Nick Frank shares his thoughts on how to implement a successful customer portal...
Implementing a great Customer Portal is a bit like letting your customers past your company’s reception desk and exposing your inner business processes. Some, like Amazon, have made it their core business and do it well, but for some it can be like the story of the emperor with no clothes……Embarrassing!
Despite this, the B2C world has embraced new technology and digital savvy to transform the on-line customer experience in our everyday lives. The B2B world has been more reticent about turning passive websites into an integral and active element of their customer’s digital journey. But the simple fact is that having a Customer Portal is fast becoming a necessity.
With this in mind, a group of Service Managers from a variety of industrial companies got together as part of the Service Leaders Network, to exchange ideas and experiences not only on how to develop and deploy a Customer Portal, but also how to make a compelling business case.
The result reflects a best practice framework on how to approach this challenge, rich with hints and tips to solve real-world issues that can save time, make the process more effective and reduce risk. Ultimately it helps drive the business case and the expected ROI which was a key concern.
Their framework consists of five cohesive and integrated elements defining and explaining the process:
- Roadmap and Tools
- Motivation and Value
- Conceptual Development
- Business Case Development
- Implementation and Change Management
Roadmap and Tools
The roadmap defines the phases of development from concept definition through specifications to implementation (incl. maintenance and renewal). Crucially it addresses a set of deeper questions to be answered and problems to be solved at each phase and the tools and methods required to do so.
Motivation and Value
This element deals with the understanding and communication of both the qualitative and the quantitative benefits (and risks) specific to implementing a Customer from customer and competitive perspectives:
- Competitive environment and trends
- Customer expectations (in the context of broader competitive offerings and experience)
- Improving the customer experience / journey
- Opportunistic issues (e.g. process overload, unrelated changes to IT systems)
- Dealing with security risks (e.g. one entry point to applications and ticketing)
- Impact on process, sales and marketing costs
- Impact on customer loyalty, attracting new customers and revenue
Here the focus was on customer and user experience and the fit with corporate strategy and organization. Keys to this phase are issues of:
- Developing and communicating a clear value proposition for customers/users
- Achieving optimum user experience both externally and internally
- Strategic fit with corporate, including with regard to branding and image
- Understanding and addressing organizational implications e.g. process changes, resourcing, access to data, etc.
- Developing a vision not just for the “now” but also for the future in terms of a 3-4 year time horizon.
Developing the Business Case
Building on the “Motivation and Value” element (above), the Business Case element is about finding practical ways to realize the potential benefits while minimizing costs and risks. Elaborating a vision of how business processes can be optimised through the Customer Portal while quantifying the financial impact. This includes exploring pathways to monetization which may not have been available previously as well as the possible effect on business processes which can be automated. This part is more specific to each participant company, nevertheless, some common guidance for everybody included:
- Have a good grip on the cost side as this is more under your control
- Provide a clear and credible rationale for sales and revenue improvement assumptions
- Emphasize the specific value for customers/users
Implementation and Change Management
A Customer Portal project can be a good catalyst for driving customer focus in the organization, as it effectively brings the customer into the business processes of the company. This is good as it builds customer intimacy, but it also means a business must be very flexible, proactive and focused on the right outcomes for customers.
The involvement of key stakeholders throughout the program development and deployment was perhaps the number one piece of experience-based advice, followed by communication and more communication.
From a technical perspective, the group felt it was necessary to be very mindful of all issues concerning data management, in particular, management of master data as well as data migration as it is here where significant pitfalls and often unidentified risks lie.
Enriching understanding through benchmarking
What the group also found is that it is one thing to jointly develop a framework for a common challenge, it is completely another when practitioners start to share experiences and discuss the reasoning behind actions and decisions. These discussions touch on the real practical difficulties such as mindset, politics, and funding that define the difference between theory and practice.
A good case in point are the different perspectives to the basic (but not trivial) initial question “Why a Customer Portal?” The answers helped managers see that value (and objectives) may take many forms and come in different varieties. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
- Coordinating multiple GoTo market channels & brands
- Single point of entry for all users into a customer’s digital journey
- Single workplace for customers, employees, and partners
- Sales & marketing hub
- Improved management of knowledge base and digital tools through greater transparency
- Digitizing processes
- Spare parts sales optimization
- To keep up with competitors
- Reduce Customer Support costs through self-service
This in-depth discussion and multi-pronged approach helps managers see value that they had not perceived previously and so make a more compelling business case to budget holders. Often the decision to develop a portal is a leap of faith and the business case a means of justification. With these discussions, managers can be more confident in defining and articulating both the open and the hidden value based on the experiences of their peers and outside experts as well as de-risking the project.
If you would like to know more about the Customer Portal Service Leaders Project, you can contact Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org