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Selecting and Purchasing a Customer Portal Platform: How to Get Started

Written by Julie Dietz on April 15, 2016 at 8:00 AM

How to select and purchase the right customer portal platform for your organization

It's like choosing the perfect car. It has to be the right make, model, and have all the fancy features you could dream of. But with so many choices, making a decision takes hard work, hours of research, and even a few test drives.

Choosing the right customer portal platform for your organization is no different. There are so many options that selecting the right customer portal platform for your organization has become a major obstacle. How do you know which one is best for you? How do you choose between the different features?

To wade through all the platform options and find the right one for your organization, you need to follow certain steps. Start by focusing on your core business needs, as well as the needs of your customers.

Steps to Select and Purchase a Customer Portal Platform

While there's a lot to consider when selecting and purchasing a customer portal platform, your entire process can be simplified into three easy steps.

Step 1) Determine Your Organization's Goals and Plans for the Portal

All of your decisions should start at home, with your business or nonprofit organization. You can't choose the right customer portal platform until you understand exactly what it is you need the platform to do.

So what are your organization's goals? What is the primary reason that you need a centralized destination for customers or members online? Some common responses are to increase engagement, satisfaction, or retention among your customer base, although your goals and requirements may be very different. Focus on the business outcomes you need from your portal.

Download Your Free Guide to Buying and Implementing a Customer Portal

Once you've decided on your overarching needs and goals, decide who will be responsible for the portal. Will you have a full-time customer portal manager? A part-time manager? Or will running the portal fall into the hands of your current staff? It's essential to keep this in mind when you move forward because platforms of different sizes and customization levels will require different resources, personnel included, to run.

The last thing you need to determine within your organization is your budget. Platforms range from basic to enterprise-level platforms, and each price point has its advantages and disadvantages, including ranges of customization, flexibility, and user capacity. Save time by only searching for platforms that are within your budget.

Step 2) Research and Assess Your Portal Platform Options

Once you have well-defined organizational requirements, you'll be in a good position to jump into the customer portal platform market. Based on your organization's strategy, research the different features and functions included in each potential platform to make sure it has everything you want. Some of the best features to look for are:

Customer Communication Tools - Anything that allows you to communicate with your customers and portal users falls into this category. Creating customer-focused blogs and sending out emails through your portal system are a couple of examples, and something to look for. Easy-to-access product and company announcements and well-designed email drip campaigns targeted to specific users can yield powerful returns.

Files, Videos, and Documentation - You might also hear this described as a media library. It's a section or set of tools within portal platforms that allow you to post files for users to download, videos about your products or company, and documentation about best practices or terms of use. All of this material can educate your users and encourage them to engage in the portal. In many customer portal platforms, customers can also post how-to videos to share advice with other customers.

Peer-to-Peer Forums, Discussions, and Interactions - It's important that your portal function as an outlet for your customers. Discussions between customers in forums or email allow people to share ideas on how to use your products and solve problems amongst themselves.

Content Management and Design Capabilities - Your customer portal is part of your brand. You should be able to manage the content that's produced and published, both by your organization and your customers. You should also be able to design the portal around your branding and unique business needs.

Customer Feedback - Surveys, polls, and product enhancement idea tracking fit in this category. The more your customer portal allows you to track and record, the more constructive feedback you can use for improvements or new product innovations.

Event Registration and Management - Customer portals can showcase information on upcoming customer events and allow people to register. Consider platforms that have features to handle everything from registration, payments, and attendee management, to post-event content and conversations.

Revenue Generation Abilities - If generating revenue is one of your business goals, then consider platforms with an online store, vendor programs, or other ways to improve sales.

Member Management - An engaging, adaptable customer portal should allow you to segment your members and provide different levels of access and permissions based on role, product usage, and other data points. For instance, members of your VIP customer advocacy program should be able to access more material and use the portal in more ways than new customers, for example.

Versatility - This is extremely important in the digital age, especially with smartphone and tablet popularity. Customers should be able to access your portal on multiple devices, and the portal should integrate with software and systems such as CRMs to provide more functionality for your organization.

These are some of the top features and functions to look for in your platform search. Add to and subtract from this list as needed to fit it to your organization.

Step 3) Research and Assess Portal Platform Vendors

You will do yourself and your business a disservice if you stop after reviewing only the platform software and its features. You need to research and assess the companies behind the software as well, and factor them into your final decision. Vendors have a lot to contribute to your entire customer portal experience, including customer service, technical support, and additional services that you could take advantage of.

Any customer portal platform vendor should focus on your organization and its customers' needs. They should be available for any questions, comments, or concerns you may have, and support you throughout the entire process of purchasing and implementing your platform. Many will even recommend an approach to steer you away from missteps based on their experience with companies like yours.

Even after your customer portal is live, the best vendors won't leave the picture. These vendors will provide you with ongoing support, and have an array of additional services to help you keep customers engaged.

Will the platform provider run your events and conferences for you? Create content? Do the work for you when integrating with other systems? Run the entire portal at your direction? What would you like them to do? Look into all of these things and make sure the company, as well as the portal platform, fits your needs.

Whenever possible, back up all your research on company services and support with social proof. If people are engaging with the portal platform company using social media or other websites, or if the vendor has positive reviews, then you're probably looking at a reliable company.

Selecting a Customer Portal Platform Takeaway

The final step in this process, of course, is actually making a purchase. When you get to this point, keep in mind that your final platform choice may be very different from other organizations', so just remember that every business is unique, and needs to make the right choice for them.

If you've done your research on all three of these major areas, including your own organization's needs, the customer portal platform itself, and the company behind it, then you're well-equipped to make the best choice.

Download your free guide to buying and implementing a customer portal.

Topics: Customer Communities, Online Community Software, Customer Support, Online Community

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