Customer Portals are a great way to leverage digital technology to improve your customers’ experience. They serve a variety of purposes like facilitating real time communication, allowing customers access to important information, fostering transparency, to integrating processes with customers. All in all, they make for better customer service and happier customers. During your product research, you might be asking yourself questions like:
- What features do I need to consider?
- What ways do I have to get the customer portal built?
- What issues do I need to avoid?
We hope to answer these questions questions in this article.
Customer portal features you should consider
Conceptually, Customer Portals are similar to intranets or employee portals, which enable communication and collaboration between workers. Only, in this case, the audience consists of stakeholders outside your organization – your customers. Even the feature set is similar but addresses different problems. The following are important features you should look for and how you would use them:
Document management: An important part of working with customers is sharing important documents with them – product specs, designs, reports, templates etc. Document management capabilities allow you to provide these documents to your clients in a centralized place as opposed to scattering them over different emails.
Instant messaging: Communication through emails confusion and delay. Customers today expect to have instant access to you and get an immediate response to their answers. Dedicated customer chat spaces allow you to have an ongoing conversation with your customers in real time.
Video conferencing: For strong customer relationships, regular meetings with clients for status updates, trainings etc are essential. Since it is not economical or viable to be physically present with your customers in person, video conferencing allows for human engagement even when you are in the office and not physically with your customers.
Calendars: In close client engagements, schedules must be often coordinated – update meetings, training sessions etc. Using a dedicated calendar for a client goes a great way to avoiding scheduling conflicts and giving your clients a transparent view of important events and activities.
Contact management: Contact management allows you to give clients access to important points of contact across departments in your company.
Project management: Project management is a great way to give clients a transparent view of where their projects stand, and also simplifies management of responsibilities and deadlines for projects internally.
Workflows: In some cases, you might have very intricate customer facing processes. For example, if you are a parts supplier, you might want to allow your customers to submit orders online, and have a streamlined process internally for managing new orders. Workflows and web forms allow you to automate these very specific workflows. You can see here some common workflow app examples for business processes.
User management: You will need to have different levels of permissions for different clients, different people at the same client, and internal employees. Robust user management allows you to manage what information each person sees and what they can do with it.
Custom branding: Nothing makes customers happier than attention to detail and to see their brand reflected in their solutions. Custom branding allows you to add logos, images and colors to reflect your customer’s brand.
Customer portal solutions alternatives
You have the following options for creating your own customer portal:
Custom-developed customer portals:
This is your IT team or an outsourced IT company that builds a customer portal from scratch, promising 100% customization. This solution is appealing as it is tailored to the precise needs of your customers. However, in reality working with customers relies on many of the same features that many others have built —and improved— already. Also consider the costs for a custom solution – tens of thousands of dollars. While this makes sense of large enterprises which can afford these costs and have very intricate needs, in general, most organizations are turning to flexible subscription models and cloud solutions.
If you want to have a better idea about how to choose a cloud provider, we recommend you to use our SaaS vendor scoring tool.
CMS customer portals
A more straight forward solution is Content Management Systems (CMS). These web apps are meant to let (mostly technical) users to create and manage digital content, such as web pages, blogs, portals, intranets, news sites, and so on. While they save time as they offer admin interfaces that let users customize their apps, they need some technical knowledge to set up. Most common providers are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.
Recommended reading: 6 CMS portals alternatives
Cloud based customer portal
Finally, we have cloud based vendors which specialize in out of the box customer portals. They offer a collection of functionality to help engage clients – custom portal landing pages, document management, project management etc – while at the same time allowing for a degree of customization and branding for custom needs. HyperOffice Atlas is an example of this.