A customer-centric portal is a great way to ensure customers get what they want when they need it most. A portal is more than just an add-on to a customer support team; a great customer portal also happens to be a powerful tool to improve business productivity and reduce overhead costs. Create a customer portal thoughtfully by building in user experience early in the development.
The following steps walk through the development process.
Step #1: Plan Your Customer Portal
- Who is the portal being built for?
- Who is your target audience?
- What problems will the portal address?
- What is your problem statement?
- How will the portal solve those problems?
- What is your specific solution?
Use requirement elicitation techniques to understand what your stakeholders want to get succinct answers to these questions. Once you collect all pertinent information, you’ll know exactly what you’re building.
Analyze stakeholders and their project requirements while imagining how it all can come together into a good interface. You might conduct a requirement workshop with stakeholders if they are available. You can also use brainstorming to come up with the right ideas.
A business analytics team is a great resource to have at this stage. In case you don’t have a BA team at your company or on your project, make sure you dive deep into the business requirements using planning techniques like those described here.
At this stage, you can also hire a customer portal development partner for professional advice and development assistance.
Step #2: Chalk Out Your Customer Portal Requirements
What do you need to develop a customer portal?
1. Technology Stack
Deciding on the right technology stack is crucial for developing a well-functioning web portal. In order to choose the right tools, you should have a good idea of the number of users, the basic functionality desired, and the integrations required.
A database is the essential part of the whole solution. The kind of database you choose impacts how secure, fast, and stable a customer portal can be.
3. Data Processing Tool
You will require a tool that helps extract data from your chosen database to process and transfer it according to your technical requirements. You can develop such a tool or use ready-made data extraction tools available on the market.
4. Cloud Platform
It’s very important to host your solution on the right cloud. There should be no question about the cloud’s safety and stability. Take a moment to consider where all your data will be stored. You should probably opt for something well-known like Amazon® or Azure®.
5. Content Management System (CMS)
Some of the essential parts of a good content management system include a content library, an intuitive page builder, search optimization, and more.
6. Mobile Platform (iOS®, Android™, etc.)
It goes without saying that the customer portal should be available on mobile platforms, but you must decide whether you would like to invest more and create native mobile applications or a cross-platform solution.
Budget planning is crucial and should be based on proper market research by an expert in the field or a team of experienced professionals.
Never rush into development without proper planning. In addition to increased costs, rushing can result in lost requirements, misalignment of design, development issues, and problems with user adaptation. Make sure to allocate enough time for analysis, discovery, and testing.
As a developer or designer, you need to consider all factors at once. For better clarity, make a decision matrix to deal with multiple choices and variables. List your decision alternatives as rows and your factors as columns. Then, give cells a consistent score based on the importance of these parameters.
Be sure to document everything before you start with the actual development.
Step #3: Design Your Portal Architecture and Interface
Before you start coding, develop a solid customer portal architecture:
- Develop a high-level view of your customer portal. Try to understand the solution from the customer’s perspective. Who is your customer? What are the pains and challenges that you can help with?
- Create a sitemap for your portal and map the portal’s functional requirements (including functionalities like a knowledge base or self-service bot). Marking the most and least important requirements can be a helpful way to understand where to start.
Next, design the user-centric interface for your customer portal.
Because users aren’t always going to know what they want immediately, ensure your interface is intuitive enough for them to figure it out themselves. Follow these basic UI design principles:
- Put users in control of the interface.
- Reduce users’ memory load.
- Make the user interface consistent.
Use the decision matrix you created to understand the most important features in the interface and start working with them first. Once you’ve placed the most important features, you can move on to more creative design elements. Try not to make the UI too complex. Genius ideas are usually simple and straightforward.
Step #4: Create a Prototype and Get Customer Input
A central part of creating a customer portal is coding. Start developing your portal according to your requirements document, portal architecture, and design.
Creating a prototype of your portal might seem like an exhausting and time-consuming process, but this is one of the most important stages for a designer. In order to come up with the right ideas, try brainstorming and look for inspiration online. After creating a prototype, share it with the stakeholders and get their feedback.
The most successful companies share early prototypes with outsiders. Test the portal before releasing it to the public to ensure it is fully functional and ready. This is also a great opportunity to gain users’ feedback to improve your solution in the next iteration.
Step #5: Integrate the Portal with Third-Party Tools
Third-party integration brings convenience and ease to you and your customers. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a customer portal without any integrations.
Integration with third-party APIs and tools allows you to add features quickly, reducing the development effort. Depending on your industry, these tools can be software-as-a-service (SaaS) products, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), or another custom solution.
A designer should make sure the customer journey through the portal is smooth and that customers can easily navigate between third-party tools. It’s designers’ and developers’ job to make sure it all looks and feels like a holistic solution.
Step #6: Deploy the Customer Portal and Optimize
Launch the customer portal in the market. Let your end users experience the portal.
It’s no secret that if your end users aren’t happy with the customer portal, you won’t get much use out of it. Ask for their feedback and implement their suggestions into the portal to optimize it for a better experience.
A key aspect of driving a great customer experience is training. Help your customers get familiar with the portal so you can also extract real-time and valuable input from them. A/B testing is a great way to get feedback from your users without bothering them with annoying questions. It allows you to get a clear idea of what users prefer and respond to their exact requests.
You might need to change the interface or other features based on the feedback you receive. That is completely alright! Your customer portal can improve with time and become a better space for your customers.
The Bottom Line
A customer portal is like a second home to your customers, helping them solve their problems on the go. Choosing the right tools and platforms builds a portal that amplifies your customer support.
It is crucial to be customer-centric, both for designers and developers. Working with an overly complicated UX and UI can take a lot of time and effort for developers, whereas building in good user experience in a UI configuration often saves time and money. Try to come up with straightforward and simple ideas unless the required solution must be complex. Be aware that developers are looking for UX designers to be able to identify UI issues in the client experience before development even starts.
If you understand your customers better throughout the development process, you will be rewarded. Don’t hesitate to use the tools and the approaches suggested in this article to guide you through this journey!