Turn Your Website into a Customer Service Asset

Supercharge your web presence with a single sign-on dashboard for your customers

By Charles Groce, Head Engineer/Developer

If your market facing website isn’t also being utilized as a customer service portal, you’re wasting half of the single most important piece of digital real estate available to your company. Offering your customers login credentials to a dashboard on your website backend not only gives them an easy to remember place to get information, but also gives your company the opportunity to expose current customers to new products and services.

A robust customer facing portal doesn’t just have file exchange capabilities or an FTP login, but includes highly relevant, real time information like scheduling, process information, ordering and re-ordering capabilities, a support ticket system for when the customer wants to ring the alarm, and critical company contact info. It’s easy to use, looks great on mobile, and makes your company look smart.

A truly great website dashboard anticipates the questions being asked by customers and provides them answers without the customer needing to ask, and links these questions up dynamically with internal processes which ensure all stakeholders, from prepress to customer service to sales to the customer, are on the same page. The result is a living, digital representation of your production and fulfillment process which gives your customers confidence in your ability to stay on top of their needs.

If you’ve got information in your operation in a digital format that your customer wants, whether it be scheduling information in an Excel sheet or fulfillment information seemingly only available in your MIS, then it’s deliverable to your website dashboard using system integration techniques. (And if it’s deliverable to your website dashboard, why not over email, a text message, or through a custom mobile app? I digress.)

If you’re thinking “there’s no way our company website could do this” then maybe it’s time to revisit the architecture behind your website. There are a plethora of open source Content Management Systems (or CMS for short) which have a zero cost investment floor and come wide open for integration with other sources of data. These include WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and other more generalized systems, all of which have access points called “APIs” which are designed for the dynamic and secure sharing of information. This makes the delivery of information on one side of the equation easy.

The other side of the equation often requires custom programming or partnership with third party vendors, but this isn’t as difficult as one might think. Many systems run on simple database architectures or come with built-in APIs. Connecting these systems with your website backend should be a relatively simple project, and if it’s not you should rethink your setup. Some systems, like many of the available print MIS systems, don’t play well with others. These may require some investment in determining how to extract information needed by customers and insert information from customers.

Tying it all together in your website dashboard requires more than just the extraction of information from your existing setup. It also involves a reorientation of the way staff uses information toward the satisfaction of customer needs. Notes kept by your customer service reps in paper folders should be kept in a digital format which is delivered to customers in a way that enhances the customer relationship. A CRM, or Customer Relationship Management system, is the place to keep such information, and again zero cost open source solutions exist which allow you to get started without investing resources better spent on winning new customers, training staff, or expanding capabilities. Up-to-date process information should be maintained on a company wiki (read my article on this technology in last month’s issue) with select access being given to customers. Connect these resources side-by-side with access to your file exchange portal to let your customers know these resources are available and contain information useful to their business.

These are the building blocks of an excellent customer-facing portal. Today’s users prefer to have access to all relevant information without having to ask for it. It makes them feel like they’re in charge. Give your users what they want. Don’t lock important information behind a phone call or an email exchange lasting hours or days.

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