The customer support portal has taken a central role for support organisations, providing customers with access to easy, self-service answers 24 hours a day. Yet, despite the central role the portal plays in the delivery of the digital customer support experience, few organisations fully realise the benefits.  

The Gartner 2022 State of the Customer Survey revealed that less than a quarter of customers report starting on a self-service channel when trying to resolve a service issue. Even for issues that they see as easy to resolve, customers typically start by calling the company. Overall, this results in increased cost per resolution. 

To increase support portal effectiveness and customer satisfaction, customer support leaders should implement 11 capabilities. These will serve as the foundation for every support portal experience. 

1. Content, knowledge, and education

Access to high-quality content, knowledge and education is the most important capability of any customer support portal. The customer’s ability to self-serve is directly linked to the effectiveness, timeliness and instruction provided in the content.  

Content should be: simple to follow; provide direct answers to specific questions; and making use of a variety of formats – including rich media, visual aids and videos where appropriate.

2. External and site search

The capability for both external and internal search has moved past keyword inclusion. It must provide content, context, relevance and value. Support pages and content must be optimised for external search engines.  

Site search must also include the capability for machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide personalisation. This must continuously improve results and provide comprehensive reporting to identify content gaps and tuning opportunities.

3. Usability, design, and navigation

Users expect a platform that is simple to navigate. Therefore, pages on the portal must be consistent in layout and design. Other essential practicalities include: 

  • Predictable navigational menu choices  
  • Page layouts that provide low-effort ease of use for users moving around the portal 
  • Mobile responsiveness  
  • Accessibility  

4. Personalisation

Enable customers to create a profile. It should provide basic functionality to manage preferences and demographic information. Customer profiles should enable unique and tailored experiences in delivering content, specific calls-to-action, promotions to customers based on history, real-time behaviour, journeys and segmentation data. 

5. Globalisation

Localise portal menus, search and content based on the geographical location of the customer. If your products or services are offered to customers in regions outside of your base location, there will be an expectation from customers to engage in their language of choice.  

6. Virtual Customer Assistants (VCAs) and bots

Gartner research shows that 65% of organisations think chatbots will become their primary customer service channel over the next five years. Bots and VCAs simulate a voice or text conversation. This is to deliver information and take action on behalf of the customer or perform transactions. 

A VCA uses a natural language interface and can be deployed via live chat; SMS; and many more web-based or mobile interfaces. A chatbot is similar but narrower in scope. Typically, it also uses text based, menu-driven engagement. 

7. Case management

87% percent of customers who attempt to self-serve end up switching to an assisted channel, according to research by Gartner. Case management is the ability to submit the details of a customer’s interaction to assisted support via the support portal. The portal is usually integrated with the CRM or Case Management solution. This should include the ability to track all assisted support actions and activities required. That is those to resolve the customer’s service request through the portal’s case management functionality. 

8. Assisted support

Creating a seamless customer journey across assisted and self-service channels is the top priority for customer service leaders in 2022. When resolution through the self-service portal has failed, provide human-based, agent-assisted, customer support options.  

Assisted support should be provided reactively when requested by the customer. Or, proactively when triggered using business rules specific to the customer’s case. Enable seamless escalation to assisted support by allowing self-service to pass relevant customer information to assisted support options.  

9. Community engagement

Provide a dedicated, online space where customers, company associates, partners, and experts can interact with each other. Leverage feedback and usage analytics to identify content gaps and high-performing posts that make strong candidates for knowledge base articles or educational content. 

10. Tools

Enable customers to carry out specific functions or tasks through self-service. Examples of tools that customer support organisations use include: 

  • Order or upgrade software, solutions, support packages 
  • Check shipping/tracking status 
  • Complete a diagnostic or troubleshooting exercise 
  • Upload reports, system logs

11. Reporting and analytics

Develop a regular cadence for collecting, measuring and analysing portal usage data and feedback. This should include: 

  • Website analytics — how many sessions; visits or visitors; how often; how long do they stay; what browsers and devices are they using. 
  • Clickstream analytics — how users are engaging with the site; content usage; and mouse moves. This can also be used to A/B test page designs, layouts and vocabulary. 
  • Portal/CRM analytics — the number of cases logged and reopened. This can also be used for analysing knowledge base articles usage, feedback and portal search reports. 
  • Customer journey analytics – analysing the way customers and prospects use a combination of available channels to interact with an organisation over time. 

By implementing these 11 foundational capabilities, customer service and support leaders can maximise the ROI of their self-service portals, reducing costs and improving customer experience and satisfaction. 

This article was co-authored by Gartner’s Senior Director Analysts Jennifer MacIntosh and John Quaglietta.

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