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 2
Click here for Part 3
Part 1 – Where Self-Service Portals Have Been
Self-service portals of one type or another have existed almost as long as the internet itself has. To understand where they are now and where they’re going in the future, it’s important to know how they started.
What exactly is a self-service portal?
A self-service portal is a website that allows users to do things that would have traditionally required the help of a customer service agent to accomplish. This can be something as simple as updating account information, or more complex tasks such as paying bills or managing support tickets.
Self-service portals have two main advantages for organizations:
• Self-service portals reduce costs. Giving people the ability to handle issues on their own, whether we’re talking about customers dealing with a power utility or employees of a company dealing with their HR department, means that you can free up customer service reps to deal with more high value tasks.
• Self-service portals increase satisfaction. Giving people the option to handle their issues at their own convenience massively increases customer satisfaction. People get frustrated when they have an issue and they need to wait until an office opens to deal with it, or worse, they get put on hold when they do call. Self-service portals give people the ability to address their own needs when they want to address them.
Providing customers (or employees) with an effective self-service portal is a win-win. Organizations are able to devote their resources and attention to higher priority customer service tasks and improve customer satisfaction by allowing their customers to find the information they want and solve problems without the need to ask for help.
The Growth of Self-Service
The last 15-20 years have been a period of extremely rapid growth for self-service portals. It is a technology that has matured as web technology has improved and allowed us to construct more complex websites. As self-service options become more powerful and convenient, more and more organizations of every scale and complexity have adopted them.
Self-service web portals first gained prominence as internal employee portals used within corporations in the early 1990s. Large companies found that putting some of the work of their HR departments directly in the hands of their employees saved a large amount of time and payroll costs while also making their employees happier. By 2000, 15% of surveyed organizations had adopted some kind of employee self-service program. By 2005, that number had increased to 50%¹.
The development of public-facing self-service portals was close behind. By the late 1990s, e-commerce websites like Amazon were teaching the public how to manage online accounts, and also overcoming the public’s early fear of sharing private or sensitive information (like credit card numbers) online.
Banks were some of the first organizations to offer public-facing self-service portals, first with ATMs and then with online banking. As the public got used to the convenience of being able to check the balance in their accounts at any time of day or night, there was increasing demand for self-service options in other industries, such as electric, water, telecom and gas utilities and government services.
A World of Self-Service
Early self-service web portals were limited in what they could do, often only allowing users to check a balance or edit their contact information. Over the years, however, they have grown into extremely powerful and versatile options for consumers, to the point where tools like the SilverBlaze Customer Portal for Utilities have simplified and enhanced the entire customer service experience. In Part 2 of this Blog Series, we’ll be looking at how mature self-service technology has changed customer service for organizations worldwide.