Customer Experience & Design

3 big under-the-hood challenges that stand between you and a successful customer portal

Written by Pim van Helten on 14, Seth 2020

Do you remember the days where we were expected to write a letter to customer service or give them a call to get help? They seem like a decade ago and are long gone. Research from Gartner indicates that nowadays 70% of customers are using self-service platforms to help solve issues they are experiencing. 70%, let that sink in.

Customer portals are nothing new and come in many forms, shapes and sizes. There are portals that you use on a daily basis, like your banking app. While browsing your favorite e-commerce platform might happen on a weekly or monthly basis. Then of course, there is always that time once a year, where you have a look at your latest pension details. Not to mention the portals that help us do our jobs, such as intranet platforms. 

What all portals have in common though, is that they are only successful if they help customers be successful themselves. Easy access to personalized services and up-to-date information, tools for self-resolution and fast communication are all part of a portal’s success. If your portal is not easy to use and requires customers to jump through hula hoops and complete thirteen steps before they get an answer, they are not going to use it. 

There is definitely more to customer portals than what meets the eye. Simply building a portal for the sake of having a portal is not going to do the trick. Despite what some sales people say, you can’t just plug in a tool and expect magic to happen. 

To help shed some light on what makes a successful portal, I will unpack three of the most common challenges and offer guidance on how to overcome these obstacles. 


1. Building a portal as a plug-and-play solution

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to customer portals. Ready made solutions that automatically connect you with your customers by inserting a plug are an illusion. It might seem like the go-to option that can quickly and efficiently meet your customer needs, as the portal can be built fast with a few added brand expressions and voilà, it’s done. But if it sounds too good to be true, most of the time it actually is.

Often what you end up with is a portal that is almost identical to that of your competitors as they are built on the same technology platform, using similar vendors. As a result, digital sameness takes hold and customers are having trouble differentiating yours from theirs.

Walter Landor memorably said “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.” A successful portal will have to be developed and tailored to your industry and customer needs and wants. When a portal is tailor-made, the design is unique and creatively highlights your brand personality while keeping a focus on human-centered functionalities.

Building a portal is a strategic matter that has a huge company-wide impact, from management to operations, all the way to ICT and customer service departments. Although it may start as a project, when executed successfully the portal will become a vital part of your company.


2. Letting a digital transformation process take the lead

More often than not, most ideas for a customer portal often arise during the initial phase of a digital transformation process. It almost seems like a no-brainer to throw a customer portal in the mix while you are at it. After all, your new tech solutions can function as the foundation for the creation of the portal. Yet, this can also be a limiting factor, as it reduces your freedom of choice for the development of the portal.

A web design company might focus on simple integrations with your back office systems as a good choice from an efficiency and cost perspective, but what about your customers? Do they care about easy integration with your existing IT systems or would they place more importance on a distinctive interface, that’s easy to navigate? Try to avoid limiting yourself to pre-made options and focus on creating the best experience for your customers instead.

3. No brand identity has been developed (yet)

A customer portal is an extension of your brand, not the start of it. Your portal will not be successful if you do not know how your brand identity can guide and inspire the design process. Branding, truly, is a critical process in every touchpoint of your customer experience (CX). Consistency matters.

Customers look for recognizable colors, design and visuals that communicate your brand’s story and help them distinguish your brand in their minds. Make sure that you have a solid brand identity in place before you start designing your portal, otherwise you might wind up looking like any other portal out there.

Whether you have a digital transformation coming up or received feedback from your customers about lacking customer service, a customer portal is a great addition to your CX ecosystem. Be careful, however, and do not let yourself get carried away by promises of fast configuration and easy integration. When it comes to design of customer portals, tailor-made solutions always win the race.

Pim van Helten

Pim van Helten


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