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Corporations , For Scaleups , User — 11.05.2020

How Customer Portals Scale Your Brand and Add Product Value

Lacey Lavies, Executive Partner, Product Strategy & Client Experience

Customer portals often emerge when you need to bring business online or to digitize a key part of customer engagement. They often start as a check-the-box offering or to serve a niche customer need. Over time, one of two things happens. They either become an afterthought or the obvious home for new use cases that emerge.

As we talk to businesses about their digital transformation plans, “redesign our customer portal” is a recurring theme. For many companies, customer portals are now key to their business strategy. For others, the massive surge in digital has forced businesses to take them seriously.

Before we can talk about customer portal trends, and how you can improve yours, we’ll define what a portal is. 

What is a Customer Portal?

A customer portal represents any way you communicate with your customers. Through portals, you offer your audience more value when using your product by creating a space that’s all about them. 

Customer portals can serve as: 

  • A digital front door to access services. For businesses that provide ongoing services, the portal offers digital versions of those services, creating ongoing value for customers. 

Examples: Your banking portal, your employee benefits portal, your pet insurance portal

  • A digital community. People like what you stand for and want to connect and learn from others like themselves. Digital communities offer customers the opportunity to connect and share, while also creating a new avenue to generate interest and foster loyalty.

Example: Drift community, InVision community, Hubspot community

  • A self-service system. Rather than visiting an in-person location or using manual methods to track down information, many companies offer self-service portals as an alternative. This saves time for customers and can improve internal efficiencies as well.

Examples: BMV/DMV Portal, FedEx printing services portal, MyAccount portals

  • A virtual support desk. For companies that have a strong customer support component, the portal is a way to share helpful content like videos and FAQs. These portals guide customers to answer their own questions. 

Examples: Zendesk Help, Delta Faucet Customer Support

In these examples, the theme is that a digital customer portal is an extension of the brand promise your company makes to customers. Eventually, the customer portal can be a launchpad to create more revenue opportunities. But at minimum, it needs to be as helpful and easy to use as the service or product your company offers outside the portal itself. 

How Customer Portals Should Grow Alongside Your Business

Your portal’s capabilities should grow as your company and offerings evolve. It should remain focused on the changing needs of your customers.

Companies often see one of two challenges after the initial launch of a customer portal: 

  1. The portal becomes second fiddle. It doesn’t get the attention it needs to maintain its value in the eyes of your customers. 
  2. The portal becomes a collection of capabilities. It may “do” a lot without solving real problems or providing cohesive value to your customers. 

To avoid these issues, the focus needs to remain on the customer’s goals and shortcuts to answers and solutions. In addition, the content and capabilities need to evolve and change over time. This also means stripping away things that no longer offer value.

To understand how customer portals can be a valuable opportunity for your customers and your business, let’s look at some trends for what companies are doing right, as well as questions to determine the right opportunity.

Customer Portal Trends

Simple and easy self-service

Allow your customers to easily access what they need on on their own time. The first step is to assess where the friction lies: 

  • Why are they asking for help today? 
  • What questions do you get? Repeatedly? 
  • What unmet needs do they have?

Understand their goals and what causes friction, then provide an intuitive and simple way to address these goals via self-service capabilities. The process must be intuitive. If it’s not, you risk providing a portal for customers to self-service, while still answering phones to help customers use it. 

Curate the experience: more push, less pull

Predict customer needs, and push information or capabilities to them—when they need it and where they want it. It’s no longer enough to provide access to the information or process that people need in a portal. This was great 10 years ago when digital access to anything felt magical and efficient. Today, the best companies introduce touch points seamlessly into the customer’s workflow. 

  • Identify areas where you may have the thing the customer is already looking for, but you require them to dig to find it. 
  • Ask, at what point in the process do people need “x”?
  • How can we serve it up to them, perhaps even before they know they need it?
  • Can we use a different channel to provide the information more effectively? Think push notifications, an email summary or surfacing an important stat in the context of what a customer is already doing in the portal.
  • Investigate assumptions from your internal team like, “they can do that in the portal” or “we have a report for that.“

This is how you delight customers and keep them coming back. They feel like you get them, respect their time and want to make their life easier. And they become more loyal in the process. 

More problem solving: understand actual customer needs

Solving impactful problems for your customers is key to a valuable experience. In order for your customer portal to evolve with what your company and customers need, you must deeply understand their problems. 

What mattered last year may not matter anymore, and a new portal offering or capability may open an opportunity to service customers in new ways. The most important piece is staying connected to your customer’s actual problems.

  • Have you talked to your customers lately? Do you understand their goals and what matters to them?
  • Why do your customers log in? What are they trying to accomplish? What is getting in their way?
  • How has your portal changed in the past year to adapt to your customers’ needs and most important challenges? 
  • If your portal has changed, how are you introducing new capabilities? Or, how will you adjust the workflow of the portal experience to best meet their needs?
  • Are you improving areas of the portal that customers don’t value?

At Innovatemap we often find that most of what is offered in a portal is noise. Half of it isn’t useful. Customers use shortcuts to get what they need. 

Remember, less is more. And less can be even more valuable if structured in a thoughtful way that maps to the customer’s workflow and gets them to their end goal as quickly as possible.

How to apply these customer portal trends to your own portal

Experiment with a new approach in one area

  • An easy win could be to align on high-value information that customers need and want. Surface this information in a clear and concise way as they enter the portal experience. 
  • Frame your portal around questions your customers want answers to—then, present the answers. 

Conduct user research 

  • A series of meaningful conversations with customers can surface gold as it relates to what to offer and how you offer it via a customer portal.

Find outside help  

  • Fresh eyes on a potential or existing solution is often the solution to providing a clear experience that customers value and love to use. 
  • Agencies like Innovatemap can uncover insights via customer research and translate those insights into a valuable and intuitive offering to keep your customers hooked. 

Find out how to scale your product’s value with great customer portals. 

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