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We are often asked, “Can't we just build a customer portal ourselves? Why shouldn’t we DIY it?" So before you dive headfirst into the world of customer portal creators, ask yourself this: are you ready for the time, resources, and know-how it takes to make your vision a reality? For your convenience, we've laid it all out for you.
✨ Step 1 - conduct an internal discovery
When it comes to building a customer portal software, the discovery phase is crucial. Unlike an off-the-shelf solution that can be modified as needed, you will need to set short lists of features and you want them right the first time, as each will evidently take a long time to develop. This is the time where you gather all the information you need to make informed decisions about the features and functionality of your software. In order to ensure a successful discovery phase, there are a few key elements you should include:
- Talk to CS: Your customer success team is the front line of communication with your customers. They have valuable insights into what your customers need and want from a customer portal software. Make sure to schedule meetings with your CS team to gather their input and ideas.
- Watch all the recordings: Recordings of customer interactions, whether it be on phone calls or chat sessions, can provide valuable insights into customer pain points and areas where a customer portal software could improve their experience.
- Check support tickets: Support tickets can provide valuable information about customer issues and concerns. Analyze the tickets to identify patterns and common themes. This will give you a good idea of what kind of features and functionality to include in your customer portal software.
✨ Step 2 - understand the relevant feature requirements.
While you probably have specific requirements that are relevant for your specific product and business, some elements of a customer portal tool are a must regardless.
- Manage access: One of the most important features of a customer portal tool is the ability to manage access to the portal. This includes setting up user roles and permissions, as well as being able to add or remove users as necessary. Let’s look at some examples:
Since the portal is customer-facing, the level of design and user experience needs to be top-notch. The customer portal needs to be visually appealing and easy to navigate, which is why it's important to have a designer involved in the design process. However, once the design is complete, it's important to restrict access to certain areas to ensure the integrity of the design. For example CSMs should not have the ability to modify the branding of the portal as it could negatively impact the customer experience. Instead, they should be able to easily modify the content within the portal, such as account information and support resources, while keeping the overall design intact. This balance of design and functionality allows for a consistent customer experience while also allowing for the necessary flexibility for CSMs to manage their accounts.
- Different personas: Different customers have different needs and expectations when it comes to a customer portal. Make sure to consider different personas, such as end-users, administrators, managers, and more.
When a manager comes in you would want to show very different content than what you would show the end-user. While the manager might be exposed to adoption metrics and overall ROI of your tool, the champion would probably be exposed to day-to-day feature releases and to-dos.
- Different stages: Consider the different stages of the customer journey and design the portal to meet the needs of customers at each stage.
For example, a customer in the onboarding stage will have different needs than a customer who has been using your product for a year.
Your onboarding customer hub will probably show the onboarding timeline and crucial tasks to be completed, along with relevant resources to consume. Your year long customer on the other hand might be looking at a success plan you’ve build together to ensure he’s able to reach the next important milestone.
- Different industries/use cases: Different industries and use cases will have different requirements for a customer portal. Consider the specific needs of your target market and design the portal to meet those needs.
For example, you might have a customer hub designed for your low-ARR customers that includes lots of self-consumed resources, and a high-touch hub with lots of important digital-touches as well as pre-defined meetings as part of your meetings widget.
- Single account experience vs. scale: Consider whether the customer portal will be used by a single user or by multiple users within an organization. This will affect the design and functionality of the portal.
- Data sources: Your customer portal will likely need to integrate with other systems and data sources. Consider which data sources are necessary for the portal and make sure to plan for the integration of these data sources.
Amongst the relevant data sources you can find your CRM, your BI tools, support system, project management tool and more.
- Back office UI: The back office UI of the customer portal tool is the interface that the customer support, sales and other internal teams will use to interact with the customer data. Make sure to design a user-friendly and easy to use interface that will make the process of managing customer data as easy as possible.
✨ Step 3 - start designing your customer portal interface
- Work with a designer to offer an experience that matches your brand: This means working with a designer to create a consistent look and feel that aligns with your brand guidelines. It's important to note that this process may require a few iterations, so it's a good idea to communicate this in advance to ensure that the project stays on schedule.
- Make sure to create designs that will work on mobile devices as well: With the growing use of mobile devices, it's important to ensure that the customer portal is mobile-friendly. This means designing the interface to be responsive and easy to use on a variety of devices, including smartphones and tablets.
- Design for optimal content consumption: A customer portal is often the primary location where customers access and consume a wide range of content, such as video tutorials, PDF documentation, and data visualizations. To ensure that the customer experience is seamless, it's essential to design the interface in a way that makes it easy for customers to consume this content directly through the portal. This means ensuring that videos can be watched without buffering, PDF files can be easily opened and read, and data visualizations can be easily understood. By designing the portal for optimal content consumption, you can improve the overall customer experience and encourage them to engage with your content more frequently.
✨Step 4 - Get estimates from R&D
Once the design and specifications for the customer portal have been finalized, it's important to review them with the developers who will be building it. This will allow them to provide accurate estimates for the time and resources required to build the portal.
Review integrations with external systems: Make sure to include any necessary integrations with external systems, such as your CRM, ticketing system, calendar, and BI system in the review with the developers. This will ensure that the customer portal can seamlessly integrate with these other systems, and provide a more comprehensive customer experience.
Consider external access: If you need to make the customer portal available to people who don't have access to your product, it's important to discuss this option with the developers. This may require additional development work and security considerations, so it's important to include this in the estimates.
Coordinate with QA team: If you have a QA team, it's important to make sure they are aligned with the development schedule and have the capacity and systems to run tests before the customer portal goes live. This will help ensure that the portal is free of bugs and glitches, and that the customer experience is as smooth as possible.
✨Step 5 - Work with R&D and QA
Once development on the customer portal has started, it's important to schedule recurring meetings with the R&D team to track progress and address any questions or issues that may arise. This will ensure that the project stays on track and that any potential roadblocks are identified and addressed in a timely manner.
- Be prepared for descoping: In many cases, the actual development of a customer portal takes longer than initially estimated. To mitigate this, it's important to be prepared with a list of features and capabilities that can be descoped for the first release, if necessary. This will allow you to prioritize the most important functionality and still be able to deliver a functional and valuable customer portal on time.
- Collaborate with QA team: Make sure to collaborate closely with the QA team throughout the development process. This will allow them to conduct thorough testing and identify any bugs or usability issues before the customer portal goes live.
✨Step 6 - Rolling out your customer portal to your customers
The rollout of a new customer portal can be a challenging task, as it's not enough to simply have the tool built - you also need to ensure that your customers understand its value and know how to use it effectively. Here are some recommended steps for a successful rollout:
- Launch an email campaign series that explains the value of the hub and how it can help customers streamline their workflow, access important information more easily, and improve communication with your team.
- Walk your clients through the hub during meetings. This will give them a hands-on demonstration of the tool and allow them to ask any questions they may have.
- Add the hub link to your email signature. This will help ensure that customers are aware of the hub and know how to access it.
- Ensure to use the hub all the time during the meetings to make it top of mind. This will help customers understand the benefits of the hub and how it can help them in their day to day work.
- Use the hub push notifications so that clients will know that there's new content inside the hub and will come back to view it. This will help increase engagement and ensure that customers are getting the most out of the tool.
- Create a training video or tutorial on how to use the hub, and make it easily accessible within the hub and share it with your customers.
✨Step 7 - R&D Maintenance and changes process
A customer portal is a living, breathing tool that needs to be maintained and updated to continue delivering value to your customers. Having a clear process in place for maintenance and changes is essential for ensuring that your portal remains relevant and useful for your customers over time.
Some key elements of a maintenance and changes process include:
- Regularly reviewing and updating the content within the portal to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date
- Tracking and addressing customer feedback and suggestions for improvements
- Keeping the portal's design and user experience current, making sure it aligns with your brand and provides the best possible user experience
- Regularly testing and monitoring the portal's performance to identify and fix any issues that may arise.
Having a process in place for maintenance and changes not only ensures that your portal remains valuable to your customers but it also saves a lot of time and effort in the long run and will help you to avoid any unexpected issues.
Work with your developers on the cadence for updates and changes. As there are probably already processes in place, make sure time and resources are allocated to make this experience for customers a priority for your developers.
✨Step 8 - Analytics to relevant teams
Different stakeholders in the company are going to be interested in how the hub is performing.
Product: your product team will probably want to know how the hub helps with adopting specific features of your product and what’s the overall benefits in provides on overall usage of your core product.
In addition, if the product team was the one to lead the creation of the customer portal itself, the will probably want to see valuable insights into which portal features are being utilized the most, and which are not. This information can be used to improve the product and make it more user-friendly.
Marketing: if you’re using your portal to share marketing assets such as guides and webinar recordings, your marketing team will probably want to understand whether the content was consumed through the hub and the value it provides as far as content consumption.
In addition, if the marketing team was involved in rolling out the hub to customers, they would want to see how many people are visiting the hub and how often. This information can be used to optimize marketing campaigns and increase the visibility of the hub.
Customer Success: Analytics can provide data on how customers are using the hub and how it's impacting their experience. This information can be used to improve the customer success team's communication with customers and to make sure they are getting the most out of the hub.
Sales: Analytics can provide data on how the hub is impacting sales, and which features are being used by customers to make a purchase. This information can be used to optimize the sales process and improve the sales team's ability to close deals.
Overall, having a process in place for collecting, analyzing, and sharing analytics is crucial for the success of the customer portal. It allows teams to make data-driven decisions and continuously improve the customer experience.
Ready to build? Take a second to consider buying a customer portal software. Here’s why
As you’ve probably gathered from the 8 steps long process of building your own customer portal interface - that’s quite a challenge. Here’s a quick recap of the key considerations based on these 8 steps:
- The flow of information - ask yourself whether the flow of information and tasks is not solely contained within the application. For example, if you need to pull or update data from a CRM system, a purchased software may be more efficient and cost-effective than building your own. Otherwise, the cost of creating all of these integrations will probably be very high.
- Creating different hub versions - Ask yourself whether you need different versions of the portal tailored to specific customer segments or personas. For example: based on low/high touch or ecommerce/FinTech clients. A purchased software may offer customizable options that better suit your needs.
- Collaborative task plan - If the task plan needs to be collaborative (between you and your customers) or owned by different specific owners from your customer end, it's a good indication that you may want to consider buying a solution, as it will be easier to manage and keep track of all the different tasks and owners.
- Limited R&D resources - if your R&D resources are limited and are focusing on the core technology, buying a customer portal software may be the better option as it will allow your team to focus on developing and improving the core product.
- The X factor - if you require extra features that you will never consider building, or you want to get these features out of the box, buying a solution can be a great option as it will save you time and money.