9 tips on how to build an effective self-service portal

16 January 2023

Planning to improve your organisation's availability with a self-service portal? Great idea. Self-service portals save you and your customers a lot of valuable time. In this article, we share our tips for building a successful self-service portal.


What is a self-service portal?

A self-service portal is a closed online environment where your customers can arrange their own affairs. For example, viewing the shipping status of an order, changing address, or downloading an old invoice.

Self-service portals are available for different industries and target groups. For example, the self-service portal at a municipal website will not look like a webshop or a B2B organisation. But the basics are always the same: after the user enters their login details, they enter a personal environment where they can arrange things at their own pace, wherever they are, without directly communicating with any of your employees.

Best practices for a successful self-service portal

Ready-made packages for self-service portals do exist, but they are rarely a good idea for organisations of any size. Every organisation has different target groups with specific wishes and requirements, a need for different links and, moreover, their own brand identity. Customisation is key to developing a successful self-service portal.

That doesn't mean you have to reinvent the wheel. Smart design is always based on best practices and the self-service portal experts at iO are happy to share our knowledge with you.

> Read more: "What makes a self-service portal a success? "

Tips for building a self-service portal

1. Identify your target audience

Who is the target group? Who will eventually use your self-service portal? If you're familiar with designing digital solutions, it might sound too obvious. But it is one of the most important questions you need to ask to ensure that you develop something that will actually be used by your target group. Therefore, always start with target group research and create personas.

For example, municipal websites (and their My environment) must consider very different target groups, and it is wise to use uncomplicated language. Whereas a self-service portal for specialists can use more jargon.

2. Focus on the user, not the technology

A common mistake is making the technology the central concern, instead of the user. There are all kinds of links that can be made between systems, and they are all available in the portal. But does the user need all these possibilities?

Therefore, start by identifying what your self-service portal should be able to do. Do not make the system leading, always put the needs of the user first. Then use the technology to make this possible.

3. Make top tasks the priority

Mapped out your users’ wishes? Then distinguish between the top tasks (the most important and most used tasks) and other tasks. A successful method is to place top tasks on the main screen and the rest in less prominent positions.

Consider, for example, the difference between a user making an appointment or a personal data access request. The first is a top task, while the second is much less commonplace. Furthermore, it’s established best practice is to give action-oriented actions priority over documentation requests.

Self-service portal

4. Demonstrate added value for existing customers

If it's easier to call, why would your customers use your customer portal? Therefore, explain clearly what the added value for existing customers is.

For example, focus on saving time. Are people calling to request an old invoice? Make it easy for them to view all old invoices in the customer portal. Are customers calling to make an appointment with their account manager? Let the customer pick a suitable moment online in their account manager’s agenda.

In the B2B client portal that iO built for My DHL Parcel , we achieved 50% time savings in creating a parcel shipment: where a customer previously needed 1 minute to book a shipment, in the new My DHL Parcel, they can do it in just 30 seconds!

By demonstrating the added value of the customer portal, you can create more efficiency savings for both your organisation and the customer.

5. Subtle design differences

Smooth transitions make pleasant user experiences. Consistent branding and shared themes with the main website make it easy for users to understand that they are in a different section of the same website.

A best practice is to use the same corporate branding, but to implement subtle differences compared to the main website. For example, a simplified layout, a different submenu, different position for the breadcrumbs, using a different font size and a different footer.

My DHL Parcel in hand

6. Use UX and UI best practices

People don't just visit a self-service portal. They go there with a certain task in mind. Therefore, your self-service portal should comply with UX and UI best practices. Just like with a regular website, you need fast loading web pages, responsive design, correct heading structure, a logical menu, and so on.

7. Functionality is more important than appearance

A self-service portal is a tool. Nice if it’s visually appealing, but this is certainly not a priority. It’s all about functionality. Therefore, focus primarily on satisfying the wishes, goals and tasks of your users and make design secondary. Flashy animations and transitions are better left out if they affect the speed, for example.

A user-friendly self-service portal in 5 steps

A self-service portal is not a 'one size fits all' solution. It is wise to take a number of things into account during construction. Read our practical tips for building a successful self-service portal in the whitepaper 'A user-friendly portal in 5 steps'. You’ll have a solid foundation and get your organisation off to a flying start with a portal that will yield optimal returns.

Self-service portal

8. Smart use of data

The construction of a self-service portal is based on target group research, best practices, but also on (substantiated) assumptions. You can't escape that. Make sure you validate these assumptions as soon as the first version of the portal is finished. You can do this with user tests, and also by looking at the data. For example, are prominently set top tasks almost not getting used? Maybe it's better to move them to the background.

After your customers have used the portal for a while, you will have access to a lot of collected data about their online customer behaviours. Don't forget existing data from other data streams. You can combine these insights and use them to get to know your customers better. This will help you improve your overall marketing or service and gives you the opportunity to position customer-specific offers in the customer portal.

9. Communicate from the within the portal

People don't always keep an eye on updates in the self-service portal themselves. Because you have contact details in combination with user data, you can alert people to updates in the self-service portal. Think, for example, of communicating a specific New Year's offer or send a reminder when a user has not logged in to the portal for a long time.

Want to get started building a self-service portal?

In practice, a successful self-service portal is always a custom build. Use these tips to help get you off to the best start developing your portal. Looking for help or more information? Then read the whitepaper 'A user-friendly self-service portal in 5 steps'.

In this whitepaper we walk through the different stages in the development of a self-service portal. We discuss the role of the self-service portal in your (digital) strategy, discuss your target groups, the importance of ease of use and tell you what to look out for in terms of links and technology. After reading this whitepaper, you’ll have a great foundation and will be off to a flying start designing an effective self-service portal.

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