Customer service has changed. Customers’ expectations have changed. People want to do things themselves. A recent survey found that 88% of people  contacted in the United States and globally expect the brands or organizations they interact with to have self-service portals. Having an excellent self-service portal—a place where customers, vendors, and employees can carry out transactions, get information, or obtain customer support—is now a critical part of doing business.

Two industries where self-service portals are especially important are Banking/financial services and healthcare. Consumers expect to be able to access their vital information and interact with their service providers 24/7, no matter where they are.

The quality of your self-service portal is a major, if not the primary way in which others interact with your company. That makes the quality of that experience a direct reflection on your brand. Giving people a good experience is just one of the advantages of self-service portals. Other reasons to build and develop them include:

  • People are asking for ways to interact online; they expect it.
  • Online self-service portals are always available, 24/7.
  • Self-service, when done right, can reduce costs and deliver information and support more efficiently.
  • When people interact with your brand through a portal, they feel more engaged, and it can create a sense of community.
  • It allows you to collect valuable, accurate data on how your customers behave and interact while they’re on your site.
  • Online interaction allows people to share documents, images, and videos much more efficiently.

With such strong justification, your company is most likely interested in creating or improving your portal. To help with that, we present the following dos and don’ts for self-service portals:

Dos: How to increase the value of your online customer service experience

The goal of an online self-service portal is to allow people to access information, execute a transaction, or obtain support quickly and easily. That may be personal information, an IT help desk, or providing registration for webinars. The applications for self-service portals are wide and varied.

Based on our years of experience in creating and optimizing self-service portals, we have six recommended “rules:”

Self-service portals should be intuitive

The user experience needs to be as easy as possible. If your customers run into anything complicated or confusing, they may develop a negative impression. Take the time to test your workflows early and throughout the process. Also, once up and running, use data on user behavior (see Do #5 below) to identify areas where users are spending time or exiting the application before the workflow is completed; these are signs of a non-intuitive process.

User experience should be mobile-first

Mobile is becoming the preferred way for people to interact with online content. Your site must provide a seamless, positive experience from mobile to desktop and back to mobile.

If your website is powered with a search feature—and it should be—test, test, and test again to ensure your information is easy to find. Which keywords do your visitors use to find you? Include strong a search engine in your site as well as natural language processing.

Enable customer feedback

An online platform should offer ways for your users to provide feedback on the self-service experience. Then, you can use this information to constantly improve it.

Track what your users are doing

Tracking users uncovers which areas they use the most and where they are struggling. Use that information to fix or improve things. This type of data is invaluable for finding cumbersome or non-intuitive user interface issues. Seeing where customers spend most of their time also provides you with data on where you should focus your efforts on improving your tools.

Reflect your brand

Don’t treat your online self-service portal as something separate from your company’s branding. From password reset to searching a knowledge base, make sure it not only looks like the rest of your content but also keeps your messaging consistent across your online presence.

Don’ts: What you should avoid in your digital support platform

Sometimes creating a great user experience that delivers value to your company and your customers, employees, or vendors involves avoiding specific problems on a site. For a self-service portal, this can be even more important, especially if the portal is offering support. Here are six suggestions for what you should avoid, based on our experience in helping customers create their self-service portals:

Don’t frustrate your users.

It is never a good idea to frustrate people, but that is especially true when you are asking them to serve themselves. Avoiding user frustration should be your number one priority. So listen carefully to—and solicit!—feedback.

Don’t make users enter data you already have.

Speaking of frustrating users, making them enter personal data that your company already has can be annoying. Let them see what you have available and let them add or modify—for example, enable an auto-fill feature so users can add previously-entered details with just one click should they choose to.

Don’t hide your humans.

Even though users want to be able to use a self-service site, we have found that they do not like having online access and self-service content as the only option. Don’t make it difficult for them to find contact information for email, phone, or chat.

Don’t ignore older content and let it become stale

An excellent self-service portal will have useful content, and over time that content will build up. Don’t let it get too old. Make sure that your team reviews the site, removes obsolete tools and information, and updates content that still has value.

Don’t advertise or sell too obviously.

Avoid coming off as too “salesy” on your portal, even if users are coming to your site as part of the sales process. They want to learn or undertake a transaction. They do not want to be sold to.

Don’t require a login to access useful information

If you put helpful content—like FAQs and knowledge base articles—behind a login on your portal, you are hiding it from search engines and users who are researching your product or service. That said, we realize that form-fills are great ways to build your lead pipeline, so we recommend mapping your customers’ journey to understand their needs and preferences, which we’ll get to next.

Building your best self-service portal

Now that you know what to do and what not to do, it is time to begin developing your new portal or an upgrade to your existing site. An excellent place to start is mapping out your customer’s journey. Below is the customer journey map we use when we help customers plan their users’ experience.

As with any software development process, you should next plan out what you want to do. Start with a list of the services you want to offer to your users, then assign priority to each based upon how much time they take up now and how often users want to access each feature.

The next step is to find the right development team. It would help if you had someone that understands how to work with you to create the right experience and deliver the value available in a well-implemented self-service portal. At Zibtek we know how to do that as well as how to write useful applications for the web and mobile that can grow and improve with time. We also provide support to your team after launch to make sure things keep running, and add the right enhancements when needed.

In business, everyone always talks about how important it is to keep your customers, employees, and partners happy. As digital transformation takes hold and more and more of the interaction that is critical to your business takes place online, the companies that thrive and grow will be the ones that turn that talk into action through outstanding self-service portals. We hope our suggestions above will help you with your journey. If you would like to learn more from our experience, contact us and talk to one of our product managers about how Zibtek can help you create a custom solution that stands out above the generic tools that most companies deploy.