Customer Portal Best Practices to Implement This Year
Client portals are the lifeline of many businesses, especially those that have streamlined their processes and rely on self-service. Simply setting up a customer portal is not enough though. You’ll need to tweak it to achieve the best possible customer experience.
Imagine this: you send your new customer a link to log into your service portal, but they write back to you that it’s unclear what the next steps are. Not off to a great start, are we?
While customer portals are powerful tools, they do need to be configured. You need to spend some time thinking about ways to guide clients (or leads) without overwhelming them. If you’re not sure where to get started, this post includes customer portal best practices to help you out.
Someone please think of the customers
Before you start configuring the portal to your liking, take a step back and think of what your customers need. Are you mostly dealing with B2B customers who work in teams or individuals? The former would appreciate it if your portal of choice supports teams who can collaborate together (and yes, SPP does support it).
Also keep in mind that someone who’s never used a customer portal like yours before will need some guidance. This can be in the form of an onboarding call, an onboarding page (that you can set up in SPP), or by making the portal incredibly simple. The latter is easier said than done, after all, how many features can you take away without impacting the power users?
Besides your customers, your own team also needs to use the portal. The better the self-service options, the less work your team has to do. Instead of answering the same questions over and over, consolidate them into an FAQ or knowledge base. Embed it into your customer portal or simply link to it.
Customer portal design decisions
A good customer portal is not just beautifully designed, it represents your company, is in line with your brand, and guides the user along their customer journey. Any action they can take should be obvious—from upgrading their subscription to adding a new team member.
With that said, portal software like Service Provider Pro allows for advanced customizations. You can make your portal your own by adding custom pages. Those can be anything from an Airtable to a knowledge base or a custom service page like this one from Raxa Design:
Before you go all in on customizations, though, think about the standard customer portal features, and how you can make use of them.
SPP’s menu editor allows you to add categories and menu items to the sidebar. This works well as long as you keep the number of items reasonable. Otherwise the client will have to scroll to see all your items.
According to Hick’s Law, fewer choices are the best solution if you want to engage a customer. Instead of putting all of your services in the sidebar, it would be easier to create custom pages, and separate them into categories. Even better, use our white label form builder to create an order form. Ask the client what they are looking for, and display relevant services based on their selection thanks to conditional form rules.
A good client portal has been designed to provide clients with the best experience. One of the most critical UI faux passes is a confusing navigation. When you link certain things in the sidebar but also the navigation bar, it becomes difficult to understand why they are not all in the same place. Also, keep your CTA buttons consistent across the board, and refrain from using colors that don’t match the action. For instance, a button shouldn’t be red unless it is for deleting something important.
A navigational item you might want to opt for, especially if you create your own custom pages in SPP, are breadcrumbs. They allow users to go back to one of the previous pages easily without having to use the browser’s back button. Plus, they always know where they are inside your portal.
Creating a self-service portal
A thoughtful, sleek design is not the only thing you need to focus on while developing your new customer portal. Modern businesses, especially producitzed ones, put a heavy emphasis on self-service. Direct customer interactions are kept to a minimum. Instead, a lot of thought goes into developing a portal customers can access at any time, and find any information they need.
In order to accomplish this goal, focus on the following key points to improve the user experience.
Set up an onboarding process
Client onboarding is one of those costs that are very hard to calculate and keep track of. On one hand, you want to get clients quickly set up and make them familiar with your new portal. On the other hand, spending too many resources will cost money that, depending on your customer lifetime value, you might not recoup.
Grow your industry knowledge
In order to succeed with your service business, you should think about designing an onboarding process that works well for both your team and your clients. At SPP, we’ve built a simple onboarding page that anyone can edit. It’s a great starter template and includes a section for a welcome video, options to link to blog posts, plus a few elements that link to the client profile. This is usually enough to make them familiar with the new portal, and improve the portal experience. The next step is to add an FAQ to your portal.
Implement a knowledge base
I’m sure you’ve seen FAQs everywhere online. There’s a good reason for that, if customers ask the same questions over and over, you might want to give them an answer they can look up themselves. The best way to do that is through knowledge base articles which you link to or embed in your portal. Ideally, the knowledge base is searchable, so it’s easier to find the answer to a question. The most frequently asked questions should be highlighted at the top right below the search bar.
In SPP, you can either create your own knowledge base via custom pages (there are Bootstrap components such as the accordion you can use) or you embed an external service via an iFrame.
Add a ticketing system
Even if your onboarding page is solid and your knowledge base answers every question there is, sometimes clients need a bit of personal help. Providing live support via a tool such as Intercom is certainly possible. But again, the resources that need to be invested are seldom worth it unless your profit margin is really high.
A better solution is a ticketing system (you can use our helpdesk module). Set your working hours and answer questions via a ticket-based system during those. You can even set up an out-of-office reply that is automatically sent outside working hours. That way, your clients will be aware that they can expect a reply from you soon.
Making security a top priority
Security is nothing to snuff at, but sadly, many people don’t invest time in ensuring that all data is kept safe. A secure client portal such as Service Provider Pro allows your clients (and your team members) to add 2-factor authentication. This additional step ensures that, even if a password is weak, nobody else can access the client account.
Another thing you should think about is the prevention of data leaks. Ideally, you save all information inside the client portal so it’s encrypted and stored in one place. If you use external tools to host files, there’s always another provider you need to keep an eye on.
Lastly, educate your customers on using strong passwords, steer them into the direction of setting 2-factor authentication (and its benefits), and ask them to share all files inside the client portal. Some of them will prefer to use a file sharing service they know, but educate them on the benefits of keeping everything inside the customer portal.
Double down on personalization
A customer who engages with your portal regularly leaves a trail—and you can use it to understand their journey, what they might be interested in. Then it’s up to you to use that information in order to personalize the customer experience.
Customer satisfaction is often defined by how personal the experience with a service is. Most have a standard way of doing business: click on the service menu item, add the items you want to your cart, and check out. The crux is that not all customers know what they want or if specific services are the best choice. They might even hesitate to buy because of your pricing.
To solve all this, you could use an event-based system. Let’s say you’ve created custom pages for your services. Every time a customer visits it, gather the events in order to understand the customer journey. If you want to go a step further, you can also trigger events based on items in the cart: let’s say a customer has added a monthly content writing service to their cart. You could also offer to add social media publishing to it.
If you don’t want to go overboard with tracking and events, you can keep it simple. SPP uses the Twig templating language, so with the template editor, you’re able to show messages based on the available data. For instance: if a client is subscribed to a specific service, show a note inside the portal to purchase something related to it.
This can even work with social proof. Let’s assume you’ve split your clients into three groups, individuals, agencies, resellers. During checkout, you could set up a condition to check which group the customer belongs to, then show different social proof that better fits their needs.
The next steps
Now that you’re familiar with customer portal best practices, it’s time to apply your theory. Create a trial account and play around with our software. If you need any help, we’re happy to provide you with the guidance you need.