Portals: In your pocket

This post is the seventh 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 —>

Team Leader: What do we want?

Team: Supercomputers in our pockets!

Team Leader: What do we got?

Team: Supercomputers in our pockets.

If you’ve made it this far in your journey toward a comprehensive customer portal: CONGRATULATIONS! You now have a system of customer engagement. This is a goal many brands fail at many many times before seeing success.

So – you know where I’m going next right? The customer. What do they want now? You’ve given them a voice, and enabled powerful access to your data and services.

What could customers possibly want besides everything?

Easy; they also want it all times and places.

They want this new system of engagement to be with them at all times. I’m working at 2am on my 23rd cup of coffee. I’m excited and inspired to make our company’s next new product.

Take the opportunity to delight your customers by fulfilling their needs at the time they need.

“Oh hey, I should tell finance about this material shortage that is predicted by our research partners” – goes to finance portal on iPhone.

“I need to order 300 pounds of rubber.” – goes to procurement portal on Android.

“I like Peter. What’s his email address?” – looks up employee info on a web browser on his child’s internet connected pillow.

These are the realities of today. These are not predictions. Your colleagues and co-workers deserve the right to work freely and to do so when it’s convenient to them and on their terms.

Does your portal require Internet Explorer 11 so that business rules can be enforced? Terrible.

Does your portal require a mobile version and a desktop version? Stupid.

Gone are these old perceptions of web development. Now there is only disruption, connection and communication. The rest is just a check-box on a management system.

Get every customer engagement on mobile to keep them as a customer.

Else; you may as well close the door on over half of your users, half of the time.

Portals: Seamlessness

This post is the sixth 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 —>

In the last five posts, you’ve gotten a website up and running – announced your team, set up a way for your team to talk to customers and another for customers to talk to your team. Last post we started exploring the possibility of integrating another system into your portal.

Whether you realize it or not, you have just made a terrible mistake.

No kidding.

The complexity of your little portal has more than doubled. Now that you have this other system “in there” it has the ability to hurt your customer experience! What if that system makes changes? What if the data fails? How will your customers feel? What perception are you giving them?

Which brings us to another element each portion of your portal needs consider; seamlessness.

Remember all that total-cost-of-ownership stuff I was rambling about last week? That’s what I mean. If that data source goes down, how does your portal look? Do the customers realize it’s down? How many ways can you stop a good experience? Too many.

Putting safeguards in place may help:

  1. Can you replicate the database/app locally and serve it through the website? This way if it goes down, your version stays up.
  2. Can you make the portal dynamic, so that if the data source is unavailable, users see a different page/experience?
  3. How about automated testing and alerting?

This stuff can be expensive – so it’s best to know what you’re getting into. Try things out, but always be ready to pivot.

What else causes a seamless experience for users?

Colors, text and words.

Ugh, I hate this one. But it’s equally important. To make the experience a good one, all your content “should” match. This phrase just makes me ill, because like perfection – this is unattainable. There will always be out of date content. One website will update before all the rest, one document will keep being out there without an update – this is just part of reality. Get ready to work on this for the rest of your career.

The look and feel should also match other websites and experiences – where possible.

Search is a huge part of how people interact with the web. Neglecting search is an active and intentional attempt to derail most modern technology users. This can also help make your portal seem seamless and get customers to engage.

Navigation has a large impact on experience. Designers working with personas understand that navigation for one person is not navigation for all people. And no matter what decision you make on the design of navigation, it will be wrong for some people. You’ll have to deal with it.

The best navigation supports permalinks for people that bookmark what they need, or use the autofill feature of their browser to navigate to exactly what they want. Here’s some awesome reading about navigation. Jared is a great writer about experience.

And as always – test these things and listen to your customers. They will tell you when your search results suck. They will tell you when they can’t navigate to their favorite spot in less than 2 clicks. They are here for you!

join us for the next segment “Is that a Portal in your pocket?” by following us on twitter or subscribing in the right-hand margin of this site —>

Portals: Content is king!

This post is the fifth 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 —>

Now your site is up and running and you can talk to your customers and they can also participate in discussions. What comes next to provide value?

Content.

Content is what your customers want. Some examples that they might be looking for include success stories, examples of how your department or team helps people and the systems and data your teams use every day.

Consider how much information your team has. Building an interface into that information can produce some pretty unique and innovative ideas, solutions and value.

Let’s say for instance your team runs a library at a medical device manufacturer. You have access to tons of resources that most people are going to want to access and skim quickly – as well as in-depth research.

Can you extend access to the catalog via a web portal, api or guest access?

This simple integration not only saves time on employee productivity (direct access to information) – it could also lead to a more disciplined approach to product management; which translates to less risk and more profit.

Extending the data your company, team or project already leverages, adds value to your customer when they can do it themselves.

Take another situation – if you’re a bank providing financial services, surely your service partners have access to information and value your customers are begging to get at.

If you, as a bank, can offer that information, you now have a way to differentiate yourself from other local banks. Another benefit is that your partnerships grow stronger. I’ve also seen some financial institutions giving away this kind of information as a marketing tactic to attract new customers.

These integrations aren’t particularly easy. It’s not always as easy as copy-pasting an embed code from youtube. Sometimes, though, it is!

So, I echo the same thing; GO TO THE CUSTOMERS! What systems, information or things do they call your team for all the time, that they could just look up themselves?

Once you discover those things, you’ll need to determine if your software, website, whatever can integrate well. At which point you will evaluate the return-on-investment of the integration (meaning how much will you impact productivity/revenue) and the total-cost-of-ownership for this integration. Does it require a license? How about staff? Once these considerations are made, hopefully a decision can be made.

Here are some examples of common integrations being added to portals:

  1. Systems of Record
    1. Employee directory
    2. Team directory
    3. Ticket portal
    4. knowledge
    5. databases
  2. Writing
    1. How-to
    2. Company updates
    3. Team updates
    4. Project updates
    5. Fileshare
  3. Checklists
  4. Links
  5. Downloads
  6. Events/Calendars
  7. Dashboard/Reporting

Each one of these topics has complexities and considerations. Join us next week as we start exploring the fire hose of enhancement requests you’re going to start getting.

Have you been reading along? Send feedback, get involved or let us know how we’re doing!

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.

The 3 Best Focal Points of Request Management

Today I had someone ask for advice. “What would you tell a new Request Process Owner?” Although results will vary, here is some generic advice.

The goal of Request Management is to deliver goods and services to those that need them. This sounds simple, but we’re talking about people; so it’s not simple.

First, you have more than one person you serve. You support and defend the people ordering, selling and fulfilling goods and services. Each will have an idea of what that means. If you can get them all to agree, you should consider a career in politics.

Ordering.

Make sure people know where to order things. This might be the biggest challenge. And there are several related goals.

It’s a lot easier to tell people where to go when you have one place for people to order things. So, a secondary goal is making sure everything that can be ordered is in that one place. This might be impossible, so do your best. Partnering with Business Analysts and other key people will help you achieve clarity. It will also help you understand the history and technical limitations.

The “one place” to order things should be in neutral territory. If not, you will face opposing goals and risk their influence.

Improving that “one place” is another related goal. How easy is it to find the right goods and services? Is it easy to order them? When you want to change an item description, can you? Flexibility is an advantage, dependence is your foe.

Keep a small marketing and sales campaign targeted at both new and experienced people. Let them know what new things they can order. Take their feedback on the catalog and listen to them. Driving demand and traffic to your portal will keep authority and adoption high.

Next, consider the people selling and delivering those goods and services. Are they enabled to manage their own items? Do they like the automation or task assignments? Are the alerts and information they need working well? Keep them focused on smooth delivery and using the central portal.

Finally, providing an excellent customer experience will reward you with loyal fans. These fans will tell their friends and coworkers about their experience. This makes your sales and marketing efforts much easier and amplifies your reach.

Selling.

Consider request management to be a supply chain. Going further upstream to your vendors may be an easy way to find savings in effort or cost. Say the headphones you provide are $100. Can you get better ones at the same price? Can your vendor get you a better price?

This is usually a great opportunity for automation and cost savings. Say for instance that every laptop you buy ships alone. Is there cost savings in shipping them all at once? How do you manage stock? Licensing?

There are a lot of partnerships in this function, keep your partners close.

Fulfillment.

Let’s stick with headphones. When someone requests them, what happens? Does Sally order them from Amazon? If so, do they get delivered to the person that ordered them? Does Sally get them first?

These are the details of request management that are often the hardest to impact. Getting Sally to change her process is not going to be simple. If you make it automated she may even feel her job is danger. Always focus on value. Using your customers’ feedback will be instrumental in designing and impacting these details.

Just like selling, fulfillment is a chain of events that you can analyze. Improvements are always there, the questions of cost, expectations and experience still apply.

This also means you must balance complexity. Hiring new employees or bringing on new companies are examples of complex requests. Don’t get overwhelmed and leverage your selling, fulfillment and requesting professionals to improve.

I hope this will help you on your journey. What would you add to these suggestions?

You Released a Catalog; Now What?

Adoption: Getting People to Use your Catalog

If people don’t use your portal, there is a risk of missing returns on your investment. This is important because an initiative like a self-service portal is usually sold to leadership as part of a cost-savings initiative.

catalog open

Marketing

How do you get your customers to think about your portal when they need something? To understand this, consider the lifecycle of technology adoption. Innovators and early adopters will be easy to convince since a new portal to make requests is a disruptive change. For the rest of your audiencemarketing is key to making people aware the catalog exists and what value it provides.

Some keys to marketing your catalog include simply talking to people about it, putting it on your hold music, send links to the portal and have service agents talk to callers about your catalog. Partner with your internal marketing teams and corporate messaging teams to share stories about the self-service catalog. Of course, linking to your catalog from intranet pages and emails is also important.

Informational sessions, brown bags, new hire orientation and all-hands meetings are some more great platforms to share the stories and value of your catalog.

Experience

Having a great experience is a non-negotiable requirement of any self-service portal. If the first interaction customers have with your catalog is not a good one, they may never come back. To achieve this, partner with your customers to capture and provide input to what they would like the experience to be like. Watching people order things is a great place to start.

Improvement: Making the Catalog a Part of Company Culture

Build analytics and measurement into your catalog to determine what services people are using, which ones they aren’t using and identify what your customers are looking for. Having access to what people are searching for can help you understand what services they are looking for that may not be available yet.

Surveys help you understand if people are happy with your portal, upset with your portal and gives people a voice and input into your systems. To increase survey response rates try rewarding respondents and adding incentive to users helping you build the portal. And when something changes on your portal, make sure you communicate and understand the impact on your customers.

Making frequent small improvements keeps change simple for your end users. Make sure your items have a similar look and feel, and make ordering easy. Focus on the customer experience, and never stop improving.

Expansion: growing the use of your catalog

There are lots of ways to expand. Adding departments, services or even a new portals are challenges you may need to overcome. Seeking out the power-users, information brokers and persuaders to discuss the design and functionality of your portal will be exponentially valuable.

There are a couple ways to scale your expansion. One way is to build items and technology features to be reused and leveraged by power-users. Building activities and functions that are repeatable and modifiable will make your catalog easier to use and therefore more likely to I used.

Another is to build your technology in such a way to distribute the details of your services. This might include being able to leverage a standard approval workflow, or giving business professionals the ability to customize their own forms. This may take some careful planning and maybe even re-work, but the investment is worth it when demand increases.

Support: How to Scale Innovation

Since most modern technology platforms can literally do anything, we need to break the habit of asking “Can it…” and start planning how to approach a solution.

Exploring what your platforms are capable of keeps you in the role of “early-adopter” which makes you a key resource to the people leveraging this technology. This role will often start automating solutions or fixing problems that people have been complaining about for years. This is an important step in the life of a self-service platform.

Expand who is using the platform, give them a framework to work within and cross-train. Having multiple people involved in a system like this removes the risk of having a single point of failure.

Nobody knows everything, so getting others involved will also help scale exploration. Continuously learn more about the technologies that are providing the value your team and company need.

Lastly, keeping your platforms up to date keeps you leveraging new functionality and feature sets as well as keeping you learning more about the enabling technology.

Get Started

Ready to get started implementing a catalog that can grow? Start learning more today at http://kineticdata.com.

Kinetic Data creates business process software that delights its customers, making them heroes by transforming both the organization and the people who work there. Since 1998 Kinetic Data has helped hundreds of Fortune 500 and government customers — including General Mills, Avon, Intel, 3M and the U.S. Department of Transportation — implement automated request management systems with a formula that is proven, repeatable and ready to implement. The company has earned numerous awards for its superior products and support. Kinetic Data serves customers from its headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., offices in Sydney, Australia, and through a valued network of reseller partners. For more information, visitwww.kineticdata.com, follow our blog, and connect with us on Twitter andLinkedIn.