What is a Customer Portal?

Malcolm Tatum

A customer portal is an online tool that allows customers to access information and services from a vendor. The idea behind a portal is to provide customers with resources that can be used around the clock, as well as make it possible to receive support when and as needed with a minimum of waiting. The best examples of a customer portal contain elements that are both proactive and reactive, allowing the vendor to anticipate customer needs and respond before those needs become apparent, as well as respond to needs as they arise.

Customer service representatives may act as a customer portal.
Customer service representatives may act as a customer portal.

When designing an effective customer portal, there are several key functions that should be included. One of the most basic is access to customer care. To this end, a portal often includes the ability to send an email query directly to a customer service professional from the web site where the portal is established. With some portal designs, online access to customer care is provided in the form of an instant messaging tool, something that can be especially effective if the customer needs assistance immediately.

A well-designed customer portal will also allow customers to place orders online. This eliminates hold time on a telephone connection, and provides the customer with the chance to visually review the order before final submission. This feature makes it possible to place orders outside of normal business hours, something that many businesses find extremely useful.

Access to account information is also an essential with a customer portal. Using security codes to access their information, customers can determine the current status of recently placed orders, the posting of payments to the account, current account balances, and a history of orders placed in the past. The ability to access this type of data without having to place a telephone call can be especially helpful when the client needs to review this information quickly, and cannot afford to wait on hold for the next available representative.

It is not unusual for a customer portal to also be equipped to allow customers to log complaints or concerns, as well as ask questions. Some portals allow customers to tag the correspondence and designate a level of priority, which can help expedite a response and the initiation of research into what led to the situation that caused the customer some degree of inconvenience. This ability to handle customer complaints quickly and efficiently can go a long way toward preventing the customer from terminating the relationship and establishing an account with a competitor.

The exact structure of a customer portal will vary somewhat, based on the type of customers served by the portal and the type of goods and services offered by the vendor. One constant among all versions of the portal is that the functionality must empower the voice of the customer and ensure he or she is heard clearly, and responses are offered as quickly as possible.

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