OK, honestly spoken, I am afraid to say that when it comes to customer portals I might be biased.
Over the past decades, I have seen too many related initiatives/projects in my industry (pharmaceuticals), where huge number of people used huge amounts of budgets for huge amounts of time … for ending up with solutions that simply weren’t embraced by customers.
Asking the right questions
For me, the reason for failure is quite obvious. Perhaps with unconscious bias, people take way too much the corporate view on a customer portal. They focus on the need of providing all material and information at one place, which is simply easier and more efficient to maintain and to manage … from a corporate point of view.
And due to that focus, they miss asking the right questions (provided that they asked questions at all). Questions like …
- What is in for the customer? Why should customers use the portal at all? What are the benefits and added value to them? How does the portal make the customers’ lives easier?
- How will the portal smoothly integrate into real life? How does the customer’s day-to-day reality look like? What are the real use cases/scenarios?
- Where does the portal map to the customer journey? At what points does the customer portal touch the journey and improve customers’ experiences?
- How can actual impact with the customer be measured? What metrics beyond #visits can show where the portal creates value and where might be gaps still to be filled?
- How can the company benefit from watching the customers using the portal? How can continued improvements and evolution based on outside-in data be achieved? How can learnings from the portal touchpoint flow back to business?
All those ‘right questions’ have in common that they follow the logic to design, plan & work backwards from the customer (in the style of the famous Amazon approach).
Allow me to complement this with my personal top 10 of things I am generally considering (and – if required – challenging 😉 ) with any customer portal initiative …
10 guardrails for an impactful customer portal
- Ask the right (= customer view) questions. Work backwards from the customer.
- A customer portal needs to be loved by the customer, not by the company and employees.
- Consider uncoupling the logics of the backbone (company needs) and the user interface (customer needs).
- Early co-design the portal with the customers, ensuring that their actual expectations are precisely met, and ideally inducing co-ownership based on a shared purpose.
- Provide a portal that is easy to use and smoothly integrates into the customer’s day-to-day reality.
- Prioritize portal content & services based on a sound outside-in understanding of the customer and his use cases
- Have smart, consistent and linked data in place allowing you to closely follow which content & parts of the portal seem to have more value for the customers … and continuously adjust.
- Apply real and honest usage metrics being based on customer value, impact & experience. (e.g., filter out all visits by employees which might cover the truth)
- Make your customer portal an integrated part of your digital channels’ ecosystem, allowing your customers an effective, consistent and enjoyable experience across.
- A customer portal is ideally embedded into a corporate CX strategy, culture and portfolio, all following a clear and accepted vision.
If you ask me for any references to a best practice example, where people have brought this to life already, spontaneously the Shell MarketHub comes to my mind. Unfortunately, I am not able to share details. But what I have seen before was quite impressive, and if you spot an opportunity for getting an intro or presentation somewhere, I promise you that it will be worth investing the time.
Finally, coming back to our initial question … Does your customer portal meet customer needs or yours? My answer would be, that it is absolutely fair to consider both sides, that both needs are OK to be covered. This does not need to be a one vs the other game.
As long as it is clear to the company that at the user side of the portal, it should be only about customers and what they expect to get.
In a later article, I will touch the customer portal challenge more from the angle of pharma industry. You can look forward to it already …