What makes an effective self-service customer portal?

Although there are distinctions between the B2B and B2C buying experience, more and more B2B customers expect their suppliers to mirror the interactions they have with retailers in their personal lives. Today's B2B buyers are self-sufficient and digitally focused, and they expect easy-to-navigate digital platforms that allow them to complete tasks without disrupting their workflow.

Customers prefer to find answers online instead of picking up the phone to talk to a representative. In fact, a recent study suggests that B2B buyers now make it nearly 60% of the way through the buying process before they even engage with a supplier.[1] As a result, companies must give customers the access and information they want—or risk losing them to suppliers who do provide these necessities.

One way to streamline the customer experience is to implement a self-service customer portal. An integrated portal creates the opportunity for easy, transparent experiences, which saves time, frees up staff to focus on more meaningful interactions and tracks customer activity, leading to better service in the long run.

The most effective self-service customer portals follow these three principles:

Keep it simple

Simplicity is paramount when introducing any kind of automation. Since the objective is to make transactions easier for customers, it’s important to develop an intuitive platform that doesn’t leave them with more questions than answers. If you don’t have the resources in-house, work with a third party to develop a portal that is organized and easy to navigate. Consider mimicking popular consumer sites, using design elements and navigation tools that customers already know how to use. Design with mobile access in mind: Keep navigation short and sweet, list the most important pages first, include an accessible search option and be thoughtful about fonts so users don’t have to zoom to read text.

Empower your customer

With 24-hour access to their account information, customers can answer their own questions about invoices, order status or billing, and save their interactions with representatives for larger issues that require more in-depth responses. Give customers the ability to download recent statements, view transaction history, make payments online and request more credit. A self-service portal can also display the status of all pending credit applications, and track jobs and purchases by PO, SKU, purchaser or delivery location. Automating these small tasks free up your credit department to focus on higher-value conversations that cannot be completed by a computer. The goal is to make your customers’ lives easier so they’ll want to keep working with you.

Focus on flexibility

The B2B credit process is complex, and customers’ needs are always changing. Build your portal with plenty of flexibility, so customers can change their preferences in areas like billing, payment reminders and approved purchasers. For example, say your account setup process defaults to mail for bill pay. If a customer prefers auto-pay or wants to schedule a future payment manually, this change should be one click away under a ‘Manage Account’ tab. Account management options can also give your customers the ability to pay by job, invoice or any dollar amount; create custom permission-based roles for different levels of employees within the company; enable and disable user accounts; reset user passwords and invite new users. Focus on flexibility, and aim to match the portals’ functions with your customers’ needs.

For companies committed to success, implementing a self-service portal is no longer an added luxury; it’s imperative for gaining—and keeping—a healthy customer base. With the help of these online tools, you can strengthen your client relationships and your sales team will have more time to grow the business. It’s a win-win.

 

Written by Lisa Balter Saacks, VP of Business Development at BlueTarp.

 

[1] https://www.cebglobal.com/content/dam/cebglobal/us/EN/best-practices-decision-support/marketing-communications/pdfs/CEB-Mktg-B2B-Digital-Evolution.pdf?cid=70180000000aeQ2

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