IT has a notorious reputation for taking long established English words and twisting them to mean something different. For example, the word ‘programme’ (note deliberate English spelling of program) can mean a radio or TV programme or a programme of events or even a computer program. The same can be said for the word ‘portal,’ a word that, within the last few years, has gained a lot of popularity and buzz within IT.I’ve seen many definitions for the word ‘portal,’ including a gate, a door, the end of a tunnel, and even “a magical or technological doorway.” That one is my favourite.
Why aren’t self-service portals exciting? Why shouldn’t they be fun and compelling? Too often they are just online form fillers with little or no graphic design or content.Using a portal for the first time is a voyage of discovery. Technicians tend to see portals as information exchanges, thus they give little thought to the portals design or usability. Portal users see portals as a reflection of the portal supplier (IT) and therefore the entire organisation or team is judged by the quality of the portal experience.I used to use one portal quite often. During my first visit, I noticed an obvious spelling mistake. There was nowhere within the portal where I could register this mistake. Eventually, I moved on to another portal, but when I made this shift, that particular mistake was still there! To make matters worse, the portal was boring and lacked any kind of lustre, which I assumed meant the company supplying the portal was the same. A portal is a reflection of the supplier and users will judge it accordingly. We do this in our personal lives, so why wouldn’t we do this with work?
Tweet this: What do we need to do to secure a positive portal experience?
You must first accept the fact that customers will judge an organization, team, or department by the portal provided to them. This includes the portal’s design, accuracy, usability, and feedback. For me, these are the four essential elements for a successful self-service portal. But of course, the portal must also always contain the collection and provision of information that meets both the portal creator’s and users’ technical needs.
- Design is key. Do you remember when at school, if you hated a particular subject, you tried your best to avoid taking it? Sometimes this wasn’t possible, especially if it was a requirement. But if the subject was an option, you definitely could. The same is true with portals. If you don’t like a portal, you’ll avoid using it. For example, in the village where I live two banks have their ATM machines (Yes, an ATM machine is a portal) on opposite sides of the street. I will always cross the street to the same bank each time because I prefer its portal. If you provide a good tool, you’re enabling your customers (and yourselves) to be more efficient as a self-service portal is a vital business tool. The key point here is to involve your corporate marketing/graphic design team to help design your portal. At the very least, use corporate colours, fonts, and logos to design the portal to reflect the brand.
- Accuracy is much more important than you might think. In essence, we are talking about image. “If they can’t spell, what else have they got wrong?” Stay alert because changes to the portal often bring those errors. You may classify these as incidents, but the user will call them mistakes. Monitor and measure portal usage to look for clues to improve or repair the portal. The Service Desk can be very useful by logging user concerns and questions and then feeding this information back to the portal owners. The Service Desk will hear all about portal issues when folks contact them with their incidents. Never accept second best when it comes to accuracy.
- Human beings depend on feedback. Every second of every day your brain is constantly measuring your body and taking action such as telling you to take off your jumper (sweater, for my North American friends) because you are getting too hot. Likewise, using a device without a feedback button can cause resentment because a door has been closed. Make sure your portal contains a feedback button/link, a conduit for comments and suggestions. Feedback is an essential element for continual service improvement. It may not be possible to immediately fix a fault, but you can make sure that fault won’t appear in the next portal release.
- For a long time, usability has been a thorn in the side of IT because business customers are becoming more and more IT literate. Simple things can cause great frustrations like re-entering your data when you make a mistake or not being able to translate a message on the screen into another language. To help prevent this, get folks who were not involved in developing the portal to review and provide their assessment prior to its launch. Effective usability leads to happy users.
Take these four points, and consider them pitfalls to avoid. Your goal is to provide a useful, effective, and efficient means for your customers to connect with the business. This is a challenge, but as with any challenge, the rewards are significant. If you’ve developed a successful self-service portal like the National Trust for Scotland (here), please tell us about it and how it’s helping IT become more efficient.