A self-service portal is a website that offers information and resources to help users find answers and resolve their issues. The two most common types of self-service portals are customer self-service and employee self-service. While the content and user experience often vary dramatically between these two types of portals, both may be built using the same technology.

The job of any self-service portal is to help users address common needs efficiently and without outside help. Some service needs are best addressed through one-on-one conversations, so self-service portals should be viewed as complements to — not replacements for — human service agents. Different companies will have different takes on what’s suitable for self-service and what requires the help of a live representative, and self-service portals can also be used to identify and route more complex or unusual needs to a call center or digital support channel.

Generally speaking, a self-service portal is a great tool for expediting common service requests while saving time and money. Self-service portals also help free up service employees to take on more complicated issues, or work on innovations to help the company grow. Deploying a self-service portal can also help build community and teach your customers new skills. Once on the portal, customers are more likely to discover additional content related to their initial inquiry, or even pertaining to your company’s other products and services.

We’ll dive deeper into the benefits of self-service portals below. But whether you’re implementing a portal to handle product-related issues from customers or to help employees deal with routine HR-related tasks, the benefits are largely the same: faster service at a lower cost, while giving your service reps more time to work on higher-order tasks.

Implementing a self-service portal can be a big undertaking. Before taking the plunge, it’s wise to consider the full impact of the project, including:

  • Organizational goals for the portal, including how you’ll measure success
  • Design, including user experience and information design (how content will be categorized and displayed)
  • What topics will be covered in the portal, and where the content will come from
  • Maintenance, including ensuring 24/7 availability of the portal, and regular review and refreshing of the content
  • Impact of the portal on your organization during all phases:
  • Design and implementation
  • Rollout and training
  • Changes in roles and responsibilities once the portal is live

Having a plan in place for both the creation of the portal and the support of its daily use post-launch is a key step toward ensuring long-term success of the project.

Self-service portal features and requirements vary from company to company, and also depend on whether the portal is customer- or employee-facing. That said, there are some commonalities among many self-service systems. They:

Answer queries with knowledge base and frequently asked questions (FAQ) content.

Users come to a self-service portal to get answers to their questions. Whether it’s a consumer wanting to troubleshoot a product that’s not working or an employee wondering about company vacation policies, the core function of self-service is to provide answers and information.

Knowledge base articles, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and how-to content are key components of many self-service systems. The information in this part of the portal should be organized, labeled, and searchable to make it easy for users to find what they need. Content should be created, prioritized, and refreshed according to what users are most often looking for, and what new products or initiatives are anticipated to cause a surge in support requests.

Empower users with administrative functionality.

Self-service systems let users handle many administrative tasks on their own, without the need for a service appointment or phone call. Administrative functionality is often more complex in employee self-service portals, which tie into HR systems to allow user management of personal information and some aspects of benefits and payroll administration. Increasingly, however, consumer-facing self-service portals offer account pages that allow customers to manage banking, payment, user profile, and other administrative functions without the need for a live support rep.

Secure your portal with a self-service login page.

Any self-service portal that includes personal user information needs security measures to keep that information safe. This typically includes all employee self-service portals, and customer self-service portals for companies that store users’ billing and payment information or other personal data. Personal information can be kept safe in an account page that’s only accessible after the user has logged in. Public information, including knowledge base, FAQ, and how-to content can be made freely available without going through a portal login page.

Building a self-service portal is easier than you might think. Self-service (or help center) is offered by a range of vendors, and is available as both a stand-alone product and a component of an integrated suite or SaaS subscription.

Most self-service software includes tools for building out knowledge base content, communities, and administrative functionality, depending on your company’s needs and goals. Self-service support should also integrate with your customer relationship management system (CRM). Data gathered from self-service can be invaluable to other parts of your business, ranging from customer retention and marketing to product planning. With complete visibility into how your customers use self-service you can easily and quickly improve the quality of your content, include missing topics, and gain first-hand insight into what customers are saying about your product or service.

Salesforce offers multiple ways to deploy self-service features that integrate with your existing website or back-office system. Salesforce Essentials, the out-of-the-box solution for small business, comes with support for Help Center. When combined with Salesforce Knowledge, Essentials lets you create a help center in minutes using a template and guided setup.

For larger businesses and more complex needs, Community Cloud offers a variety of options, including Customer Community. With Community Cloud, you can offer quick access to answers to important, commonly asked questions, FAQs, and customer portals, including AI-powered content recommendations personalized based on a customer’s profile information, interests, and activities. Community Cloud supports self-service administrative tasks like paying bills, filing claims, and making appointments. It seamlessly integrates with Service Cloud so your agents can quickly respond to more pressing customer issues.

There are a number of business benefits to self-service portals, including some you may not have thought of. Reducing the time and costs associated with customer service is the obvious one that springs to mind — and it’s an important one — but here are a few more benefits worth thinking about.

Portals proactively solve problems – and customers like them.

More and more customers today like finding their own answers and solving problems for themselves. Portals expand clients’ knowledge and skills, and also give them the tools to solve future issues on their own. Providing information beyond the basics when delivering answers to commonly asked questions arms customers with increased knowledge about your products and services. This proactively helps resolve new issues as they arise.

How-to videos and step-by-step guides with images, diagrams, and screenshots are especially useful for more visual customers, but they often help all users learn your company’s products inside out.

Self-service portals boost site traffic.

A customized knowledge base on your self-service portal can boost your website traffic. Beyond encouraging your own customers to spend more time on the site, bloggers and clients can quote and share your self-service content in their own channels, increasing your visibility among their audiences. Establishing your self-service portal as a leading source of knowledge in your field can also lend credibility to your business as a trusted voice and authority.

Self-service creates opportunities for personalization.

Many self-service portals include the ability for customers to create and personalize their accounts. Personalization can be a powerful tool when used with a self-service portal. Whenever users log in — be they consumers or employees — they can be greeted by name, represented by a customizable avatar, and directed to a personalized home page loaded with curated information. The self-service portal can keep a record of customers’ products or services purchased (or HR and payroll information, in an employee portal) and display articles and topics relevant to them. This helps clients feel like valued partners with unique preferences.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Learn about more ways self-service portals can benefit your business.

A self-service portal is a versatile tool capable of combining knowledge base articles and how-to content with personalized service that’s available 24/7 to all of your users. Self-service portals can serve consumers as well as employees, and are a cost-effective way to increase service agent productivity, reduce customer wait times, and deliver personalized support. A service portal can also bolster your web presence by boosting traffic while also creating content suitable for sharing across blogs and social media, giving you a path toward establishing your company as a trusted, authoritative voice in your industry.