Customer portals: a necessity for field service management
Over the past years, businesses have found new ways to provide transparent information to their customers. Especially during the pandemic, customer communication has been a top priority, and organisations have had to innovate their digital channels to accommodate self-service portals, omnichannel service, and real-time updates.
Over the past several years, businesses have found new ways to provide transparent information to their customers. Especially during the pandemic, customer communication has been a top priority, and organisations have had to innovate their digital channels to accommodate self-service portals, omnichannel service, and real-time updates.
While 77% of customers have reported using self-service portals in the past, only around 10% of businesses provide them — which means the majority of businesses are missing out on their benefits (and more than likely falling short of customer expectations).
In this post, we’ll dig into why customer portals are becoming more important for field service management, what to look for in a customer portal solution, and whether to build or buy a solution.
Why customer portals are more important than ever
Thanks to highly personalised, transparent digital experiences curated by companies like Amazon and Uber, consumers are accustomed to having easy access to information about their appointments and orders. Here are just a few of the client portal features that customers expect:
- Personalisation – Customers want a modern, tailored experience across all touchpoints. In the case of field service management, this can include displaying relevant details depending on the type of appointment.
- Self-service options – Some customers may prefer to contact a call centre, but most want the option of self-service. Additionally, field service call centres usually have limited hours of operation, so it’s important for customers to be able to locate information or make appointment updates on their own schedule.
- Transparency – Service appointments can be a source of stress for customers, especially if they don’t know what to expect. Providing details about every step of the appointment process can ease that anxiety.
- Real-time updates – The days of four-hour appointment windows are long over. Customers expect frequent updates about when their technician will arrive — and don’t want to have to contact a call centre to ask for updates.
- Communication – Customers want the ability to easily communicate any changes or details (gate codes, information about how to access the space, etc.) to their technician directly, rather than having to ring a call centre.
If your business is unable to meet these expectations, customers will look for a competitor who can.
It’s not just about retaining customers, however — field service customer portals can also cut costs and administrative work for your teams.
With a customer portal, both you and your customers can iron out details about each appointment, increasing first-time fix rates and reducing no-access appointments. Real-time updates reduce chase calls, and with self-service communication, call centre agents don’t have to play messenger between technicians and customers. All of these benefits translate into higher efficiency and lower costs for your business.
Key features of an effective customer portal solution
When it comes to customer portal options, every business will have its own unique needs and configuration preferences. However, here are some features we recommend looking for:
- Browser and in-app accessibility – Customers shouldn't be forced to download an app to access your self-service portal. While having an app is great, your customer portal should also work in a regular internet browser (on both mobile and desktop devices) to make it more accessible.
- Rescheduling – When your customers can confirm, reschedule, or cancel appointments on their own, they have more control over their experience and are less likely to miss their appointment. Additionally, this frees up time for your call centre to handle more complex queries.
- Technician information – Understandably, some people are hesitant to allow strangers into their homes. Giving your customers some information about who will be arriving at their door (e.g. operative photo, license number, and credentials) can alleviate stress and reduce no-access appointments.
- Real-time information – Your customer portal should provide easy access to up-to-date service appointment details like technician ETA, scope of appointment, appointment status, place in queue, operative location, and more.
- Chat and contact options – Customers should be able to communicate with their technician via two-way chat and connect with the contact centre for additional support. Phone number anonymisation ensures that neither technicians nor customers need to give out their personal numbers.
- White-label options – When you can brand your customer portal, you can create a more consistent experience throughout the customer journey, building your credibility and visual branding.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. As you assess your options, it’s essential to consider any special functionality you’d like your portal to have.
DIY or buy?
The two most common implementation options for customer portals are building your own customised portal or buying an out-of-the-box solution. They each have their own pros and cons.
The most obvious appeal of a bespoke customer portal is that you can design it however you like — it can have the look and feel of your brand, plus all the features your customers expect.
However, the feasibility of the DIY option depends largely on your timeline and the resources you have available. Here are some potential downsides to consider:
- Building a portal is a significant, expensive project to undertake, and will likely take a long time to design, develop, and test.
- It can be challenging to integrate a bespoke platform with other systems.
- Your team will be responsible for the upkeep, including bug fixes, updates, and building out new integrations.
On the other hand, buying an out-of-the-box customer portal solution means that you can get up and running almost immediately. Many solutions come with built-in integrations so you can seamlessly connect your other systems without the need for custom APIs.
Depending on the technology partner you choose, buying an existing solution also means less work for your team in the long term. A good customer portal provider will help you implement your portal, constantly update their offerings to align with best practices, and provide ongoing support for troubleshooting.
Out-of-the-box solutions may be limited in their functionality, and are not always customisable. However, some providers do offer some degree of customisation. With Localz, for example, you can pick and choose the modules that apply to your business, so you only pay for what you need.
In the age of sky-high customer expectations, self-service portals are no longer just a perk in field service management — they’re a necessity. In addition to creating a positive customer experience, a well-executed customer portal can reduce work for your teams and ensure that appointments go smoothly.