The Rise of Customer Portals and Self-help Customer Service
“Tuning in” to your Customers
Businesses should “tune in” to their customers to understand what makes them tick. For example, millennials, the tech generation born from 1981 to 2003, have never known a world without cell phones. At age two, they probably began playing video games on a hand-held device and learned to use a keyboard at age four. They are high achievers, tech savvy, social, confident, flexible, entrepreneurial, goal-oriented, independent and multi-taskers. They are never without their smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc., and they feel entirely empowered.
Modern consumers of the younger generations feel emboldened and want customer service on their own terms. They believe they have the talent to conduct their own research, and they want to make purchasing decisions based on their own findings—on their own time schedule and in their own way. “If I need help, I’ll let you know,” they say. The State of Service report found that 39% of millennials check a company’s FAQs first, indicating they clearly prefer to conduct research on their own.
Answering the Demands of Modern Customers
The State of Service report defines high-performing service teams as those that most consistently keep abreast of customers’ changing expectations. Salesforce.com surveyed 1,900 global customer service leaders to determine what sets high performing service organizations apart. According to the report, high-performing customer service teams acknowledge the urgency of meeting the ever-evolving needs of today’s customers and focus their attention on meeting these unique needs.
Answering the demands of modern customers has given rise to self-help customer service and customer portals.
A self-service portal is an internal system requiring a customer username and password to access information for personal research. The customer can see details about his/her account, view past history, review case outcomes, determine whether they are still open, etc. The customer can research issues he/she is having with a company’s product or service. Customers can identify cases and solutions that are similar to the problems they are currently experiencing, and create a new case if no similar cases can be found.
A customer portal, also an internal system, is an extension of a self-service portal, also accessed via username and password. The customer portal allows deeper access and more functionality in reviewing cases and solutions. The portal is custom-built for a specific business and can be further personalized as needed. The user can add tabs, conduct advanced searches, create new records, save articles and ideas, and more.
Management determines the types of information available for customers’ perusal on a self-service portal or a customer portal. Management acts as a gatekeeper in the portals by controlling the content, having the prerogative to add or delete information, etc. For example, a newly published article with innovative ideas and up-to-date data can be approved by management and added to the portal to be accessed by customers.
Beyond self-service and customer portals is a fresh and emerging technology called self-service communities. This feature allows a business to transition self-service for customers to a self-service community—from anywhere, anytime. Self-service communities integrate portals and discussion groups into one cooperative community that agents and customers can access. A community can be built from the ground up or by using customized templates to create an energetic self-service community.
Customers can interact with other customers, share information and experiences, connect to trending knowledge, locate articles or posts to get the answers they seek, and receive suggestions from their community peers—anytime from any device.
Customer service agents monitor self-service communities, so if a question is not answered in a community, an agent is automatically notified and can insert him/herself into the community in real time to provide assistance.
“Top service teams are nearly 11x more likely than underperformers to create and manage online communities and 4x more likely to maintain a self-service portal,” according to the State of Service report. Additionally, “The use of self-service portals and community creation/management is expected to jump 89% and 115% respectively over the next 12-18 months.”
Benefits of Helping Customers Help Themselves
The benefits of helping customers help themselves are two-fold. First, it allows customers to have their wish of researching and finding answers on their own at times personally convenient for them. Secondly, it saves time, resources, and dollars for the customer service team, clearing the way for service agents to focus their efforts and attention on more complex service issues.
Smart-thinking businesses offer a full menu of self-service choices for today’s modern consumers. It pays big dividends in customer validation, satisfaction, and retention. It aids in building a solid relationship of trust and loyalty between a company and its customers. It sends a clear message to a customer that says, “Yes, we hear you, and we will do everything we possibly can to give you the service you want—anytime, anywhere, on any device.”