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Client Portals Are the New Norm -- Here's How to Set Yours Up Painlessly Client portals make tasks easier and more convenient for customers, and they save companies time and money. What's not to like?

By Adam Levy Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Marccophoto | Getty Images

When customers sign on with service providers, a brand new relationship between the client and the vendor begins. What's more, this is often a digital relationship as well, involving the transfer of information from one party to another, in the form of messages, documents and invoices.

A digital client portal, then, is ultimately a way for the provider to reinforce its relationship with its client, giving the latter more access and control over the information the two parties share.

So, what does a "client portal" mean? It's an entry point in the provider's website where clients can log into an area where they can view, download, and upload private information -- securely. Digital files, services and electronic financial information can be shared.

Client portals are no longer merely a novelty feature. They're something customers now expect in a variety of industries. For example, United Capital now allows clients to take a more active role in their investing, via a portal that provides both desktop and mobile access to GuideCenter, a program for tracking investment performance. The company has noted that two of its main goals are to achieve better transparency and give customers more control over their accounts. And that about sums up the basis of a better relationship between the two parties.

Clients, for their part, appreciate the flexibility portals offer, as they can get access to information, make appointments or pay bills at any time.

And although digital portals are often hailed for the ease they offer clients for managing their part of the relationship, portals can actually be revolutionary for the businesses using them.

Saving time, after all, is vital in organizations of any size, and client portals can cut down on administrative hassles such as getting colleagues on the same page when they're dealing with multiple clients.

Related: 4 Tips to Forge Winning Client Relationships for the Long-Term

Reaching portals' potential

There's not a single client-facing industry that can't benefit from client portals. Businesses not only look more technologically savvy and professional, but they also showcase a deeper investment in their relationships with clients -- and what business isn't iinterested in that?

For businesses intrigued by client portals, here are three things to consider before taking the leap:

1. Make it yours.

When consumers grow attached to brands, they expect a consistent experience. According to Kayako's customer service trends report for 2017, 90 percent of customers want a brand to have continuity across all channels. That said, because a client portal is like a digital office front, it should feel just as professional and personalized as your brick-and-mortar office or your social media platforms.

The portal should feature your logo and stay consistent with other brand features, such as your colors and the tone of your writing. Little touches matter, too. If you're sending invoices to clients, for example, branding those invoices with your logo is an easy way to go the extra mile in gaining clients' trust. Branding the portal will let clients know they're in a space that's familiar to them, boosting the experience they have with the tool.

Related: CRM-Techniques and Strategies for Customer Retention

2. Make time-saving a priority.

When customers can get answers to their questions or solve problems quickly and independently -- and according to Zendesk, more than half of them want to -- the time they save is appreciated. So, when you're building or choosing your client portal, focus on features that will shave off time for the various tasks involved.

There's not a one-size-fits-all answer here; you need to tailor it to what your business offers and what your customers usually look for. Do customers ask you to send them standard documents on a regular basis? Include a document-sharing feature so they can access it without having to pick up the phone or send an email.

Do they need to schedule appointments with your team? Let them do it at their leisure through the portal. Again, clients will appreciate the ease and time saved.

3. Make things integrative.

A client portal alone is a start, but it won't make things any easier on your team if they can't link it to your internal customer relationship management software. And it won't help your clients if they can't connect it to the tools they too use every day. Having to switch between the portal and other platforms creates unnecessary legwork, which is counterintuitive to what the portal aims to achieve.

For instance, a client portal should seamlessly integrate with team members and clients' Google or Microsoft calendars. This is a key bridge between the digital world and real life: It cuts down on administration tasks and generally allows clients to set up appointments more easily.

Integrating the portal with your tools will lift a weight off both parties -- and it can be great for your business, too. To illustrate, one report from research firm Aite Group demonstrated that better integration among teams' internal applications led to a deeper understanding of clients' needs, a 46 percent increase in revenue and a 57 percent increase in the number of clients served.

Related: Want to Keep Your Clients Happy? Listen Closely

Simply put, client portals are a win-win. They make tasks easier and more convenient for the customer, and they save companies time and money. Those benefits together are rare, so it's no wonder that portals have the potential to create better, longer-lasting business relationships.

Adam Levy

CEO, Magnet Solutions Group

Adam Levy is the founder of Magnet Solutions Group, an IT and web development company, and LoTops, a CRM and management application for small businesses in any industry. He tweets regularly on business technology at @Adam__Levy.



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