Digitizing communication: Your own customer portal

The customer portal is the central point of contact with a brand, product or company on the Internet. Here you can find out everything about the customer portal.

Customer Portal
Web Development

Digital services make our lives easier on many levels. On comparison platforms such as Check24, it is not only possible to find offers, but also to conclude and manage contracts directly. On the portals of Internet providers such as Vodafone or Telekom, customers can call up bills, change their rates and view the telephone numbers they have called. Even the services of energy providers are digitized today. You can simply enter your electricity meter reading online via their customer portal no longer needing to do this by letter, e-mail or over the phone.

Customer portals are the versatile, changeable and scalable platforms with which services enter new digital spheres. They can be used to minimize intermediaries, supplement one's own portfolio with a digital service, or to collect and process usage information.

A mobile startup  whose D2C platform is also the operational control center of the business model, benefits just as much from a customer portal as a group that is digitizing order management for its B2B customers.

Here you can find out everything about digital customer portals. What features they can have, how they improve user and customer experience, why your internal processes also benefit from them and, of course, how a customer portal is implemented.

What is a customer portal?

A customer portal is the central point of access for information about a company's offerings. It bundles all information relevant to a business transaction in one digital place, accessible around the clock and in real time. For companies, the portal is the essential digital contact point for customer relations and customer satisfaction, both in the B2B and B2C sectors. In the customer portal, the customer can, for example:

  • Manage account information

  • Make payments

  • Track delivery status

  • Place orders

  • Submit and track support requests

  • Upload and download information and documents

From a technical point of view, this is a web application that is individually adapted to the respective needs of the company. To turn a web app into a customer portal, existing functions and services are expanded with new features. For the energy supplier, for example, this means that in addition to the CRM, the existing customer support can be connected enabling customers to contact the portal directly. At the same time, a newly implemented knowledge database and contract data that can be accessed online reduce unnecessary support requests. Further examples can be found here. Digital contact with users and customers opens up a huge spectrum of business opportunities.

Companies benefit from a customer portal throughout the entire customer lifecycle

  • Data collection and automation

  • Understanding customers, increasing customer satisfaction

  • Digitizing complex processes: How sales benefits from the Customer Portal

The more processes of the business model are bundled digitally, the more a company can benefit from the customer portal: Self-service functions reduce the amount of consulting and support required, and data can be collected, stored and evaluated centrally and during every phase of the purchasing process. Administrative processes and workflows can be automated. Optimization potentials and synergies for internal processes become visible - even for complex processes and services such as those often found in the B2B sector.

Classic functions of customer portals are for example:

  • Create and manage support requests

  • View business relevant documents

  • Upload information, images, etc.

  • Make payments

  • Search function for products, information, etc.

  • Retrieve and maintain knowledge base (manuals, FAQs, etc.)

  • Real-time collection of data in the field

The customer portal is often the first port of call when it comes to information about products or services. For potential new customers of the mobile startup, information on the available network, contract term, and payment intervals is relevant to their immediate needs. Existing customers can use the customer portal to add options, change their rate plan, or contact support in the event of problems. A customer forum enables users to exchange information, which increases customer loyalty and reduces support requests.

Many core functions of customer portals originate from the B2C sector, but B2B portals have become indispensable as well. Live chat with a support employee has become just as established here as self-service offerings in the form of an FAQ page or a download area for relevant documents. Business and private customers alike expect to be able to call up invoices, view order statuses, and process payments digitally.

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Data collection and automation

Companies benefit from the wide range of data processing options offered by the customer portal. A web-based platform makes it possible to collect data from the periphery and manage it centrally without friction loss. Technicians can update order data during on-site visits, and customers can upload images in advance in the event of damage. All data converges in the portal in real time and can be collected and processed automatically and fed into the CRM, for example.

Automation is not only important for data processing. Numerous processes can be automated in connection with the customer portal. Customer inquiries, for example, can be assigned to departments on the basis of user information and previous inquiries, and a notification can be automatically sent to the technical department in the event of frequent problem reports. Automation applications and workflows turn the customer portal into a digital service hub for companies.

Understanding customers, increasing customer satisfaction

The customer portal is the central solution for better understanding customers' needs and meeting them. Data is at the heart of continuous optimization - because insights can be gained and data collected at every internal and external touchpoint. Via the customer portal, this collected data can be refined into knowledge. The more you know about buyers, users, and operations at every stage of the business process, the better you can refine your digital offering.

This database can also be used to provide additional services and information about the product. Frequently asked questions can be bundled in a FAQ, for example, and useful application tips can be made available as blog articles. A video tutorial offers uncomplicated access to the handling of a product that is otherwise difficult to access. By reminding customers of the need to order supplies at an early stage, you can even relieve them of an administrative task.

Especially in industries with complex buying processes, extensive services, and long-term commitments, a well-tuned customer portal can be a valuable unique selling proposition.

Digitizing complex processes: How Sales Benefits from the Customer Portal

Increasing sales is the primary argument for many companies to introduce a customer portal. On the one hand, customers are given additional ways to buy products or services. Not every customer likes to pick up the phone or pay by invoice. On the other hand, a well-designed and developed customer portal relieves sales staff of administrative work and enables them to better invest the time saved in working with their customers. At the same time, a customer portal offers valuable insights into customer behavior - and thus opportunities for the aftersales team to create points of contact for upselling and cross-selling.

The advantages of a customer portal for sales at a glance:

  • Additional purchase and payment options for customers

  • Centralized payment processing and automated invoicing

  • Automation of workflows and administrative processes

  • Direct connection of the payment gateway to CRM and ERP

  • Collection of usage data

  • Cross- and upselling potentials through better understanding of the customer

Instead of writing invoices, sales staff can focus on the core of their work: sales.

These features turn the customer portal into a digital powerhouse

Digital customer contact is not a single contact in the literal sense of the word. In the B2B sector, five to ten contacts are usually required before a contract can be successfully concluded. With the increase in subscription services and software-as-a-service offerings, an additional dimension has been added. The interaction between buyer and seller, or customer and company, now extends over a longer period of time - beyond the purchase.

To turn the purely sales-oriented online offering into a value-added user experience, a customer portal, planned with customer/user interaction at its core, is logical. This service provider benefits from greater customer loyalty and lean, digitized processes.

These functions turn a customer portal into an engagement hub along the entire customer journey:

  • Live chat for support requests

  • Provision of product information (e.g. through downloads)

  • Knowledge base and FAQ for recurring requests

  • Flexible payment options and automatic invoicing

  • Push notifications and alarms

  • Analysis functions

While a customer portal offers extensive functions, contact options and information, this does not have to mean more effort. On the contrary, self-service functions such as automated chats, FAQs and on-demand information can save support effort. The freed-up capacities can in turn be invested in expanding customer relationships and business opportunities.

More security in data processing

When it comes to information processing, data security is imperative. The topic is especially relevant since the General Data Protection Regulation (DSGVO) has come into force. Secure data processing and conscientious handling of customer-related data are prerequisites, especially for business customers.

The login function is the most visible and well-known security feature. Be it as a dedicated website login, a single sign-on at work, or a one-click solution

via Google, Amazon, Facebook and Co. - it is no longer possible to imagine everyday digital life without logging in. Two-factor authentication (2FA) and one-time passwords (OTP) provide an additional layer of security when logging in. End-to-end encryption functions ensure secure data transmission.

Important security features for online customer portals include:

  • Login function

  • Two-factor authentication (2FA) or one-time passwords (OTP)

  • End-to-end encryption for data transmission and messaging

  • Fast and stable hosting

  • Up-To-Date Techstack

From the software used to the hosting, modern customer portals are planned around the aspects of security and stability. Officially, all software providers based in the EU comply with the GDPR. However, especially in the case of low-code or no-code solutions that are supposed to function with little or no programming effort at all, the integral security functions are permanently on the provider's side rather than the company’s.

More security and control is offered by developing the customer portal on the basis of a customized web application. All data processing is in the hands of the company itself, as is control over the software used. Web application development is more accessible than ever before. From startups to large enterprises, the majority of web applications are based on established and frequently used basic building blocks, which can be used to build payment systems or integrate an existing ERP system. The ROQ Suite bundles these basic building blocks, from backend to frontend, and thus drastically reduces the development needed for fully-fledged, customized customer portals.

Integrate existing CRM, ERP and Co.

Sales process, customer support and file management systems culminate in a modern customer portal. The integration of existing services is therefore an integral component of every customer portal:

  • CRM systems such as Salesforce or Hubspot

  • ERP systems such as SAP S4/HANA or Microsoft Dynamics NAV

  • Payment gateways such as PayPal or Apple Pay

Both customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) are now largely digitized. Widely used systems such as Salesforce CRM or SAP S4/HANA can be connected to web applications via data connectors and linked to the customer portal. All data converges centrally via the customer portal and can be integrated directly and partly automatically into sales processes via CRM. Via the connection to the ERP system, resources and capacities are tracked in real time and can be managed without intermediate administrative steps.

Looks good: Design is more important today than ever

The customer portal is the first point of contact with the brand, product or company for potential customers and users. The design thus forms the vital first impression. This involves both the visual brand components such as the logo, brand designs, etc., as well as the user or customer experience. The clearer the site, the easier the navigation, the more both the customer and the company benefit. A uniform appearance and a fluid user experience turn a web interface into a customer portal that customers enjoy using.

UI/UX design (user interface and user experience) has extensive implications for any customer portal. If a self-service offering is easy and intuitive to use, it will save valuable capacity. For example:

  • Automated live chat, which directs the customer to further information

  • An intuitive checkout process increases conversion, not only in e-commerce

  • The automatic processing of uploaded documents

  • Well thought-out user guidance reduces support requests

 The visual identity of a customer portal consists of three basic pillars:

  1. 1

    Corporate/brand design: The graphic distinguishing features, from the color palette to the corporate logo.

  2. 2

    User Interface (UI): The customer interacts with the web application or customer portal via the UI.

  3. 3

    User Experience (UX): The UX is the planning and technical bracket for all digital touchpoints in the customer portal.

Corporate design and UI go hand in hand. Existing company-specific design guides and policies form the graphic basis for the user interface. General appearances, as well as specific buttons and animations are designed based on this framework.

If graphics and UI are the bodywork, user experience design is the engine of web design. The task of the UX is to bring together graphic elements and user interface in a coherent customer experience.

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3 examples of top customer portals

A customer portal offers all companies with customer contact opportunities the opportunity to digitally expand their own business model. Here are three examples of successful customer portals, from B2C to B2B:

Helm AG Chemicals

  • HELM's chemicals customers can use the new customer portal to easily manage their orders, from delivery status to invoicing.

Bosch Smarthome

Google Workspace

  • Google has become almost synonymous with the Internet. It is easy to forget that the tech giant has developed a pure web browser into a comprehensive business portal.

How do you develop a customer portal?

A customer portal lends itself to any type of business whose product is too complex for online retailers or who simply want more control over their own service.

From a technical perspective, a customer portal is a web application that has special functions adapted to the business model. The development process can be divided into four steps:

  1. 1

    The idea: what should be achieved, what problems should be solved?

  2. 2

    IT setup and development: The actual development work

  3. 3

    The launch: The customer portal is launched.

  4. 4

    Operations and scaling: What are the next goals and challenges to be overcome?

The possible applications of a customer portal are almost limitless. Therefore, before the actual development begins, the conceptual framework must be defined. This involves deciding whether an existing service should be digitized, previously separate sales processes be linked, or a central support platform be created - or all of the above? Almost every conceivable digital solution can be realized today.

The heart: The individual web application

Once the brainstorming is complete, a web application is developed that is tailored to the specific use case. Issues taken into account are whether existing services and legacy software are to be integrated for the customer portal or, for example in the case of a startup, developed from scratch: Web apps offer the greatest possible flexibility in implementation.

Many small and medium-sized companies shy away from the effort of developing a web app themselves. As a result, implementation is given over to expensive, external service providers, postponed or even discarded altogether. Thus, business opportunities remain untapped. Yet today, fully-fledged, customized web applications can be realized with a small team of developers. Web apps are ubiquitous on the Internet - and with them the functions, connectors and services used.

A digital customer portal has these frequently used features

There are many possible uses for a customer portal, but they are often based on established, widely used modules, for example:

  • Customized user interface

  • Mobile app

  • User management (login, invitation function)

  • Access Control Management (ACL)

  • Messaging (send and manage messages)

  • Document Management

  • Content Management System (CMS)

  • Connection to the existing CRM system

  • Integration of the ERP system

  • Payment processing, payment gateways

  • Search function

Instead of developing these software modules from scratch for each web application, ROQ Suite allows you to build on a proven, established tech stack. This saves valuable development time without having to sacrifice the flexibility of in-house web development.

Medium-sized companies in particular can leverage untapped digital potential with a customer portal. In our free whitepaper, we explain why direct-to-consumer (D2C) in particular can be a great opportunity for SMEs and how a customized web application can be efficiently implemented for them.

After the launch; before the scaling

At the end of the initial development phase, the customer portal stands on its own two feet for the first time: the first executable version. On the one hand, this means testing, further development and patching. On the other hand, it is synonymous with the market launch. From now on, customers and companies can find each other via the new, individual platform.

The continual further development of the products, the brand and the company itself is an integral part of everyday business. The same applies to the customer portal. Once the platform is live, a broad spectrum of further development opportunities opens up. The expansion of customer relationships can be just as much the goal as the digitization of support functions. New payment functions can be integrated or the product range expanded.

The only limit here is the infrastructure. Small, particularly inexpensive hosts can cause problems because their infrastructure is often not designed for larger traffic and generally only a low bandwidth is available. This creates a bottleneck for extensive, web-based customer portals and is often a reason for unwanted downtimes or even data loss.

The more stable the hosting and the selected tech stack, the easier it is to build on. An individually developed web application as the basis for the customer portal offers the greatest possible flexibility and can be implemented today even without a large team of developers.

The advantages of a customer portal at a glance

A customer portal is the first point of contact for users and customers interested in a product or service. All relevant information is provided in one digital place and can be accessed around the clock. Self-service offerings such as downloading product manuals and digital services such as processing support requests come together in one portal.

Companies and customers alike benefit: from leaner, more efficient processes on the one hand to improved service offerings on the other.

FAQ: Everything about the digital customer portal

What is a customer portal?

A customer portal is the central, digital point of contact for everything to do with a product or service. From a technical perspective, customer portals are specialized web applications.

How does a customer portal help my business?

Some examples of the benefits of a customer portal are user-friendliness, automation of support functions, improved data management or even the optimization of sales processes.

What role does design play in the development of a customer portal?

The design is ultimately one of the identity-forming features of a company. For a coherent brand experience, it is therefore important to consider the corporate design when developing the customer portal.

What are the functions of a modern customer portal?

Customer portals often have functions for user management, document management, messaging & support, content management (CMS), payment management & billing.

How is it different from an online store?

An online store performs a limited set of tasks: Offering a product for sale and, at best, processing payment and orders. A customer portal revolves around the customer relationship. It can also map more complex services. A store system can also be part of a customer portal.

Can I integrate my legacy software into a new customer portal?

Basically: yes! The more technology-agnostic the customer portal is developed, the more extensively legacy systems can be integrated. A self-developed web app offers virtually all possibilities. Doing this via a low-code solution, on the other hand, will be more difficult or impossible in places.

How time-consuming is it to develop a customer portal?

A customer portal is based on a web app, and this requires development effort. For smaller companies, or those without a large development team, the ROQ Suite is a good choice, as it bundles many functionalities of web app development ready to use.

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