A Beginner’s Guide to the Self-Service Portal

If you want to grow your business, a self-service portal is an essential element for success. Learn the basics about this useful tool.

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The beauty of technology is in how it allows you to scale your business. It pays dividends particularly in technical and customer support. You can either hire an army of support reps, or you can set up a self-service portal.

Provide support through people, and it will cost you up to $12 per contact. But furnish self-service capabilities, and that cost drops to $0.10 per contact or less, according to Forrester Research.

Another study found 71% of consumers want to solve issues on their own. Not only does a self-service option cost less, it’s what your audience wants.


Overview: What is a self-service portal?

If you purchased a product or service, then visited the vendor’s website to get questions answered, you’ve used a self-service portal. It’s an online location housing information and tools that help your customers effectively use your products and services, or find solutions to questions or issues.

Typical content found on a self-service portal includes help articles, tutorials, documentation, and technical support options. The self-service portal is used by employees and customers to answer common questions related to the products, services, and tools employed by your organization.

IT self-service portal

This is an example of an IT self-service portal featuring several options. Source: help.sumologic.com.

The IT self-service portal acts as a starting point before staff or customers ask IT personnel for help. It’s part of the IT team’s help desk, designed to enable system users to complete their tasks.


Benefits of having a self-service portal

A self-service portal is a primary means to help your constituents, acting as an extension of your support staff. That’s just the beginning of its many benefits.

1. Support at any time

The online self-service portal never closes. Customers and employees can access the information they need at any time. If a customer has a question about your product or service late at night, they don’t have to wait until business hours to get an answer.

2. Improved customer experience

It may seem like a poor service experience to force customers to seek answers on their own. In reality, it’s a superior experience.

Customers using a self-service portal don’t have to call your company and wait on hold until a support rep gets to them. Modern chat software delivers a customer support experience that mimics human interactions.

Customers can seek answers when it’s convenient for them and get the help when they need it most.

3. Optimized support

Self-service portals can deliver help and information in a way that best serves the person seeking support. The portal’s content comprises videos, articles, chat bots, and interactive options. And it can provide these support formats in different languages.


What to consider before setting up a self-service portal

The beauty of self-service portals is that they can evolve over time. You don’t have to think through every detail before setting one up. Even so, keep these considerations in mind as you implement a self-service portal for your business.

1. Goals

Think through the goal you’re trying to achieve with a self-service portal. Is it for employees only or customers as well? Will it provide answers to common questions about your products and services?

Should the portal be all-encompassing, or limited to basic information? Do you want it available on mobile and other devices? Should you install chat software and automated workflows?

Deciding on the purpose you’re trying to fulfill helps you set up the self-service portal with the content required to meet your goals.

2. Organization

Setting up a self-service portal is akin to building a website. Your portal should be intuitive and easy to understand. People should be able to figure it out with no training.

Organize your content so it’s easy to find. You may have to install a search engine or a menu that allows for quick site navigation. For example, consider posting the most important or common items, such as an FAQ (frequently asked questions) document, on the portal’s homepage.

3. Contents

Decide on the type and extent of content you want to provide. Should you translate material into multiple languages? Would you prefer to house videos, written documentation, or other forms of content? Do you want to include how-to tutorials, tips, best practices, and other training materials?

Also create a process for updating content. Whenever your product or service changes, it’s a good idea to review the portal’s related content to ensure it’s still relevant.

4. Capabilities

How will you deliver the self-serve capabilities? Will you embed chat software into the portal? Do you want to provide phone and email contact options? Does it make sense to integrate other tools into the portal, such as a search engine?

Some of these capabilities will be limited by your budget, so it’s important to consider what's most important and the best way to help your users.


Types of self-service portals you can set up for your small business

Create your portal based on the needs of your organization and customers, and the products and services you offer. You can also set up more than one.

1. Training

Many self-service portals provide training support for your customers and staff. The content focuses on step-by-step documentation outlining how to use the different features in your company’s products and services.

This material often comes in various forms, from videos to articles to informal blog posts. Usually, a simple FAQ document is part of the contents. This information requires routine updates as your products and services evolve.

Since training materials can prove extensive, this portal type often includes a search box where users can quickly search through the knowledge database for answers to specific topics.

2. IT support

Another self-service portal type centers on technical help. The portal’s contents focus on solving common technical issues, and explaining how to troubleshoot problems on your own.

For an issue that isn’t covered or is too complex, customers or employees can submit a service request to the IT team. System users explain their questions or issues in these requests, which are delivered to support staff using IT management software such as an online IT ticketing system.

If your company provides an online product or service, such as a content management system, your IT support portal should post service availability information. Technology requires routine maintenance, and issues arise occasionally. In these cases, inform your system users about what’s going on.

Service availability notices posted to the portal inform users when the system is going down for maintenance or if an issue has caused the system to stop working. When you communicate proactively, users are less frustrated and have the option to switch to other work while they wait for the system to become available again.

3. Community forum

The community forum self-service portal type has become popular in recent years thanks to websites such as Reddit. Topics are arranged in discussion threads, and users submit questions to these threads. Peers, other community members, and subject matter experts answer the questions.

Community forums enable users to share information with each other.

Since discussions can range in topic, including frustrations with the current IT systems, community forums also serve to capture sentiment information related to how well your IT team is addressing user needs, the gaps in current product features, and what situations are causing frustration.

With this information, your IT team can improve the quality of your systems and services.

Someone on your IT team should moderate the support forums to ensure discussions remain relevant and to correct inaccurate information provided by forum contributors.

4. Administrative tasks

Every business involves administrative tasks. With technology, this work ranges from resetting forgotten passwords to asking for the setup of a new employee or customer account.

Automated workflows can complete many of these mundane tasks. For example, a laptop request can be entered into your self-service portal, and automated systems can process the request, including obtaining any necessary approvals. This saves your team time and increases productivity.

5. Internal vs. external portals

Employees require different types and different degrees of information than customers. It's typical that the needs for internal portals vary greatly from the contents of customer-facing ones.

An internal employee self-service portal may have sensitive business information that customers should not see. Internal employee versions usually require a login or are only accessible via a VPN (virtual private network) to ensure only authorized personnel have access to the information.

On the flip side, customer-facing portals demand accessibility by anyone outside the company. A login area can exist for content that only account holders should access, such as the details of how your product works, to keep the public content at a higher level of information.

That content must also avoid company phrases, jargon, or terminology that might confuse customers but are second nature to employees.


A last word about self-service portals

Self-service portals are flexible information repositories. They can help with problem management, a process for addressing systemic technical issues. They also support knowledge management, an approach to collect and disseminate your organization’s collective knowledge.

Define your strategy and goals, then build a self-service portal that streamlines operations and scales to meet the demands of staff and customers as a business grows.

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