How to make a great customer portal?

...or supplier portal, staff portal or partner portal...

Jake DowieJake Dowie
6 days ago | 6 minute read

Online content portal

Web portals are a great way to engage with your customers and build trust. If you’re considering building one or your company already has one, you can be pretty sure it’s the right decision; 81% of customers attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out.

The recent impact of COVID-19 has only increased customer demand for self-serve options.

I’m sure these aren’t all secrets, and hopefully some will resonate with you.

I hope they’re of value.

1. IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL MAY NOT COME

This is number 1 for a good reason. There are probably plenty of business reasons you’d like your customers to be able to self-serve, but if it’s not in their interest, why would they?

Remember, this is a customer portal, try to focus on their needs, at least initially:

  • Security – Do you exchange documents or data they’d be more comfortable sending and receiving via a secure portal than over email?
  • Convenience – Can you provide 24/7 access to services, support, invoices, payments or purchasing?
  • Price – Could you give a discount for self-serving, or give access to a cheaper online-only product or service set?
  • Simplicity – Housing more interactions in a single place gives customers less to think about, and everyone could benefit from a reduction in email.

2. TALK TO YOUR USERS

This is closely related to and nearly as important as number 1.

If possible, find a helpful subset of users (or potential users), preferably as diverse as possible and talk to them.

Be proactive and create a feedback loop. If necessary, motivate them to help; offer them gift vouchers, a regular prize, priority service or something similar.

Try to stay away from offering discounts if your products/services are B2C, it’s more important to motivate the individual to give their feedback, rather than the company they work for.

3. KEEP IT SIMPLE

Start with something simple, something you know your users want. Get them using it and then iterate from there.

However, don’t assume you know what they’re looking for, do your research; ask them, do A/B testing and look at existing data sources for clues.

4. INSPIRE CONFIDENCE

If you’re unsure of the quality of your data (or worse, you know it’s bad), don’t expose it to customers. They’ll spot it straight away, after all it’s often data they’re very familiar with.

Exposing incorrect or incomplete data to customers will cause more harm to your relationship than good.

5. ACCESSIBILITY IS CRUCIAL…

Profile your users and make sure the portal accessible to them:

  • will they access your portal from work, home, via mobile, desktop or even smart devices?
  • do they have specific accessibility requirements (auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech or visual)?

Try not to go on gut feel, look for existing evidence, e.g. website analytics. You may be surprised what you find.

6. …AS IS USER EXPERIENCE

People are encouraged to share a great user experience; it can become a talking point and act as a fantastic brand ambassador. A bad one may also be a talking point…

Look how UK banking has changed in the last few years, largely as a result of bad user experience being turned to good.

A great portal user experience should always bear Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics in mind. If you prefer them in a more beautiful format, try this set of posters by Agente.

If you’re more interested in the design side of UX, Refactoring UI is still one of my favourites.

7. ALIGN YOUR BENEFITS TO YOUR USERS’ NEEDS

Once customers are using your portal and you’ve created a feedback loop, you can start to prioritise some of your own requirements. However, try to find features with mutual benefit (remember number 1).

For example, if you want them to use your portal for support, be sure to provide live ticket updates so they can remind themselves of progress at their convenience.

8. KEEP IMPROVING

Once you have customers using your portal, continue to invest in it. Don't let online resources become stale, and keep innovating.

Sensible portal investment should give great ROI.

9. DON’T STOP THERE!

A customer portal is great, but wouldn’t it also be useful to provide access to your staff, suppliers or partners? Consider using the same portal as a base, you’ve done most of the hard work already.

JDLT

At JDLT, we create custom business software for SMEs and large organisations.

Please use our contact us page or get in touch at hi@jdlt.co.uk if you'd like to talk about how we can help.

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