Customer Portals – Self help Portals add value to Customer Service
Every industry looks forward to improving its customer experience by introducing new tools and software. This applies to the Hosting Industry as well. In the Web Hosting field, what would make a host stand apart from the rest would be the tools and the software that they have for their customers.
Consider an example of your favorite mobile device. Every provider would have similar hardware. What makes your iPhone or Blackberry rule over the rest? It’s the software running in them and the user experience that makes them stand out.
Similarly, Customer Portal is one such software which can make you stand out in the Hosting Industry.
If I already have a control panel (eg: Plesk or cPanel), what benefit is a Customer Portal to me or my customers?
A Customer portal is where you have:
- The customer account in place.
- Billing – invoices, receipts.
- Forums, FAQ, KB.
- Options to reboot the Machine.
- Option to purchase new plans.
- Upgrade existing plans.
- Request for managed services.
- Support request and Customer complaints.
- and what ever you feel is appropriate for your Customer base.
You probably have all these in place, but at different locations.
For the host, the customer portal is an integrated interface to handle a customer account and for the customer – its an integrated interface which helps him to manage his account as well as to interact with the host.
When selecting or creating your portal, you should keep in mind, the type of user who will be using the portal. You should have a portal supporting multiple levels of users. The users could be:
- Shared Hosting Customer
- Dedicated Server Customer
- Reseller Hosting Customer
- VPS Customers
- Billing Department
- Customer Care Department
- Support Tech
A same portal for different levels of users such that, even if a customer upgrades his plan, he should not feel the difference in his portal.
The features for each level of customer should be grouped. Some essential features that a Dedicated Customer requires would be of no use for a Shared Hosting Customer.
While adding features, a point to be kept in mind is to not add every application possible. Some customers would mean strict business. To them, there’s no point in displaying the weather or games in the portal.
Always build the portal in iteration. Have it done in stages. First integrate your Customer Account Management into it or just the Support Help desk and then move on from there.
You could already be using a software like a CRM or an Excel sheet to keep track of your Customer accounts. Our first step would be to add this information to the portal.
An example illustration would be :
|Customer Name||Account Type||Amount||Renewal Date|
|Bob1||Shared Hosting||$10||Feb 9th, 2009|
|Bob2||Dedicated Server||$200||Feb 18th, 2009|
|Bob1||VPS Hosting||$60||Feb 11th, 2009|
This is required for the host to keep track of his business.
Once the account information has been created in the portal, it can be used for
- Better management of Customer accounts for the host
- Easy management of accounts by the Customer
If you have already have a CRM, then you need to just create an interface to view the data in the portal. Most of the CRM’s would be providing API’s for communication. If you do not have a CRM and do not plan to purchase one, you should think about developing or customizing a software.
While creating the Customer account interface in the portal, the billing process should also be integrated. Our main aim is to have
- The host to manage the Customer with just one interface and
- The Customer to have the ease to handle their accounts without the hassle of logging in to one software to make the payment, and another to make a support request, and yet another to purchase additional bandwidth.
Imagine how difficult it would be for a customer to have to login to one interface to create a MySQL account and another interface to create his mail account and yet another to create a sub domain?
In the last month’s newsletter, we had a discussion on introducing FAQ’s, Blogs and KB for answering customer queries faster. All these should also be integrated into the customer portals. The Helpdesk software is one key application that should be combined into the portal.
Once the customer starts using the portal frequently, you can start publishing news and banners about the new offers and any important information that should be passed on to them. Introduction of new packages and discounts loyalty programs can all be easily managed from the customer portal.
If the technical aspects of hosting have been integrated into one interface, what is stopping us to integrate all the management aspects?
So do not wait. Act now and start building your own Customer Portals.
About the Author:
Tobby Davasia Kollemmalil has worked as a Lead Developer at Bobcares, before taking the role of Executive Team Member. He has worked in both the Technical, Development and the Training Division of Poornam. He has over 5 + years experience in the Web Hosting Industry. He is a regular speaker in conferences related to the Web Hosting industry.