Self-Service Portal – A Quick Start Guide

what is self service portal and why you need it

Self-service plays a critical role in knowledge management for customers and the support teams. Self-service is emerging as one of the most advanced and instant means of customer support. It offers instant access to information, reduces the workload on support resources, and saves time at both ends – customer and support team. 

Customers are the most crucial aspect of any business model. Businesses are on the hunt for new ideas 24/7 to delight customers, and if you think customers don’t know this, then you are wrong. 

They know it, and increasingly, the expectations of customers for support services are shifting.

Today more than ever before, customers want round-the-clock support. They want to learn stuff and resolve issues by themselves without having to engage a customer rep for basic queries. 

As such, self-service portals have become indispensable for the survival of any business because:

  • They are the perfect medium of integration of technology in the business ecosystem
  • They offer instant access to information
  • They empower the customers
  • They save valuable time of support team

If you are wondering what to include in your self-service portal to reap all the above-mentioned benefits, then we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we will explore:

  • what self-service portals are
  • what they should include, and
  • how they can help you grow your business.

What Is a Self-Service Portal?

A self-service portal is an online platform designed to help users get answers to their questions instantly. It comprises the resources and information required by your customers to address any issues they have with your product or service. 

The best aspect of a self-service customer support platform is that it can be accessed on any device or browser, so regardless of where your customers are, they can easily fetch information whenever they want. 

Also, a self-service portal can be for anyone, be it a customer or an employee. Both form a crucial part of your business, and both require a platform that makes it easy for them to resolve queries. 

Self-service portals are largely marked into two categories:

1. Customer Self-Service Portals:

These portals are built for use by customers. A good customer service portal is created to provide customers everything they need, at their fingertips, without reaching out to your support personnel.

One excellent example of such a platform is the one created by HighQ using ProProfs Knowledge Base software.

highq knowledge base example

Know how to encourage self-service among customers.

2. Employee Service Portals:

This self-service portal is solely for employees. It helps them familiarize with your firm, keep themselves updated with the latest happenings, increase knowledge about their roles, and your offerings, and much more.  

In ordinary circumstances, employees would have to reach out to the managers, or colleagues through emails, or calls, to gain knowledge. A self-service portal makes this work extremely easy by equipping your employees with the capability to be on their own. 

Does Your Business Need a Self Service Portal?

The concept of self-service customer support has gained immense popularity in recent years, and for good reasons – customers no longer need to wait to have their issues resolved. Instead, they can find solve problems all on their own.

Available statistics show how fast customers are ditching traditional forms of customer support for self-service portals.  
According to a Microsoft Report, 77% of customers used self-service portals in 2017. With 88% of customers now expecting brands to have self-help platforms, you would be risking losing customers to your competitors if you do not accept this change, and work towards it.

Online self-service support portal stats

So, how does a customer self-service portal benefit your business?

Benefits of Self-Service Portal

Self-service portal benefits are endless. We’ve put together some significant benefits to help you get a better insight into its functioning:

1. Reduces Support Tickets

When your customers have a ready platform to access in case they have a problem, the question of raising a ticket doesn’t arise. They will raise a ticket only if they aren’t able to get what they want. The first and foremost benefit of a self-service platform is a significant reduction in the number of tickets raised by your customers.

2. Less Workload for Support Teams

A reduced number of tickets means a decrease in the workload of your support staff. When implemented correctly, self-service portals are mostly successful in assisting customers whenever they need help. 

The incoming tickets, emails, and calls will be way less than what they used to be, thanks to the self-service way of solving problems. This way, reps will have ample time to focus on customer issues that are urgent or require more attention.

3. New Knowledge and Skills for Customers

Beyond finding answers and ways to resolve their immediate problems, customers who use self-service portals also acquire new skills. They learn more about the product or service and come to know of a few tricks that can help them address issues faster.

4. Increased Web Traffic

Customer self-service portals have scores of help articles, and their quality determines how crawlable they are. These articles range from product or service descriptions to guides and how-to articles designed for problem-solving. They serve as essential tools for driving traffic to the company website, provided the content is unique, accurate, and has the right mix of relevant keywords. 

So, when prospects or your customers run a search with a particular keyword and bump into your self-help platform, it throws good light on your brand as well. An excellent problem-solving experience positions your company’s website as a credible source of information. This increases customers’ trust in your firm, thus bringing them closer to your brand.

5. Decoding Customer Behavior Gets Easy

An intuitive self-help portal works great when it comes to understanding customer behavior. With a knowledge base software, it gets extremely easy to identify:

  • Frequently searched keywords
  • Poorly rated articles
  • Failed searches
  • Total number of searches
  • Broken links, and much more. 

These unique insights into the health of your self-help articles, give you a clear picture of what is working with your customers, and what isn’t. Once you know the gaps, missing content, and the main reason for customers’ dissatisfaction, you can rectify it by adding relevant articles, or updating the existing content to suit customers’ preferences.

6. Reduce Customer Service Emails

Every time your customers use your self-help platform and are disappointed with the search results, for lack of information or inaccurate information, they can directly raise a ticket. But, this can happen only when your online knowledge base is integrated with the helpdesk

An integration between your self-service platform and help desk is for the best interest of you and your customers, because – 

  • Customers get a platform to contact you directly by sending their queries through the helpdesk.  
  • This will reduce incoming customer service emails to a large extent.

7. Improved Productivity of Service Teams

With fewer issue tickets, emails, and calls, your customer service staff can provide quality service to those clients that prefer human interaction. As they spend more time on each customer, they are better equipped to offer excellent service and provide ready solutions to the problems.

8. Lowers Customer Service Budget

Self-service portals provide immediate assistance to customers, helping them troubleshoot problems instantly. In doing so, the support ticket volume drops by a reasonable margin. If you start seeing a trend of decreased incoming tickets, you can cut your investment towards hiring, training, and retaining the customer service staff. 

As most of the queries get resolved at customers’ end, you will not need a lot of reps in your customer support division. 

Design an Outstanding Self Service Portal 

You need 3 things to ensure that customers find your self-service portal useful:

  • Precise information
  • Required resources
  • Tools they need to address their issues

Here are a few essential components that can make your online customer knowledge base to stand out:

1. Update Articles Regularly

Ensure that the content you have in your self-help knowledge base is relevant and up to date. For instance, when there are changes in processes or product improvements, those changes should be reflected in your knowledge base. This ensures your customers are able to get accurate information at any given time.

2. Turn Customer Tickets Into Knowledge Base Articles

One way of ensuring your knowledge base remains relevant and updated is to convert customer issues into articles. This means keeping track of issues that customers raise through different communication channels like social media, phone calls, emails, live chat, survey reports among others.

3. Categorize Knowledge Base Articles

Your knowledge base content should be organized in categories to make it easy for customers to find what they need. This means placing articles that are related to each other in the same category. For easy navigation, adding a table of contents at the beginning of your knowledge base also works. 

ProProfs does a great job categorizing its knowledge base content, as shown in the image below:

ProProfs knowledge base design

4. Use the Right Questions That Help Customers Find What They Want

Instead of using one or two words to describe the content available in your categories, turn those words into questions that customers can relate with. This simple flip can raise the interest level of customers and help them find what they need much faster and with ease.  

Let’s take a look at how ProProfs rocks this strategy on its help center below:

ProProfs knowledge base functions

Can you see these questions in the table of contents?

  • How to create a knowledge base 
  • How to add editors and contributors 
  • How to add your company logo 
  • How to add URL to folders 
  • How to copy a folder and many more. 

Create headers in the form of such questions that pique the interest of readers and provide them the instant solutions to their problems.

5. Make Information-Gathering Effortless

Customers should be able to search the content you place in your knowledge base, and for that, you need to ensure that you have a Google-like search mechanism in place. 

The search bar should be big enough and at the top of the page for customers to see it easily. To ensure that your customers find relevant articles, consider using the right keywords in your articles, and highlighting the commonly searched articles on the first page.

ProProfs offers a great example of a company that makes the knowledge base search bar easy to find:

Easy to find search bar in knowledge base
Customers definitely, cannot miss a prominent search bar like this one!

6. Use Different Content Formats

Consider creating knowledge base content in various formats. Rather than relying on text alone, use other interesting formats such as videos, screenshots, images, and walkthroughs to make the content easy to consume for your customers. 

ProProfs balances it out pretty well when it comes to content formats. Take a look:

proprofs knowledge base content format

There’s a video here, as you can see, along with written steps. This help center also has a fair share of images in the contents. The right mix of text, images, and videos can provide a superb read to anyone who reads your self-service knowledge base.

7. Interlink Knowledge Base Content

As you build your knowledge base articles, ensure that you interlink your articles. Doing this makes it easy for customers to find answers or solutions from related pages without necessarily searching for it. 

See how ProProfs has perfected keeping its interlinking game on point, in the image below:

Interlinking in KB articles

How to Create Your Self-Service Portal?

Now that we have discussed everything about what a self-help portal is, its benefits, and how you can make it better, it’s now time to take a plunge into the creation process. 

The process gets quite simple, with a robust knowledge base software. So, once you have a knowledge base tool in place, here is how you can leverage it to the maximum, to get your knowledge base ready in minutes. 

#1 Set an Objective

This comes even before you start creating a knowledge base. 

You first need to be crystal-clear about your objective and what you want to achieve with the knowledge base. You might have several reasons to create a self-help platform. Some of these can be:

  • A higher number of support tickets 
  • Increased workload on your support staff 
  • Dissatisfied customers 

Evaluate the situation you are in and accordingly, take your next steps. 

#2 Understand Your Target Audience

If you are building a knowledge base for your customers – ensure that you know them well – their requirements, behavior, and some basic stuff. 

Ask yourself a few questions like:

  • Where do most of my customers live?
  • Which device do they use for browsing? 
  • What age group do they fall in?
  • Which medium do they prefer the most for resolving queries? 
  • What are their most frequent questions?

Once you have answers to such basic questions, take a step forward, and assess what should and should not be a part of your knowledge base content. 

Think about aspects like:

  • Content categories
  • FAQs, guides, and how-to articles 
  • Keywords that should be added to the content, and much more. 

This information will help you plan the architecture and content of your self-help knowledge base. 

#3. Write and Structure

Once you are clear with your target audience, the next step is to kickstart with the content-creation part. A powerful knowledge base tool provides an MS Word-like editor to help you write and edit content easily. If you have existing content in Word, PDF, or PPT form, you can import it directly in your knowledge base, and it will get converted into self-help articles.

Simply writing content or uploading it won’t work, you need to give it a proper structure to make navigation easy for visitors. Add a table of contents at the beginning of your customer self-service portal, and segregate your content into different sections, categories, and sub-categories. 

This will help you give a refined structure to your knowledge base. 

Besides, you can even add images, videos, infographics, and other forms of multimedia to your content, and make it engaging for your customers. 

#4 Customize as You Like

After you are done writing, start customizing your self-help platform, to bring it in alignment with your brand. 

Add your firm’s logo and brand name. Pick your favorite fonts, colors, and themes, and design your knowledge base the way you want. Or, you can also use CSS to customize your knowledge base from scratch fully. 

You can also create a custom domain for your knowledge base to make sure that it looks like a separate entity altogether. Customizing your knowledge base will give it a unique personality, helping you attract prospects, as well as customers. 

#5 Keep Your SEO Game on Point

Your online knowledge base won’t serve the purpose if it’s not visible to your customers. To elevate its visibility and be cent percent sure that customers find it in the top search results, you need to be effective in your SEO. 

For Knowledge base SEO optimization, ensure that:

  • You use relevant keywords all across the document
  • Don’t overstuff keywords or compromise on quality
  • Use Meta Tags, and Meta Description carefully
  • Keep improving and updating your content

#6 Streamline Content Management

Your self-service portal is majorly for your customers, but it’s your employees who will constantly be working on it. To keep the process seamless, you can assign separate roles to individuals and groups, so that everyone knows what he or she is supposed to do. For instance, a few individuals will be responsible for writing all content, while some will be assigned the task of editing it. 

When you have a proper system in place, it will get easier for you as well as your employees to work on your self-service portal. 

#7 Review for Quality and Publish

You don’t have the freedom to make errors when it comes to the self-help platform. The chief reason for this is that customers look up to this online portal for help, so it can’t be filled with faulty facts or incorrect information. 

The best way to keep the quality of content intact is by setting workflows. This function of a knowledge base tool allows you to assign a status to the help articles, and ensure that they pass through review before going live. 

For instance, an article can be kept as ‘Draft,’ when the writer still has to make changes to it, and the status can be changed to ‘Pending Review’ after completion. After going through reviews, when the article is ready to get posted, its status can be ‘Ready for Review.’ 

So, basically, workflows help you keep an eye on the different stages of help articles before they finally get published. 

Key Takeaway

According to the Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report by Microsoft, 90% of customers expect businesses to have self-service portals or FAQ sections on their websites. To meet these growing expectations, companies have to shift from viewing self-service portals as sites that are just ‘nice to have’ to customer service tools that are a ‘must-have’. 

In the ever-changing customer service landscape, self-service portals are playing a critical role in growing businesses by addressing the needs that customers have for fast and efficient issue resolution. 

They provide you with a wide range of benefits, including reduced costs and workload, as well as more web traffic. Creating a self-service portal is not a one-time activity. It has to be updated and reviewed regularly for the portal to deliver value to customers. 

The good news is that you don’t have to do everything at a go. The key is to ensure consistency in developing content for your service portal. If you are looking to create an online platform for your business, the best place to start is reviewing the ticket issues that your service teams receive via different communication channels. 

This will give you an idea of what to feature in your knowledge base. Once you do this, classify the issues and begin developing content that guides customers through the process of resolving those issues. Build one component at a time, and gradually, you will have a fully-fledged self-service portal in place.

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About the author

Brayn is a knowledge management expert. He has been published in CustomerThink, PointVisible and Apruve. As a customer support specialist at ProProfs, Brayn has been instrumental in building a robust knowledge base and documents that help support executives keep every customer delighted. You can catch up with Brayn on Twitter and LinkedIn.