Client Portals: Everything You Need To Know Before You Start A Client Portal Project
The development and implementation of a Client Portal will modernize your company and ensure that you are connecting with your client base in the most effective manner possible. Additionally, in using client portals, your company will be utilizing IT-based, strategic differentiators to improve efficiency, operational productivity, and client satisfaction. There are a variety of client portals that exist, all of which serve three core purposes:
- Collaboration: In an age of remote work, remote collaboration, and businesses leveraging specialized third-party resources, the need to collaborate on projects and documents online is necessary for companies of all sizes. Client portals provide collaborating third parties with access to any number of relevant documents and project worksheets. This functionality has the effect of increasing productivity and efficiency in an organization of any size. Moreover, being able to quickly collaborate with your clients and customers via client portal digital systems allow for seamless solutions to be implemented for a variety of client-based issues.
- Sharing: While document sharing is nothing new, in an age of Big Data, the need for sharing more and more data across companies and client-bases has increased. Sharing data via email is often limited by file size restrictions and security levels. Web-based and other client portals allow virtually unlimited amounts of data to be shared between different parties, thus increasing the effectiveness of business teams. Specifically, being able to share critical data and services with your clients and shareholders - automatically via digital areas that are accessed via client portal services - allows for a better managed and more effective business experience.
- Management: Combining the ability to collaborate and share data, client portal systems allow businesses to manage their client relations and interactions, along with managing project deliverables in one central, client-facing hub.
Client portals can revolutionize how you connect with your business clients and thus can save on overhead while increasing your company’s bottom line, all with the added advantage of requiring a minimum in financial investments and capital.
What Is A Client Portal?
Client portals are digital gateways - that are typically built into websites and apps - that give your clients private access to a secured digital space over the Internet. Such a digital space, or area, encompasses a company’s extranet, or a company’s cloud system, etc. that gives your clients private and secured access to critical documents, data, services, and resources, typically through a client-side web browser. This mechanism of action means that your clients can access a set of crucial datasets and services associated with the central hub of repositories that the client portal grants access to, allowing your clients and business associates to access, collaborate on - and share - vital documents linked to your company’s projects, such as project documents, account managers, bills, reconciliations, timelines, wins and achievements, progress charts, stats, reports, support documents, and more. Such services and essential business documents can thus be accessed from anywhere via a web browser and internet connection. Typically, such systems use 256-bit encryption, and access control mechanisms, such as authentication (secure login) and authorization functions, to ensure that only the appropriate parties (in this case, your business clients) can access the data/services that are relevant to them.
Client Portals Are A Type Of Web Portal
Client portals build a functional, digital bridge between a business and its clients, allowing for rapid client solutions to be deployed automatically and seamlessly via a web browser. Most client portals are integrated within websites as web applications that grant clients access to a private area to review pertinent details of the working relationship.
One Central Place Your Clients Can Log In
Client portals help secure and optimize business-to-business interactions by providing each client with a customized experience and relevant information via one central login location. Rather than making a client go to any number of places to find reports, project details, invoices, statements of work - and anything else that may be relevant to your business’s clients - they can now access all of that information in one place - a centralized hub and company data/service repository.
The Hub For Client And Business Interaction
Client portals act as gateways to a central hub for interactions between your company and its clients, streamlining communications and interactions via a personalized, client-based gateway.
An Area for Your Clients to Track Orders, Fulfillment, Support Tickets and More
Accessing and tracking your company’s production data via a client portal is only the beginning. Such portals also act as systems that can integrate with a variety of enterprise systems - such as ERP suites - allowing your clients (such as vendors and manufacturing partners) to:
- Track orders
- Track Fulfillments
- Access and collaborate on support tickets
- Download invoices
- Obtain quotes
- Share contracts
- Sign contracts
- Share manufacturing and supply data
- And more...
Building A Client Portal For Your Business
Client portals are typically web applications that need to be strategically designed, robustly made, secured via secure coding methodologies, and implemented with streamlined operations in mind. That said, native apps can also use client portals. Regardless of the platform or type, client portals should be designed and developed with a long-term strategy in mind.
1. Validate The Need
One of the first and most critical steps needed to build a client portal is to ensure that the development of a robust client portal aligns with the company’s strategic plan and that a sufficient corporate need exists to justify its development, design, and implementation.
2. Ensure It Is Secure
The second most critical aspect of developing a client portal is security. Critical client data and company data/services are accessed remotely via client portals, and thus such a portal must be very secure to mitigate costly data breaches.
3. Ensure Compliance With Data Law
Companies must comply with a variety of data security laws if they want to avoid costly fines and other legislative repercussions, most of which are related to customers. That said, one legislation, in particular, is often associated with client portals since such portals are often developed to give a company’s clients access to critical company/project financial data:
- Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act: This act is mostly associated with stipulating how financial institutions deal with private client (financial) data and dictates that such organizations must encrypt and protect such data. This includes client reconciliations, project financial data, accounting sheets, and more.
4. Decide If You Will Do It In-House Or Use A Trusted Partner
The last critical strategic decision to make when developing a client portal is whether your company will develop in-house or use a trusted partner.
There are a variety of advantages with either approach, though using a trusted partner’s services is often a more feasible manner of implementing a client portal in your company since they have experience with developing and maintaining such systems.
Benefits Of An Effective Client Portal
There are many benefits and advantages to investing in the implementation of a client portal.
Increased Client Satisfaction
Any time a business can make a client’s life easier, satisfaction levels will rise. Client portals are designed to give clients on-demand access to information (i.e., project timelines, workflow documents, financial data) when convenient for them without having to spend time and energy searching for that same information in what would otherwise be several different locations.
Increased Client Retention
Better, more efficient client interactions mean higher client satisfaction, which translates to a scalable, more extensive client base, and higher retention rates. Using technology that significantly aids in helping your clients optimize their interactions with your company makes them want to keep working with your enterprise.
Increased Customer Lifetime Value
Due to higher client retention rates, increased client lifetime value follows. We know it costs a business far less to retain clients and continue servicing the existing base than generating new clients. Of course, we all need to generate new clients, but as retention rates increase, so does profitability.
Increased Communication Efficiency
While there are a variety of business systems that can be used for collaboration and communication between a company and its clients, client portals grant relevant parties direct access to a set of digital services and systems that have instant communication mechanisms hard-baked into its functionalities, allowing for quicker, multi-tenant communications that would enable virtually limitless file-sharing capabilities.
Increased Customer Collaboration
Increased client collaboration via a client portal often occurs due to the convenience of accessing key documents and services from a web system. This increased workflow feasibility and collaboration mechanism translates to increased client interactions. Clients can collaborate on contracts, invoices, marketing documents, and other client functions built into the portal application’s central hub system.
Increased Integration Between Other Business Systems
Integrating client portals with other internal systems means that not only do clients have a direct line to your company’s services, but your company can manage client relations and support via management suite integration systems, which also has the added benefit of giving your company the ability to analyze client interactions within your system.
Standard Client Portal Functionality
Along with the standard and broad advantages of using a robust client portal system, there are a variety of generalized functions that client portal apps can significantly aid in optimizing your company workflows and projects.
Tiered User Management And Authentication
Client portals allow for tiered user management. Different parties can access different amounts of data, which ties into the primary security mechanism of client portals - a robust authentication (login) function. This allows for a personalized, customized experience while allowing your company to manage who can access what services/data.
Accounts and Billing Area
Many client portals provide clients with the option to engage in financial transactions such as buying subscriptions for SaaS services, viewing invoices, making payments, signing up for upgraded packages, and viewing member-only data based on having a stored, personalized account.
Project Collaboration Tools
Client portals typically come with a variety of tools that allow your clients and customers to manage projects, data, contracts, and financial spreadsheets in real-time, while also giving your company the ability to update and edit such data.
Support and Communications
Client portal systems allow clients to engage in quick and practical support and communication functions as needed. If support is required from your company, support tickets can be submitted, giving your clients the ability to use client portals to interact with support personnel and to communicate with the appropriate parties to solve their issues quickly and seamlessly.
RFP and SOW Management
A Request for Proposal (RFP) and Statement of Work (SOW) are both documents associated with a company’s interactions and agreements with vendors, contractors, or clients. Clients can manage an RFP and SOW via a client portal and can use such systems to access, sign, update, manage, and otherwise collaborate on their contracts and B2B documents associated with your company.
File Sharing and Cloud Storage
Client portals typically link to cloud storage systems and allow clients (and your company) to store key business files and documents for future collaboration, while also allowing both your company and clients to share files with the relevant parties.
Discussion Boards and Community Building
Client portals also allow clients to engage in building the business community that they are a part of, giving them the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate on key issues of projects and long-term strategies, etc. This collaboration mechanism often translates to an increase in client retention rates.
Gated content refers to any content that requires a login authentication function for appropriate parties to access and usually pertains to whitepapers, documents, blueprints, project spreadsheets, and other documents and shared data often shared with clients that can be accessed via a login function with a client portal.
The Correct Use Of A Client Portal Can Alter Business As Usual
Client portals can completely revolutionize how your business operates. From giving your clients the ability to remotely collaborate on documents, to allowing critical partners to access key documents and files on the fly, seamlessly and securely, client portals create a vital, digital bridge between you and your business associates that gives them secure access to all of the files that they need to work with your company in the most effective and efficient manner possible.