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Customer Self-Service 14 min read

Customer portal boosts conversions for optimal business growth

The Hidden Value of Customer Self-Service in B2B Businesses | Part three

 

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n the last couple of articles we have begun exploring the opportunities available to businesses by embracing customer self-service. One of the greatest areas of opportunity is the capacity for developing a customer portal that proactively increases sales conversion rates. 

 

In the self-serve economy, where more things are becoming service-related, businesses are seeking to give customers more direct control, meaning customer/merchant interactions are heavily emphasized. Subscription models are contributing to this by allowing customers to set the parameters of their relationships. Portals are a vital part of achieving effective self-service capability objectives, knitting together the customer and business needs, and helping to increase conversion rates as a result.

In this article, we explore the opportunities and values created through the use of customer portals and the actions that are needed to create an optimized experience.


 

Customer portals and subscription businesses 

In the context of subscription-based businesses, a customer portal is a place where businesses allow customers to view their subscription plan, make payments or download invoices. However, with the right solution, there’s so much more to offer. For example, you can enable customers to manage licenses and amend their subscription plans by themselves, even when your business involves complex pricing models.

Forbes once wrote: “a well-designed user interface could raise your website's conversion rate by up to 200%.” More recently, Bank of America showed a customer increase of 45% after launching a new UX for their online banking enrolment process, complete with an online customer portal to perform banking-related tasks. It’s all about placing the customer first with a view to resilient and sustainable business. 

A good user experience is proven to increase the adoption rate of a product or service, as well as more successfully integrate your business offering into a customer's life. A dedicated portal takes that principle to the next level.

Ultimately, it should increase your sales conversion rate as well as facilitate customer retention, extending the customer lifetime and turning customers into advocates of your product, service and brand for further sales opportunities.

In short, the service created by a well-constructed portal turns the question in customers’ minds from ‘why would I buy into this?’ to ‘why wouldn’t I?’. That positive experience also introduces you to warmer leads via recommendation.

Conversely, ignoring customer experience doesn’t just mean missing out on opportunities, but it can also have a negative impact, making the customer relationship vulnerable to competitive offerings. For example, it’s been reported that 90% of consumers switch to a competitor, and “customers switching companies due to poor service costs U.S. companies a total of $1.6 trillion."

 

 

The challenges and benefits of a customer portal

The challenges when it comes to creating an effective customer portal tend to be upfront and involve the set up of systems and processes as well as the mindset evolution of an organization. However, once these things are overcome, they are far outweighed by the benefits both in the short- and long-term and both for the customer and the organization.

 

Typical challenges to creating a customer portal

  • Development costs: 
    Creating a good customer portal does require upfront investment and it’s important to get it right. Intern
    al teams need to design concepts around the billing engine and existing enterprise systems for other up-and downstream operations, in order to enable automation. Working with a system that teams are not familiar with could be time-consuming and induces frustration when the systems are not flexible to achieve desired outcomes. However, if it’s done properly, it will not only mean less development costs down the line but also greater and more profitable opportunities thanks to improved conversion rates.

  • Adoption rates:
    It takes time and resources to encourage adoption rates amongst both staff and customers, particularly if you are switching from existing practices. However, by providing a great user interface and experience, it is easier to focus on communicating the benefits of the new initiative and the capacity for a streamlined and consistent customer experience is far higher.

  • Anxiety over relationship ownership:
    Lots of companies worry that with increased self-service there’s a loss of control of the customer relationship. It’s a topic we have discussed before, as while it may seem counterintuitive, effective self-service isn’t about neglecting the customer, but guiding them through the experience instead of pushing them. The net result is a more trusting, stronger and better-informed relationship.

 

Benefits of a customer portal

  • Increased customer stickiness:
    When customers feel comfortable they tend to turn to you when faced with a question or issue - they seek your advice and support as something that they trust, instead of automatically looking elsewhere. That trust also means that your teams are more likely to resolve issues for clients, and feed-in new offerings, ultimately decreasing churn and increasing retention rate?. By offering a customer portal, businesses remain in contact with the customer after purchase, both directly and indirectly.

  • Competitive advantage:
    When you have a customer portal you have a direct line to customers through which you can control the narrative. You have the capacity to inform your customers first, directly and through the lens of a trusted platform and relationship. When competitors roll out a new offering, your customers will be able to learn it from you first. For example, when it's a strong competitive offering, you can communicate this in the customer portal by offering a discount or a different service to counter churn potential.

  • Lower new acquisition cost:
    As mentioned in the past, trying to increase revenue by acquiring new customers costs more than upselling and retaining existing ones. Broadly speaking, it can cost five times more to acquire new customers than to nurture existing ones - research from Bain & Company estimated that “increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%”. With subscription models, satisfied existing customers offer the potential for increased revenue through upgrades as well. The opportunity here is particularly prevalent when processes are automated properly - businesses don't need to invest repeat resources in the same processes.

 

 

The qualities of an exceptional customer portal

The hallmarks of an exceptional customer portal, designed with increasing the conversion rate in mind, include the following:

 

A great user experience

We have written about the importance of user experience before, and customer-centricity is the pivotal focus on which keylight processes and systems are created. It’s important in self-service that customers have a strong sense of emotional and financial trust, which comes from a combination of factors including ease of use and having a clear sense of the benefits of what they’re paying for. In short, the user has to feel good about and during their interactions with your organization and the portal.

That means that for the customer, the user experience should do the following in order to instil confidence and trust:

  • Be intuitive, making transactions and interactions easy throughout the sales cycle/ customer lifetime.

  • Customers should experience a frictionless journey when interacting with your business offering.

  • Provide autonomy when it comes to managing their subscriptions, making changes as they wish and getting the support they need.

However, being easy to use does not mean that a portal lacks functionality. If a subscription system is user-centric then from the business side it should be easy to do things like configure customer journeys, launch new campaigns and automate amendment rules. It’s about giving customers the maximum amount of freedom while still being able to oversee and support their journey from a central platform, giving customers a great experience while engaging with your brand. Ultimately that means you maintain ownership of the customer relationship.

 

End-to-end automation

When a system is created to be user-centric, it takes into consideration the entire customer journey and makes it easy for internal users to automate processes across the board that could be implemented for more than one customer. For example, all enterprise customers are eligible for a 10% discount upon renewal if they commit to another two-year term three months before their existing term ends. 

The process here that needs to be streamlined would be to differentiate between enterprise customers, create a discount campaign and a conversion-focused journey, align the downstream operations to prorate the remaining service period and book changes correctly to accounting systems. It requires the whole system to work together.

Read more about the challenges of decoupled billing systems

Similar automated processes could be used to enable self-service quote creation, free trials for upgraded services, or display add-ons when certain conditions are triggered. The revenue opportunities are endless when automation is comprehensive.

 

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics has the capacity to be a game-changer for businesses, but while the term is often discussed, very few have the capacity to implement it effectively. The standard automated process of asking for feedback after customers have read a support page or completed a transaction is a starting point for understanding whether or not a customer has had a good general experience. However, it doesn't tell you much about a customer's behaviour or what the customer will do next.

By creating a good user experience and automating processes end-to-end, a customer's journey begins to take shape.

With the right data and analytics systems, this data can be collected and compiled to feedback into the user experience and thereby improve customer conversion rates.

 

 

Empower the user

At its core, customer service is about supporting the customer at all stages of their journey, not just when they are seeking information to address an issue - self-service takes that up a step by empowering the customer. Empowering the user helps to maintain an ongoing relationship with the customer at all times, and portals are a great way to own that space.

An established customer portal allows you to fix the challenges presented by self-service and other user experience models, customizing the user experience to a level where consumers have the information they need before they even have to ask for it. Contrary to traditional self-service, it’s not merely about troubleshooting when customers have a problem, it’s about predicting their wants and needs for better outcomes.

Post-pandemic, digitization is no longer a side project for businesses. With everyone engaged with the concept, it’s a chance for businesses to rethink and restructure their offerings. At keylight, we help with all stages of that process when it comes to implementing subscription-based models, including customer self-service portals.

Putting users first and building a platform that prioritizes the user, it’s about more than digitizing the quotes or sales process, it’s about how businesses think about customer communication, acquisition and retention. keylight is an end-to-end system that is built for a digital-first mindset that facilitates an in-person experience for any business.

Our customer portal is designed to be user-centric and allows for configuration and a great user experience straight out of the box, directly connected to the billing engine and downstream accounting processes. For example, native functionalities include CPQ (configure, price and quote), trial management and asset management.

Businesses can constantly adjust what customers are viewing from the back-end, customizing the user experience based on both local and global specifications, whether it’s different languages, currencies, or subsidiaries.

 

 

 

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