Almost every business now knows and uses customer portals to improve their customer service. But that doesn’t guarantee customer satisfaction.
Your portal is the face of your customer service. 50 percent of customers will switch to another brand after one bad experience. So, you must offer a positive experience with an appealing, intuitive, and feature-rich customer portal design.
If you had a physical retail store, you would ensure that customers get the best experience possible. The sections are designed systematically, and the support people are well-versed with all the products in the store.
You would make it possible that they don’t leave without purchasing or with a bad experience. Think about your customer portal the same way. Ensure it serves customers the way it’s supposed to.
Let’s look at the 4 customer portal design best practices that will surely help you in 2022.
1. Build with Purpose
Start by thinking about your customers’ requirements and what service they need – communication, document sharing, profile management, etc. Think about the features your portal should consider in order to help them with self-service. Along with customers, also think about your support team and how the portal will simplify their work. If you can’t, think about the questions that your customers often ask – if it’s about performance, you need to provide them reports on the dashboard. You can provide a knowledge base and ticket management if it’s about ticket generation. For your support team, think about their challenges – repetitive queries – add FAQs and case deflection.
Remember that your portal is effective only when customers and staff use it. If it serves a purpose, both your customers and staff will benefit from it.
Tip: If the purpose is instant solution/help, add features like advanced search and knowledge base to help customers help themselves.
Challenges to tackle during customer portal design
- Too much data clutter
- Complicated browsing
- Customer relationships
- Optimized portal
2. Focus on UI
First impressions are the most important part of the customer journey. If the store looks appealing, they are likely to stay and browse. Hence, start with the look and feel, i.e., the visuals and graphics, and then proceed towards functional design and how the portal works.
The visual elements include:
Provide limited options. According to Hicks law, customers take more time to decide if you give them multiple options. Plus, complicated terms confuse them. Hence, use simple words and names like Contact Us, About Us, Home Page, and product page. Next, prioritize the look; make the interface intuitive. Add colors that resemble your brand. Maintain consistency throughout, deliver a message that service is your core competency and not just a siloed operation. While sharing important information, use a bold color palette.
It should be easy for customers with or without any disability to find what they are looking for. A search tab should redirect customers to the required sections – knowledge base, assets, community support, cases, or other resources. All the elements and buttons should be placed so that they are visible and easily accessible. For example, a search bar on the top – in the center or left/right corner. Your self-service should be only one click away from your support center.
Here are some tips to make your portal accessible for specially-abled customers.
- Use contrasting colors
- Add text labels and patterns to deliver content
- Support keyboard navigation
Navigation impacts your store performance. Hence, ensure it’s smooth and professional as it will help you find the relevant information instantly. Categorize the sections properly and make the links clickable and proper. Maintain consistency and focus on the positioning of the elements like CTAs, menu, header, footer, etc. Ensure that all the links navigate to proper sections or pages. If a user clicks on the link to an article, it should navigate to that specific article. The navigational titles should be clear and appropriate. Don’t forget to add alt text for all images. If you want to track customer information, use breadcrumbs. They help track and retrieve the previous path that customers followed.
iv. White Space
White/negative space gives breathing space to the reading elements. It separates the sections and helps customers/users focus on the specific elements – focus on a specific section, miss the content, and click on the call-to-action.
An apt example of white space is Dropbox’s help center. Customers have a clear idea of where they can find specific information. The white spacing and content in between guides customers to specific sections and articles. This is self-service in actual terms.
However, white space doesn’t mean a simple break in between elements. You need to make sure that it’s strategic. For example, placing a bulk of content in the below section and forcing customers to scroll is an idea you should avoid. Don’t let customers scroll left or right. If they have to scroll right to read information, most of them will simply avoid it. And your goal to offer self-service will be of no use.
Your customer portal design interface should focus on usability. Customers use it on a daily basis, whether it’s online banking or a retail store. So, make sure it’s appealing and convenient. Also, it should be impressive enough to make customers use it often.
Tip: While designing the user interface of the customer portal, you can create a default layout for all customers or a separate template layout for specific customers based on their user groups.
3. Improve User Experience
When designing your customer portal, it’s essential that you provide your customers with all the necessary information without overwhelming them with too much or unnecessary information. So, determine the features and information that would help your customers. Don’t overwhelm them with irrelevant features. Here are a few of the features you must have.
Offer a secure login and let customers manage their profiles and cases themselves. Give them the freedom to raise tickets and track their status accordingly. Let them find answers to their questions with a knowledge base and community support.
Let your customers view and track all activities from a single window. Provide all the necessary data, including tickets, profiles, documents, news feed, etc., on the dashboard. Allow them to stay informed and sort the data such as ticket status, purchase history, etc., using advanced filters.
Your portal dashboard should consist of relevant data, quick links to frequently searched content or tasks, and help customers resolve queries immediately. It should highlight urgent/overdue tasks. Avoid adding lengthy welcome messages or content that you care about, like news.
iii. Onboarding Process
Adding new customers and making them complete a task on the portal is an accomplishment. However, if even one thing goes wrong, it can create chaos, forcing customers to abandon you. Hence, make sure your customer portal design focuses on seamless onboarding. Add features like single sign-on to let customers log in to the portal easily. Add training materials and tutorials to guide them through the portal. However, make sure that the portal is customer-centric and straightforward, i.e., they should be able to use it without/with less help.
iv. Knowledge Base
Only a few companies provide a knowledge base for their staff and customers. However, that’s the first stop where customers stop in their journey to solving queries. So, provide a knowledge base and ensure that the content is relevant and up-to-date. Also, it shouldn’t be technical. Your articles and documentation should be in layman language so that every portal user can understand them. In addition, you can also add features like version control to manage the documents systematically, helping customers find the required information quickly. Advanced filters and search options to find information will also help.
Last but not least, optimize SEO. Even if customers Google a question, they should be redirected to your portal. It will increase your portal and website reach. Keep doing the gap analysis to understand the content that customers are searching, but couldn’t find.
Tip: Offer FAQs so that customers can get answers in a single click.
v. Ticket Management
Your customer portal design process should involve a create/update incident feature. This will allow customers to create a new support request, edit/update the request and track its status. The automated workflow should ensure that a ticket is issued to a relevant support person. There shouldn’t be any manual allocations and management of tickets.
You can also add a case deflection feature. Instead of raising a ticket, customers can first search if a similar query already exists in the system. If yes, it can prompt them to redirect to relevant links and find the solution there. This feature would reduce your service team’s workload and allow them to focus on priority tasks.
Note: Some businesses use the ticket management custom integrated by their portal developer, while others integrate an external solution using the API. So, ask your developer about it when designing the portal.
vi. Virtual Assistant
Though this is an advanced feature, guided search is taking up the stage, allowing customers to search products, categories, queries, etc., based on their past interactions, purchase history, recommendations, browsing methods, and so on. This provides a next-level service where customers get help even before asking for it and in a way they prefer.
A virtual assistant can be an AI-enabled chatbot that asks customers questions based on its interactions with a similar profile. It provides customers answers to basic queries instantly.
vii. Online Community
Just like an intuitive interface, your customer portal design process is incomplete without a communication channel. Since your purpose is to encourage self-service, a community forum encourages your customers to meet their peers and share ideas and questions with them. This feature will help you cut down your operational costs since customers can help other customers without any help from the support team.
In fact, this forum will help you understand your customers better. You can analyze the challenges that they face, the kind of service they expect and implement strategies to improve your offerings.
This will increase your brand awareness. So, ask your portal development partner to integrate a community feature. Allow sharing documents, images, and videos there. Make your community forum engaging and interactive like social media platforms. Integrate multiple communication and collaboration tools.
Overall, focus on automation. Automating certain tasks and processes like onboarding, ticket management, and document management will make the business operations efficient and improve customer experience.
4. Balance Customization, Security, and Convenience
Just like the sleek design, customers expect businesses to provide them with customization options to have control over the portal. So, offer customization options that let them customize the portal’s look and feel. It can be related to styling or enabling/disabling a feature. Offer services that allow them to share documents and other relevant information with you.
In the other half, focus on security. Ensure that the freedom and access you give your customers doesn’t cost you in terms of data loss, manipulation, or fraud. Follow security best practices such as complex passwords, two-factor authentication, session timeout, hiding sensitive information, etc. Also, add compliance and policies.
With security, ensure that it doesn’t inconvenience customers. If configurations and secure login become a hassle, customers won’t likely use the portal. Hence, try to offer convenience with features like single sign-on and shortcuts.
Explain to them the reason behind limited access and the compliance and security concerns. Add statements like ‘your data security is our priority.’
Here are some ways to create a balance between convenience and security.
i. Help Center
A great support center is where customers can easily and quickly find the help they need. It’s a centralized place where all your customers come over to resolve their queries. Hence, brand your help center so that it’s packed with useful information and consists of intuitive design elements to attract customers.
Take a look at Asana’s help support page and see how they have picked and added the right elements – navigational links, search bar, related articles, and virtual assistant.
You can also look at GiffGaff’s aesthetically appealing design. The help center encourages customers to contact the community for help and reach out to the support team for a personalized query/service.
ii. Request Types
When designing your customer portal, mention the different request types and add details to it.
- Create different request types and name them so that it’s easily understandable.
- Add icons for separate request types for easy bifurcation.
- Add context for help, like the purpose of the request or additional information.
- Provide easy links to documents and content if required.
- Group similar types of requests so that it’s easy to find relevant information.
iii. Add Shortcuts
Just as Siri shortcuts help remind you about important meetings and upcoming events, portal shortcuts will help your customers accomplish specific tasks quickly. For example, instead of surfing through the security module to change the password, they can click on the change password link on the dashboard and be redirected to the change password page. So, add shortcuts to navigate to a specific module or perform a particular action. Allow keyboard shortcuts and simplify everyone’s life. Also, consider scroll buttons in your customer portal design.
Make it convenient for your customers to access the portal.
iv. Limit Access
Add a security feature where you can control what your customers can access and what they can’t. Create user groups and define certain access rules based on them. For example, exclusive customers can access premium features. You can also provide access rights to individual users.
v. Allow Customizations
Let your customers customize their portal’s design. Offer a drag and drop builder to customize the layout – configure colors, themes, font, styles, etc. Allow them to filter the content they would like to read based on their preferences. For example, if they want to read news only about upcoming events, let them configure it so that the news feed will only show the upcoming events and sales news.
You can also allow them to customize the dashboard to view the information they need on one page.
Industry Specific Design Examples
Portal is a solution that benefits almost all industries. Here are a few customer portal design inspirations that you can employ based on your industry.
Your portal design should focus mainly on the patients. It should allow your patients to schedule appointments, contact doctors, view test results, and check their reports anytime. Here’s a MyChart platform designed by Children’s Hospital Colorado. The platform makes signing in, sleek. Users only have to add a few details and request an access code.
The best part of this customer portal design is that it provides all the necessary information in one place. Patients can view their notifications, check the to-do lists, and even perform certain actions with quick links.
Banking and Insurance
Add features that allow customers to manage private accounts and monetary transactions from one place. A great example is the Santander bank website. The platform consists of various retail features that allow customers to control their accounts, cards, investments, loans, and access other information.
Source: Santander Bank
Insurance industries can take inspiration from CopperPoint, the largest worker compensation provider. They have a solution that lets their policyholders and clients collaborate with self-service features. The platform facilitates payment procedures, recoveries, negotiations, quotes, alerts, and more.
Check out the Capella University iGuide and Passport York for student and faculty portal design. Capella’s iGuide provides learners with relevant tools and resources to access courses and learn at their own pace.
Students can register for courses, access them online, manage their information, and even pay bills therein.
Stanford University’s online solution called AXESS is developed on user-centric design. It allows students and faculty to manage all their activities, including enrollments, classes, courses, and personal information from one place.
You need to make sure that your customer portal design covers industry-specific requirements and includes features accordingly.
What’s the Next Step
Go and talk to a portal development partner. Share your requirements and make sure that they include everything in the customer portal design process. Also, take their inputs on design and development, including the features that should be included.
Most importantly, ask your customers. Take their feedback and implement those in your customer portal design. Always remember that your portal should be designed considering its users.
Need help with your customer portal design?
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