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Why Customer Portals and what’s next?

Have you asked yourself why you do what you do? In the many years, I work for SAP now, I was always lucky to find the right answer. So, what is it now all about SAP for Me, the new Customer Portal from SAP? Why Customer Portals? And why now? And what’s next?

Here is the pretty simple answer: Customer Portals make it easier for your customers to do business with you.

 

Customer portals make it easier for your customers to do business with you

Instead of forcing customers to visit different and separate line of product-specific, business specific, process-specific, or task-specific web sites and applications to explore, buy, use, maintain, upgrade, renew, and replace products and services, savvy companies should offer their customers a single digital entry place that can support all of their activities throughout their lifecycle – a customer portal.

Simply said, the advantages of customer portals are transparency, convenience and relevance. They contain everything customers need in one digital place with one login. And, in a well-designed customer portal, your customers “see” only those products and services that are relevant to their context.

 

Principles to design your customer portal

Even where dedicated account teams work with customers who have on premise and cloud solutions, there is a strong demand to interact more in a harmonized and easy way. Customers demand a digital model that builds and maintains relationships independent of small or large product portfolios.

Generally said, we can see portals as places to improve the user experiences targeted at specific groups like customers, partners, and internal users that act across the following areas:

  • Aggregate and deliver information from a variety of internal and external resources.
  • Offer customization capabilities to portal owners and basic personalization capabilities to end users.
  • Wrap up and present application functionality from existing distributed internal IT systems and even from external applications.
  • Enable single sign-on and authentication for the applications and resources that an end user accesses via the portal.

Enhanced customer portals extend this definition. They deliver all the portal services described above, but you also must design and include special capabilities for the customer constituency, as follows:

  • Specific groups of customers (e.g., small business customers or individuals in a specific customer account) have access to specific capabilities.
  • Customer portals are an integral component of the cross-channel, cross-lifecycle customer experience that companies deliver.
  • Customer portals support the digital channel, and they support activities in every phase of the customer lifecycle.
  • The activities supported by customer portals are your customers’ key customer scenarios, the sequences of activities that customers perform to achieve their objectives.
  • Role-based content and self-services determine the customer scenarios that are featured on the portal.

Portals for partner and internal user constituencies remain also very important. I strongly support that we need the same principles to design and align partner portals with the same scenarios that customer portals support but extended by additional partner specific scenarios.

 

Customer Portals Contain Customer Scenarios

Customer portals should contain the most common customer scenarios used by the customers for whom you design them, which means that customer portals help your customers accomplish what they want to do and how they want to do it. For example, at a customer portal designed to support small business customers they could accomplish the following:

  • Find and buy new products and services or renew subscriptions or licenses
  • Manage the provisioning of cloud products
  • Resolve a problem or track an issue
  • Manage accounts, update contact names and email addresses
  • Get self-service support for upgrading existing products and services
  • Get tips and recommendations or start a new trial
  • Find the right product or account contacts and manage company internal contacts

It is difficult to list all specific customer scenarios for all the customer segments. There is however one clear guidance I see. Support for customer scenarios is a key customer portal evaluation criterion.

 

Continuous process control and relationship development through a Customer Information Process Framework

Customers perform specific scenarios in the portal to get their jobs done. They create value by completing the underlying processes successfully. Execution happens on the individual customer process in the portal, and all distinct data collection, analysis, and information delivery activities must be coherently organized to improve the focal process.

If almost all key customer scenarios are going to happen within the customer portal, you can expand the scope with capabilities to learn more about the users processes and the data created through the interaction thus tailor information as best as possible to the customers interests. Currently almost all discussions I know around customer portals are one directional and focuses on what can be displayed to customers. There is however a bi-directional aspect to consider if the portal approach should be more than just a tool.

I would like to introduce the idea of a Customer Information Process (CIP) Framework and connect it strongly with a customer portal approach. The framework addresses the missing part of customer data created through the interaction with the portal during a specific customer scenario. The proliferation of customer-related data provides companies with numerous service opportunities to create customer value. The proposed CIP framework suggests steps we can take when providing information back to customers to improve their processes and create more value-in-use by using data related to their processes. In my next blog I will outline how this could impact SAP for Me with more details regarding the data process flow and asset creation steps and how it may even improve your own business processes.

 

Wrapping it up

As you can see, a customer portal has tremendous impact on how well customers feel supported by a business. SAP for Me, your Customer Portal from SAP is your new digital companion. It not only encourages self-service and provides contextual information, but also makes it extremely convenient for you to get in touch with us. If you’re not using SAP for Me yet, this is the right time to get on board.

 

Best regards,

Ozzy

 

 

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