What is a customer portal? Benefits, features, & why you need one
A customer portal is a dedicated hub where customers can manage their relationship with your company. Learn why it's important and how to build your own.
Published March 26, 2020
Last updated April 18, 2022
Research is clear: customers want to help themselves. In fact, 69 percent want to resolve as many issues as possible on their own, and 63 percent always or almost always start with a search on a company’s online resources when they have a problem. That’s because it saves them time from having to contact your business, particularly for simple questions and quick fixes. And, self-service becomes especially important for customer service during a crisis, when you’re faced with a massive wave of support requests and customers who need support as soon as possible.
As the self-service bar continues to rise, a customer portal has become an expectation for companies to have rather than a bonus—90 percent of customers reported that they expect companies to offer an online portal for self-service in a study by Microsoft. If you’re looking to improve your self-service strategy, read on to learn five ways to use a customer portal to build stronger, more trustworthy customer relationships.
What is a customer portal?
A customer portal is a dedicated hub where customers can manage their relationship with your company, such as checking the status of their open support requests, following relevant knowledge base articles, and contributing to your community. It connects your business’ self-service functions in a single, personalized place that can live on your website and/or mobile app.
When integrated with other systems, a customer portal can also allow customers to view and make changes to their account information, such as changing their shipping address or canceling a reservation.
“A customer portal is a space for your customers to find information that is personalized to your service that empowers them to find information about their relationship with your business, without having to ask.”Madison Davis, Manager, Content Management at Zendesk
Why are customer portals important in customer service?
70 percent of customers say they expect a company to have a self-service portal or content available to them, according to our 2022 Customer Experience Trends Report.
While traditional support channels, such as email and the phone, remain important for higher-stakes concerns, they often don’t give customers the quick access to simple answers they’ve come to expect, such as how to change their account password. A support portal is an increasingly important customer service touchpoint as it allows businesses to put the power into the customer’s hands, giving them the ability to get instant access to information anytime they need it, without the friction of reaching out directly to your company.
Customer portal benefits
Here are a few benefits of a customer portal.
- It increases customer satisfaction:
- It boosts agent productivity:
- It provides an additional layer of security:
According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, 2020, while customers want and expect to be able to self-serve, only a third of companies offer some form of self-service. Adopting a customer portal allows businesses to increase customer satisfaction and improve retention by delivering on customer expectations and differentiating from the competition.
A customer portal takes some of the pressure off agents and allows them to focus their attention on more urgent issues by empowering customers to find resolutions on their own. Beyond accessing your knowledge base and community forum, customers can also review their previous conversations with support so they don’t have to ask the same question twice.
By eliminating the unnecessary touchpoint of interacting with an agent directly, especially for repetitive requests and frequently asked questions, a customer portal saves agents time and increases agent engagement. It also costs less to solve issues in a public space then work one-on-one with an agent.
Features like encryption enable customers to safely upload and access important information, such as a document with sensitive information. A customer portal also offers more capabilities than other customer support channels, such as email or SMS, including higher limits on file size and access to account information, making it easier for customers to upload necessary files and documents. This is where choosing the right customer portal software or client portal software becomes especially important.
Customer portal features
Read on for important customer portal features to look out for.
- Customization: You should be able to customize the look and feel of your customer portal to your brand.
- Knowledge base: A knowledge base is the corner stone to effective customer portal software. Customers should be able to access help center articles from their portal.
- Commumity forum: A community forum allows customers to ask questions, enter into debates, share knowledge, and discuss topics of common interest. In many cases, users can get information about how a product works or ask questions about specific features.
- Chatbot integration: Chatbots allow customers to self-serve on a one-to-one level, making them a great addition to a customer portal. They can answer questions 24/7 and take over repetitive requests so your support team can focus on higher-stakes issues.
- Mobile responsive: Customers today are on the go, and they should be able to access their customer portal from their mobile devices.
Does your business need customer portal software?
Simply having a customer portal isn’t enough to reap the benefits. Building a meaningful customer portal experience requires more than just creating a space for it and adding splashes of color or fancy typography—it involves strategically using it to best meet the needs of what matters the most: your customers. Here are five ways to use a customer portal to foster more trustworthy customer relationships:
1. Proactively support customers
A customer portal can empower a business to proactively support its customers, rather than waiting for them to reach out for help, after issues arise. For example, if you’re a tech company, you might leverage your customer portal to prepare for any mishaps that might arise during a software update by keeping your customers in the loop through relevant knowledge base content. This can save your support team time in the aftermath of a service issue.
Or, if you’re an e-commerce company, you might connect your customer portal with other systems to enable customers to manage their order details, such as tracking their shipments or updating their card information, so they can don’t have to reach out to support and wait for a response because they weren't home when they’re package arrived or their order didn’t process due to an expired card.
2. Better engage customers through education and community
A customer portal fosters customer engagement through education and community by bringing your knowledge base and community forum together, from a single access point. This means that customers can seamlessly transition from subscribing to articles relevant to where they are in the customer journey to interacting with other customers in their industry. For instance, during the onboarding process, a new customer might find your getting-started videos beneficial for becoming more comfortable with your platform, and your community forum helpful for learning how to use your tool more creatively.
As an example, Apple’s customer portal, My Support, offers a highly engaged learning environment where customers can find relevant knowledge base articles and community discussion posts relevant to their specific product and use case.
“Oftentimes customers look to your businesses not because they have a problem in mind, but because they want to learn.” said Davis. “A customer portal builds trust when customers know that they can find answers there and return to it.”
“A customer portal builds trust when customers know that they can find answers there and return to it.”
To foster a learning environment that’s effective and customer-centric, it's important to choose customer portal software that allows you to:
- Design a seamless user experience (UX):
- Customize your portal:
- Continuously update your knowledge base content:
This ensures design best practices, such as building a portal that's mobile responsive so customers can access it whether they’re at home or on the go—79 percent of millennials are more loyal to brands that offer a mobile-responsive customer portal, underscoring a need to resolve issues wherever and whenever they want, according to a research conducted by Microsoft.
A customized portal provides an experience that feels like your brand to ensure consistency across all your support touchpoints, which customers crave.
Help center articles are rarely ever-green, so you’ll want to have processes in place for creating new content and updating existing pieces. This is where AI can help, such as by flagging articles that need a refresh and suggesting gaps in topics.
3. Enable always-on support
As customers’ appetite for immediate responses grows—51 percent expect a response in under five minutes on the phone and 28 percent expect the same on live chat—support teams are facing more pressure to provide always-on help.
But no matter how amazing your team’s customer service skills are, it isn’t practical or realistic to have agents working around-the-clock. With online customer support, enables businesses to provide customers with answers on a dime, or at least get the process started.
Instead of having to call support and wait on hold, write an email and hope for a response the next day, or drop everything to have a real-time live chat conversation, customers can simply log in to their customer portal the moment they need help. For example, in Four Seasons’ client portal, hotel guests can request invoices, book reservations, and make edits to their room preferences, regardless of what time it is or where they are.
A well-designed portal also often includes a form that gives customers the option to contact customer support, without leaving the experience, in case they can’t find what they’re looking for. Businesses should consider adding fields to their ticket request form, such as product type or issue topic, so agents have the context they need to resolve the issue with speed.
4. Foster a feedback loop
Customer portals can help your business improve your customer focus by fostering a feedback loop between you and your customers. "Customer portals allow companies to collect feedback on their product or service as customers can vote on articles and comment on discussions," explained Davis.
For instance, you can use data around what customer complaints or feature requests get the most engagement in your community forum and what help center articles have the most views to guide product updates. Tracking the following knowledge base and community metrics is a good place to start fostering this feedback loop:
- Tickets created after search:
The total number of Up and Down votes applied to your knowledge base articles allow you to track top-performing content and identify underperforming content.
Subscriptions help you measure engagement by tracking the number of customers who have chosen to follow a knowledge base article or a community forum post.
Comments are signs that customers want more information about a certain topic. While this might signal that content needs to be refreshed, it’s also an opportunity to enrich your knowledge base with more detail and help customers before they reach out to you.
This often means that your content wasn’t enough to help the customer solve their problem on their own, which can also reveal a pain point with your product—that customers are having difficulty in certain areas even with sufficient self-service content.
5. Better prepare for the future
As the backbone that connects all your self-service functions, a customer portal helps you scale your support offerings as your business grows. As the number of tickets naturally increases with the number of customers, a well-maintained support portal helps to maintain a healthy ticket volume by taking some of the pressure off service teams.
And self-service will only become more important over time—according to Gartner, “85 percent of customer service interactions will start with self-service by 2022, up from 48 percent in 2019.” In the future, businesses will also be more likely to integrate AI with their self-service functions, such as deploying a chatbot inside their customer portal to help customers find answers even faster.
A self-service portal can also help ensure business continuity amid turbulence and ticket surges during challenging times. For example, when COVID-19 began to spread throughout the globe, Expedia encouraged travelers to submit refund requests through its customer portal, as a response to the exceedingly high volume of tickets during this unprecedented time.
How can you build a customer portal?
Building a customer portal is easy with the right software that enables you to customize it to your brand's look and feel and customers' needs. Ready to get started? Here are tips on choosing the right customer or client portal software.