If your Electric, Water, Telecom or Gas Utility is considering incorporating a self-service portal into your strategy, or you’re considering replacing your system with one that’s more up-to-date, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with self-service web portals and how they work.
On a fundamental level, self-service portals offer two main advantages to organizations. First, they offer a significant improvement to customer experience and boost customer satisfaction. Second, they reduce demands on customer service staff, leading to savings. Consumers expect more and more from self-service portals, so it’s important to make sure you’re providing the right kind of experience for your customers.
That’s where we come in. This blog series is a comprehensive guide to the world of self-service portals. When you’re done reading this, you’ll have all the information you need to make an informed decision about the right self-service choices for your organization.
Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2
Self-service portals are now enhancing the customer experience in a wide variety of industries and organizations. Customer Portals are transforming companies around the world as they realize they can transfer the majority of routine administrative customer service tasks to the customers themselves, saving resources to address higher-value issues that require the intervention of a trained professional.
Customers have become accustomed to accessing information and solving minor problems through self-service portals. As they have become more common, consumers have demanded self-service portals in more and more situations while also demanding more features.
Self-Service isn’t just about paying bills
Self-service web portals first gained prominence as a way of simplifying the process behind common customer service actions—primarily making changes to account information and paying bills. But that’s no longer enough to satisfy customers.
Now that the public is accustomed to handling so much business through self-service portals, they are demanding more and more from them. They don’t just want to pay their bills, they also want to access information. And this makes sense—if they don’t need to spend half an hour on hold with their utility provider to change their address anymore, they don’t want to have to spend that time on hold to get information about their usage either.
The future of self-service web portals is in putting as much important information as possible at the user’s fingertips. This means anticipating the information your customers will want and finding a way to package it in an easy-to-use interface. Customers want automatic updates and detailed reports so that they can make informed decisions, and any business, organization, or utility that provides instant and easy access to that data will earn the thanks of their customers.
What do customers want in self-service portals?
Here at SilverBlaze, we’ve recently conducted some original research into this area, and while the data is about utilities and utility customers, much of it applies to customers in every other industry.
• Customers don’t want to call you to accomplish routine tasks. While customers will still call when they want advice or need help with complex issues, for day-to-day tasks like paying bills or changing their address on file, they prefer other methods. 53.5% of utility customers we surveyed chose online forms and email as their preferred method of contact. Among respondents 18-24, 68.8% preferred a mix of online forms, email, and text messages. The less often your customers need to call your customer service line for small issues, the happier they will be.
• Customers want to know the status of their accounts. Customers want to have all the data about their account at their fingertips. For electric, water and gas utility customers, this means a desire for monthly usage reports and information about how to reduce their footprint. For other organizations this will mean different types of information, but what will remain the same is that customers want to know everything that you know about them, and they want to have access to that info on their schedule, not yours.
• Customers want to hear about deals. But they don’t want you to call them! While 44.7% of 25-34 year olds want to be contacted about bundles and special offers and 28.9% want to be informed about new products, they overwhelmingly want to be contacted by either email or text message.
To access the complete original research, download the report here.
What does the self-service portal of the future look like?
As we look toward the future and try to anticipate what consumers will demand from self-service portals, there are a few clear trends. If your organization can meet these goals, you will be well-positioned to meet your customers’ expectations.
• Get the basics right. Handling basic account processes like payments and changes to billing addresses should be as simple and seamless as possible.
• Provide all the information your customers need. Everything that your customers might want to know about their accounts should be easily accessible through your web portal. It shouldn’t be hidden away in submenus, and they definitely shouldn’t need to call your customer service line to get any basic information.
• Make it easy to use. This is where a lot of organizations are currently stumbling. With the huge amount of functionality and data that the best self-service portals are offering these days, it can be very difficult to package and present all of it in a way that isn’t confusing or overwhelming. Creating a well-designed user experience for self-service portals is an art, which is why it often pays off to work with self-service specialists.
One thing is clear: the days of trying to control access to information and services through a customer service line are over. Organizations, companies, and utilities that are able to capitalize on effective self-service portals will prosper and make their customers happy, while those who can’t will struggle with customer satisfaction.
Want to see what a great self-service web portal designed specifically for utilities looks like? Check out our short video series on Capricorn!