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Implementation of customer portals

Build customer portals, but build them right

The top 3 pitfalls of customer portal implementations—and how to avoid them

Shalom Rubdi | August 5, 2015

Today’s customers are opinionated, savvy, and connected. They expect interactions with the brands they know and love to remain in sync with the level of engagement they prefer. If they don’t like what they see or how those technologies work, they’ll quickly swap allegiances to your competitor. One essential engagement tool is an aesthetically pleasing and highly functional customer portal.

If you’re like most companies, you might be under tremendous pressure to quickly implement a portal that will not only enhance your customer’s experience, but also showcase your brand. But be cautious. Rushing into a deployment can be more damaging to your reputation than doing nothing at all. Here are the top three portal implementation pitfalls we repeatedly see—and how to avoid them.

1. Attempting too much, too soon

Customer portal implementations are inherently some of the most complex projects businesses engage in. Due to the high impact on reputation, technical intricacies, and the dynamic of cross-functional delivery teams, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the myriad of questions and considerations required in any rollout. For example, which is more important—impressive visuals or compelling content?

Slalom recently engaged with a high technology hardware manufacturer to craft their roadmap for a customer portal overhaul. Their current solution was functional, but visually outdated and therefore underutilized. They had endured a series of project launches and re-starts only to become overwhelmed in the analysis phase. As a solution, we worked with them to prioritize needs and develop an achievable implementation strategy which struck a better balance between aesthetics and content.

2. Not understanding your customer types

Roadmaps and strategies are important first steps, but it’s crucial to grasp who exactly you’re building for. Critical to this is the customer journey, i.e., the concept of understanding customer interactions in order to segment your products and services based on customer type.

You would never see men’s and women’s clothing on the same rack, so why implement a multi-purpose portal that attempts to be all things to all people in the same interface? A recent research study from the University of Michigan spoke to the importance of differentiated user experiences: “…communities should offer customers informational benefits due to the nature of product information available within (versus outside) the community.”

Understanding your customer types doesn’t have to be an exhaustive exercise. Instead, start with basic questions about your customers and let the discovery evolve.

Slalom led a series of workshops and discovery sessions with a luxury footwear retailer who was looking for new ways to engage with customers in order to provide better service and ultimately increase sales. The output was a customer journey map that was used to develop a visually pleasing and widely adopted portal.

At this point, it might seem like we’ve hit the mark by first prioritizing needs and then understanding our customer types. But there’s one more major trap still yet to avoid.

3. Underestimating data cleanliness

Have you ever logged into a website to self-serve an issue but found your history was missing—or worse, incorrect? Likely data cleanliness was either forgotten in the implementation or abandoned as part of the governance model.

The key concept here is that data cleanliness is not a destination, but yet another journey in the ever evolving customer experience. It’s unlikely that everything related to a customer will be able to be accessed/consumed through the portal in the first release, so prioritization becomes paramount.

This approach was adopted by Slalom with a software firm which had a large customer community of over 10,000 members. Data cleanliness was identified as a critical success component and we collaborated with the client to perform the necessary transformations required to present information to customers. Bad data was triaged in development environments and scrubbed prior to release, which mitigated the risk of erroneous system automation based on incorrect information.

Success lies in prioritizing what data is important per the roadmap, and then ensuring that there is no conflicting or missing data. Finally, being transparent with your customers so they know what’s coming and when, drives adoption and support.

How to ‘do it right’

Customer portal implementations are highly visible, technically complex, and pose critical risk to your brand and reputation if mishandled. That doesn’t mean they are impossible or even unachievable. Ensuring success by crafting an achievable roadmap, understanding your customer types, and being smart about what data is presented externally can pay significant dividends post-implementation.

Going it alone is one approach; partnering with a multi-disciplinary firm like Slalom with deep expertise—repeated project wins across a spectrum of clients and industries—is another. Don’t just do portals, do them right. We’re happy to help guide you through the process.

Shalom Rubdi

Shalom Rubdi is a consultant in Slalom Seattle’s CRM practice. Shalom is passionate about customer-facing technologies, cloud-based platforms, and delivering program success via Agile and traditional methodologies. Follow Shalom on Twitter: @shalomrubdi.


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