Customer service has come a long way since the days where it was seen as a “necessary evil” and only grudgingly given any resources, let alone enough to satisfy customer demand. Today, we all want to distinguish our companies with the level of service we provide, instead of just the products we sell. But this can be a challenge, as there are many aspects of customer service to get right. The most important thing of course is to answer your customer requests quickly. Whether that’s picking up the phone or answering emails, customers today expect a fast answer. Gone are the days when they’ll be satisfied waiting 24 hours or more. Next, you must support your products effectively. This aspect of customer service may involve the following, depending on what kind of products you sell:
- Shipping replacement parts and accessories to replace those that are missing, defective or damaged.
- Shipping and tracking evaluation units to customers for beta testing and product development purposes.
- Receiving customers’ products that have failed for the purpose of fixing or replacing them with new or refurbished ones.
- Receiving customers’ products returned for credit or refund.
With all of these aspects of customer service in play, the best approach is to have a single place where customers can go to create and track any type of service request. For this purpose, the customer portal – a customer facing support site that customers can login to contact you – is the preferred solution. However, the customer portal you choose must have several key features to ensure a smooth and efficient service operation that your customers will love.
Here’s what to look for in a customer portal:
1. Make sure it’s customizable. Your help page is where customers get their first impression of your service operation. You want to make sure you can customize your portal to support your branding to the fullest. Make sure you modify the home page, the logo and the CSS styling to give you maximum flexibility over how the portal looks.
2. It must support a variety of service options. All customer portals provide an easy way for your customers to create support requests, otherwise known as ‘cases’ or ‘tickets’. But if you’re accepting returned products (RMAs) or shipping replacement accessories or parts, your customers will expect to be able to track those requests online. If this is the case, you’ll need a customer portal that is integrated with RMA software – one that can collect customer information such as shipping address, and allow them to login to update their information and track the status of their RMAs or shipments online.
3. The service process flow should meet your needs. All customer portals are not alike when it comes to how they manage the flow of your customer engagements. For most companies, the following flow – one that emphasizes the need for a conversation before an RMA or shipment is created – is ideal:
- The customer first submits a support request or ‘case’, explaining their issue or problem.
- Your customer support team then troubleshoots the issue through the case, using their separate interface to the portal. If the issue is solved, the case can be closed.
- If your customer still has a problem and requires further service, such as an RMA or parts shipment, your team can easily create that request using the same interface.
- The original request remains as the ‘source case’ of the new RMA or shipment, to be used for ongoing communication with the customer.
- At any time in the process, the customer can login to update their case, track the status of their return, or update their account info.
4. It has to be flexible to fit your business. The portal must allow YOU to decide how to categorize support requests so you can track the types of issues your customers have according to your business goals. It also must allow you to present your products in the best way for you and your customers. As an example, if your product catalog consists of thousands of SKUs, you’ll want a portal that lets you create a separate, more user-friendly list of products to present to customers, allowing you to track your full product line internally. Lastly, you’ll want the option to decide which information you require from customers. Is their shipping address required, or optional?
5. Your customers need to be able to find it. Of course your portal can’t serve it’s purpose if it’s difficult for your customers to find. To solve this problem, make sure that when the system sends emails to your customers to notify them of updates, links are always included to point them back to the portal. This way, your customers know where to go to check updates and update their information if required. A customer portal is an excellent way to connect with your customers. If you’re considering implementing one, be sure to see what we can offer you.
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