Article

Valerie Nechay
Valerie Nechay 30 October 2020

How to Choose a Customer Portal Platform: Top 3 Options

A web portal has long ceased to be just an option and has evolved into a must-have for both online and offline enterprises that strive for high-quality customer experience. Learn what makes a great customer portal and discover the best-suited software to build one with.

The modern clientele has grown more independent and at the same time more demanding in terms of their expected level of personalization, and customer portals have the potential to meet these needs without overwhelming additional costs.

The market of portal solutions has grown to fit the emerging demand. A business starting their customer portal journey can have a selection of platforms, free and paid, with varying feature sets, which are, however, not all suitable for a customer-oriented solution. This article will help you navigate this diversity. It will outline the key functionality of a customer portal and explore what platforms are most suitable to accommodate it.

Essential Customer Portal Features

Knowledge base and self-service

As Statista reports, 79% of customers would rather solve a problem themselves than reach out to customer support reps for explanation. A knowledge base embedded into the portal is a great way to support this self-sufficiency.

The knowledge hub should provide answers to any possible question about the product or service and offer actionable guidelines for troubleshooting. The content format is a matter of preference: it can be articles, FAQs, step-by-step guides, videos, and podcasts, but they should be logically segmented and easily searchable.

It is also important to provide escalation routes for those who couldn’t resolve their problem single-handedly. In this event, the platform should allow customers to create and submit a support ticket as well as track its progress with the help center.

Omnichannel customer support

Gone are the times when one point of contact with the brand would suffice. Today, customers want to contact the company the way they see fit and expect to have all communication at their fingertips.

To this end, the customer portal should integrate as many communication channels as the brand can manage. Web forms and email are the easiest options, as they do not require real-time interaction. Live support – via phone calls, online chat, or social media messengers – should be embedded only when the process is properly streamlined both technology- and operation-wise.

User-centric design

Nothing discourages a user more than a tool poorly adapted for use. A customer web portal should be carefully designed with customers’ needs and convenience in mind.   

To ensure this, the portal architecture and navigation should be modeled after customer behavior. The interface should be clear, intuitive, and uncluttered, with unobtrusive yet visible support buttons on every page.

Moreover, brand identity should not be overlooked. Web elements designed according to the brand-inspired color palette, logos, and fonts add a unique touch to the look and feel and promote service continuity.  

Peer-to-peer interaction

Providing your customer community with a dedicated space to discuss, engage, and share ideas will emphasize your brand’s customer-centricity and readiness to hear customers’ genuine opinion.  

A platform-embedded forum does the task of bringing customers together and inspiring the sense of community. Discussion threads can also become a less official feedback channel for the company’s representatives.  

In addition to this, a forum can serve as another self-service channel. Customers exchanging ideas, opinions and tried-and-true solutions to commonly arising issues can collectively significantly decrease the number of incoming support tickets.

Customer Portal Software: Top 3 Picks

Based on the characteristics outlined above, the following three platforms are the most befitting solutions for building a customer portal.

Salesforce Community Cloud

Salesforce is a cloud CRM, or a customer success platform as it is marketed, that has been dominating the enterprise software market since its emergence. Salesforce offers several cloud platforms, each focused on a certain business function or domain: marketing, analytics, health, and so on.

One of such dedicated platforms, Salesforce Community Cloud is geared toward building a customer community. The solution offers out-of-the-box customer portal templates and allows no-code customization, with the ability to modify pre-built interface designs and features with a simple drag-and-drop tool.

Community Cloud also supports the knowledge base functionality. By default, it contains FAQs and tutorials content but allows creating custom article types with the individual layout. Einstein, the Salesforce Community Cloud AI tool, ensures highly personalized content recommendations.

Moreover, the platform is collaboration-friendly and provides a community discussion space. The case escalation feature allows a user to post questions to the community and receive answers directly from brand agents.

Although Community Cloud does not have digital support channels, another Salesforce platform, Service Cloud, does. It not only has a native live chat, but also allows the owner to seamlessly embed mobile messaging apps and the brand’s social media accounts. The Community and Service platforms can be easily connected thanks to out-of-the-box integration and work smoothly together, facilitating all-round customer-centric collaboration. 

Zendesk

Zendesk, a cloud-based customer service application, is considered Salesforce’s direct competitor. Compared to this multifunctional rival, Zendesk is more community-oriented, although recently the provider diversified its portfolio with sales and analytics suites. Other than that, this application is on par with the market leader Salesforce.

Zendesk Guide is a smart customer-oriented knowledge base. With customizable themes and sophisticated text editor available by default, it allows creating a text and media content storage with a unique look and feel, as well as import content from Google Docs. The Guide also includes a reporting tool that delivers accurate insights about the content relevance with the audience and an AI-powered recommendation engine. 

Zendesk’ Community Software allows building a user-friendly platform for customer feedback and peer-to-peer conversations. Moreover, the feature lets brand representatives escalate forum posts to support tickets, ensuring no issue is overlooked or lost. 

The Zendesk Support suite ensures seamless conversation with customers via web, mobile, email and social media channels. The solution’s online ticketing system with customizable request forms allows support agents to collect the complete information on the issue.   

Liferay

The digital experience platform Liferay is perhaps not as prominent as its two closest competitors above, but this robust solution is nevertheless recognized by Gartner in their Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms for the tenth year in the row.

The solution is aimed at building long-term relationships with customers and has a carefully assembled functional stack with nothing out of place. It offers to build a community knowledge base and allows setting up granular control over its moderation and management. On the downside, the knowledge base does not support any media formats other than text.

The platform also facilitates community engagement via forums and message boards, but, unlike Salesforce and Zendesk, does not allow escalating posts to support tickets. In general, customer support is Liferay’s weakest point. Geared more toward self-service, it does not offer built-in or integratable support functionality.

However, Liferay offers a selection of easily customizable page layouts and templates, enabling site administrators to create and modify the portal without the involvement of programmers.

Conclusion

Today, product quality alone is not enough to win customers’ hearts. Instead, experience has come to the fore as a differentiator for businesses operating both online and offline.  

A customer portal is a great solution for stepping up the personalization game while driving feasible value for customers. However, the portal is not a cure-all: its success hinges on how relevant its feature set is for the audience. A platform focused on customer enablement and experience personalization is the cornerstone of a future-proof customer portal, so it is vital to prioritize these aspects when choosing your solution.  

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