invoices for past purchases
- Manage licenses for existing products and other documentation
- Generate quotes for new products
- Place orders and track order deliveries
- Provide feedback on different products and services
- Update account information and user preferences
- Reset their password
- Engage with other customers via a customer community
In short, a customer portal serves as a one-stop shop for all of your customers’ self-service needs. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus specifically on how customer self-service portals optimize customer service.
Benefits to Using a Customer Portal for Customer Service
There are numerous benefits to incorporating a customer self-service portal into your customer service strategy, including (but certainly not limited to):
Enhanced agent productivity:
By adding a knowledge base, a customer community, and/or an AI-driven chatbot to your customer portal, you make it easy for customers to find answers to frequently asked questions and even resolve low-level issues. Reducing the need for employee intervention frees up live agents and CSRs to handle more complex or urgent issues and enables them to dedicate more time to each open case. Not only does this boost agent productivity — it also promotes better engagement and increases overall customer satisfaction.
Here’s a helpful tip: Although self-service is the name of the game, be sure to feature your company’s direct support email address or phone line in a prominent location in your customer portal. That way, if a customer exhausts all of the self-service options within your portal, they have a clear path for escalation.
Proactive, round-the-clock support:
Staffing a 24/7 support center can be both challenging and expensive, but it’s necessary in order to meet the needs of customers with different work schedules or in different time zones. Self-service options can help alleviate some of this pressure by providing a helpful alternative to round-to-clock live support. That way, even if agents aren’t actively available, customers still have a reliable source they can turn to for information, day or night.
Your customer portal can even help you deliver proactive support. Say, for example, that multiple customers use your business’s self-service functionality to report the same issue. That could point to a larger issue with your project, which might prompt you to proactively reach out to other customers who have that same product to offer assistance.
More personalized experiences:
As noted, self-service options enable agents to spend more one-on-one time working with customers to resolve complex or urgent issues. This added attention helps customers feel as though their problems are taken seriously, and their business is valued, which enhances their overall experience.
Businesses can take the customer experience one step further by integrating their customer portal with their CRM and ticketing systems, thereby enabling agents to refer to prior support requests and offer personalized recommendations while talking to customers.
Increased customer satisfaction:
Customer self-service portals eliminate many of the challenges that customers face when trying to get support. For example, with a customer portal, customers can simply read FAQs rather than comb through pages of internet searches trying to hunt down an answer to a basic question. Similarly, customers can refer to a knowledge base or consult a chatbot to resolve a low-level issue, saving them time they would have otherwise spent waiting on the phone to be connected to a live agent.
Self-service portals can even support cases being worked on by live agents, enabling customers to track their requests and monitor the status of open cases in real time, all from a centralized dashboard. Factor more comprehensive and more personalized agent support into the equation, and you have a formula for increased customer satisfaction, higher rates of customer retention, and more opportunities for customer advocacy.
Better overall engagement:
With customer portals, both customers and agents feel more engaged.
By providing customers with helpful resources — think how-to videos, knowledge base articles, and other educational content — you increase their engagement with your product and your brand. Adding a customer community forum to your customer portal is another great way to encourage engagement because it provides customers with a collaborative space where they can interact with other like-minded individuals to discuss your brand.
On the agent side, the opportunity for one-on-one customer interactions really can’t be overstated. By giving agents the opportunity to really connect with customers, they’re more likely to feel engaged — not just with their work, but with the people they’re there to help.
Many customer portal software programs offer built-in, advanced security features such as encryption that make it safe and easy for customers to upload and access files containing sensitive information. This creates an additional layer of security on top of your company’s existing security policies and systems that offers customers added peace of mind.
Easy payment options:
Certain customer portal platforms can integrate with payment processing software in order to create online payment portals. This is especially useful for businesses that want to offer online bill pay, as it creates a secure gateway through which customers can make payments using a credit or debit card, all without having to leave your business’ customer portal interface.
Stronger feedback loops:
One of the most popular use cases for customer portals is to build feedback loops. Customer portals make it easy to solicit feedback in the form of surveys, scores, product reviews, and customer commentary. You can then use that feedback to improve your existing offerings — including your customer service and support experience — and develop new products and services.
Tracking various metrics within your customer portal can also lend valuable insights and opportunities for improvement. For example, let’s say that even after consulting your knowledge base, over half of your customers go on to file a support ticket. That could indicate your knowledge base isn’t comprehensive enough to meet customers’ needs, or that the information you’ve provided is outdated, which might prompt a content refresh. You could drill down even further into that data to see whether there’s a particular topic that customers typically struggle with, and work to create more content around that topic to accommodate them.
Scalable support over time:
The goal of any business is, of course, to grow over time. As your business grows, so, too, will your customer base — and the volume of incoming customer support requests. Customer portals provide a scalable solution to this challenge by removing some of the pressure from live agents and CSRs. You can also easily add new content and self-service functionality to your customer portal as time goes on, making it a more robust and reliable resource for customers in need of assistance.
Key Considerations When Creating a Customer Portal
Although any organization in any industry can have a customer portal, not all customer portals are made alike. Companies with successful customer self-service portals built them with the following best practices in mind:
- Treat your customer portal as a living resource, one that evolves over time to accommodate customers’ changing needs, your business’s changing needs, and changes within your products or services. This will require regular upgrades and reinvestment in your portal to ensure that it’s both relevant and useful.
- Increase the likelihood of customers actually using your portal by making it easy to navigate. A clunky and overly complex interface will only serve to alienate customers, so be sure to design your self-service portal with simplicity and ease of use in mind. It’s also important that your customer portal be mobile friendly. The modern customer journey spans multiple channels and includes multiple devices, so it’s important that you make the transition from one channel or device to the next as seamless as possible.
- Build a community around your brand by adding a forum to your customer portal. This functionality encourages customers to interact with each other, which drives engagement and creates a sense of belonging, which can increase retention rates and drive revenue. In fact, according to one survey, 49% of customer communities generate revenue and 57% of companies reported that customer retention connected to revenue was their top digital competitive advantage.
- Integrate analytics into your customer portal to deliver more personalized experiences. You can analyze portal data to see which self-service functions or content customers most frequently engage with and even drill that data down to the individual. This enables you to develop and deliver more relevant content based on which products a particular customer has or which challenges they commonly face, creating a better overall customer experience.
- Carefully maintain your portal so that it always offers customers the most up-to-date information and invest in cutting-edge technology — such as AI-enabled chatbots — to further extend your portal’s functionality.
Start Building Your Customer Portal Today
Ready to build your own customer self-service portal? Hitachi Solutions can help you design and implement one. Our Experience solutions track — part of our larger Digital Compass initiative — is designed to deliver the tools and expertise you need to develop a customer portal that solves customers’ most pressing issues, fosters a sense of community around your brand, enables agents to be more efficient, and scales over time to meet your business’s changing needs.
To learn more about our Experience track, or any of the other tracks within the Digital Compass, contact us today.