Portals: Opening the lines of communication

This post is the fourth in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

At this point you’ve got a website up, and your communicating to your customers, which is adding value and improving their experience.

Now they want more – what’s next?

Again “it depends” and I certainly have my opinions, but consider your users first and ask questions (as noted in the second post in this series).

Let’s tell a story.

You’re a customer of a company. They missed your garbage pick up this week. You go to their website. On said website there is a big banner or pop-up that says “We are experiencing a one-day delay in garbage pick ups” and offers the number to customer service.

What do you think about this experience? Pretty good right? This is basically where a portal begins; one-way communication with the option to initiate further. It’s a stepping stone to two-way communication.

There’s a reason this exists – because communication is a two-way street. So usually, I recommend giving your customers a voice. It makes them feel valued and listened to.

Now, depending on your culture, needs, audience size and web platform this could take many forms. Maybe you add a chat option so that users can chat with agents or fulfillers or staff directly. Maybe you need a webform? Maybe you just display a phone number call.

Something, anything that allows two way communication will greatly improve the portal’s value and demonstrate compassion for customers.

The chat option is the most advantageous because it also provides a universal “out” for customers who are stuck, can’t find something or just have a simple question.

Remember to design this for the customer. Test out multiple methods of conversation, and continue the dialog and feedback loop.

Next post will be about content! Subscribe in the right margin or follow us on twitter for updates!

Portals: How to get started?

This post is the third in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

When we look at the common needs of users of portals there are always trends, fads and basics. I prefer to start with the basics and keep options open.

Remember that the goal of a portal is to make people happy. So how do we start doing that?

Most portal projects jump way ahead into the future. They go straight to “we want to be like amazon” or some other phrase like this.

The reality is, you can’t afford to be like amazon AND unless you’re in retail, your goals do NOT align. Your number one priority should be happiness for your customers and your providers. I’ll use these terms going forward to describe the people viewing your portal, but do keep in mind they can be the same.

The most obvious and noticeable feature of all portals is communication.

This is even true for amazon – as soon as you go there, they tell you buy something.

What does your portal say?

We often don’t communicate well as a group because communication is difficult and people delude themselves into thinking it’s simple. Portals start like a mouth, or a brand. This may be the first time anyone sees or notices your group exists, the first interaction they’ve ever had with your team!

So what do you want them to think?

You know what I want and are ready to give me what I want.

If you can convince your customer of this, on their first interaction; congratulations, you have reached success.

How did you get here? Understanding the customer. How did you understand them? By listening to them (most likely) – or maybe you were one once. That last one is a doozie – don’t let your experience cloud your vision. Always go back to the customer and base your decisions on data.

So, the easiest way to start a portal is to get a webpage set up. And post a message to your customer. Something along the lines of:

Hi, we’re (insert group/team/person name here),

You’re here for __________, and we have ____________.

Here’s how you get __________:

And that’s it. Follow up with instructions on how to get it.

No fancy technology. No $3m project. No integration, no automation… nothing.

And already your customer has value.

Next post: adding value to a simple portal.

Portals: Why do we need them?

This post is the second in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

Whenever I see a problem or hear a solution I love working it backward. I think it’s why I loved consulting. I think it’s the inner 3-year-old in me who just loves to ask “why” until someone goes bonkers.

So why do we have web portals to teams, departments and companies?

Easy! So our customers and partners can connect with us.

Why?

So that they can get what they want, how they want to get it!

Why?

To make it easier to deliver it to them!

Why?

So they can be happy and we can be happy.

And that’s good enough for me – don’t get me started on the four types of happiness, but this basically is the goal. Keep people happy. There are a multitude of other benefits. Revenue, cost savings, scalability, governance etc etc. However, to achieve these goals faster than your competitors you need teams that can operate, innovate and move quickly.

This brings me to the most overlooked part of every technology project: the people.

You basically have three main customer groups for every portal. The user, the provider and the provider’s partners. And each of these three categories have a TON unique characteristics. From competency to goals there are many misconceptions and assumptions that can be made of the user. There are also universal givens that can be applied since they are people and they are using the portal.

Now’s where the general basics kick in. Most people want (in all three groups):

  1. Easy
  2. Clear
  3. Fast
  4. Powerful
  5. Freedom

These universal desires were stolen from an article I read about libraries. LOL. But they are fundamental elements of humans search for solutions and information; things that will make them happy in the moment they are using your portal.

Since your team is unique and provides a unique service or product – I can’t provide much more advice than these very general keys.

For instance, if you’re a hospital exposing self-service check ins #3 is probably more important than #5. And if you’re an IT shop numbers 1 and 2 are probably more important than 5.

And this is where your challenge starts. Understanding the users – ALL the users. From the customer, to the people on the queues to the people they pass the work to. Each of them wants to be heard and influence the design and execution of the portal.

This doesn’t mean you can take each person’s input into consideration. Group consensus doesn’t really work that way. Instead, you must use this information as research into the design.

If you’re not into design or have experience with this – it’s bigger than a blog post. I can’t give you all that with some words. It really comes from understanding design. If you’re not ready to learn about user research and design – I highly recommend hiring someone with the experience. It is invaluably successful.

Building IT Portals – what have we learned?

I was honored to lead a roundtable discussion at HDI Minnesota yesterday. Topics ranged from hiring practices to career paths for agents. Very involved discussion with a ton of experience and leaders in the room.

I loved being there and listening.

The topic I was ‘leading’ (which means asking questions) was on IT portals. Mostly every support team had a portal along with the challenges exist that have always existed.

However, I think our industry and software in general has come a long way to understanding the shortcomings of portals, adoption and experience.

I started off the session by asking who had a portal. And some hands flopped around uncomfortably. Maybe they don’t think their portals are good enough to call them portals.

One leader offered up his story about using Sharepoint as a portal and what that meant to the sharepoint service (when we upgrade we have some issues with our portal).

Several people noted that posting critical information on the portal was a huge win for both communication and contact avoidance.

Someone else noted that Knowledgebase access was a great feature to have (totally agree) – and went on to shock me that they even allow a forum feature for people to simply discuss anything (very innovative IMHO).

Then I asked the difficult question “what do your customers think about it?”  – – crickets.

“I don’t want another password” is what one end user cited for not using the portal.

Over the next weeks I will outline some of the heavy topics involved in department portals. I’m not going to focus on IT though, because I believe this is a challenge that all many-to-one relationships have. Meaning that any department, team, group, organization, or organization can learn from other groups’ failures and challenges to build an app to improve interaction, collaboration, service, and experience.

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Self Service or Selfish Service?

Is your self-service actually selfish service?

Personally I love this message. All too often the operators of a service sit down and try to make them more “efficient” or “streamlined”. What they mean is efficient and streamlined for them.

This leads to poor adoption, and continues a long standing abuse of the customer experience. What’s in it for me? Am I getting better faster service?

In reality these self-service portals are an afterthought and aren’t truly integral to the service experience!

Read the full article here:

http://www.information-age.com/five-tips-make-it-self-service-more-selfless-and-customer-centric-123460475/

What do you think? Is self-service integral to your service experience? What value is added for your customers and teams through self-service?

Higher Ed Service Catalogs: Six Top Questions Answered

While CIOs across industries are grappling with new threats and opportunities presented by revolutionary technological change, those who work in college and university settings face unique challenges.

Top questions about higher ed service catalogsWriting on LinkedIn Pulse, Tracie Bryant notes than in addition to common CIO challenges like budgeting, strategy, and training, higher ed CIOs must also address issues like scaling up bandwidth to handle “the booming popularity of online classes,” and implementing an advanced technology infrastructure to attract the best and brightest students and faculty (as well as donations).

Continue reading “Higher Ed Service Catalogs: Six Top Questions Answered”

Three More Key Findings About the Future of IT Service Management from EMA Research

The consumerization of IT, digital business model disruption, and the need for greater speed in technology development are combining to dramatically change the role of IT service management. According to Dennis Drogseth of Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), “Both the ‘rules’ and the ‘roles’ governing IT Service Management (ITSM) are evolving” as the relationship changes “between IT and its service consumers.”

Cloud computing, mobile, and the future of ITSMIn The Future of ITSM: How Are Roles (and Rules) Changing? Part 2, Drogseth details several conclusions from the organization’s research, expanding on previously reported findings. Here are three observations that stand out, with additional commentary.

Service management isn’t just for IT anymore.

Among EMA’s findings, “89% of respondents had plans to consolidate IT and non-IT customer service.”

Continue reading “Three More Key Findings About the Future of IT Service Management from EMA Research”

How to Provision a Virtual Private Cloud in 45 Seconds

By Andrew Kramer and Matt Howe

There’s increasing interest among enterprises in IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service). Many organizations are moving their servers to cloud-based providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, among others. The promise of the cloud is fast and cheap infrastructure, but that needs also be balanced with security and control.

Top cloud services providersAll cloud providers offer API integration to their services; Amazon has a vast array of services and completely documented APIs (and even a Ruby SDK), making the work of creating integration with these services fairly easy—if you have the right tools.

One of our customers, a global technology company, recently asked us to create a way to provision a Virtual Private Cloud that included their business rules—something they’ve struggled with using other tooling. Continue reading “How to Provision a Virtual Private Cloud in 45 Seconds”