Your customers have spoken.
According to a 2018 Microsoft survey, a staggering 88% of customers expect a company to have an online self-service portal. It’s clear client portals today are a business requirement rather than a nice-to-have.
These systems create a secure digital gateway, giving clients all the information they need at their fingertips throughout their buyer’s journey.
From entering their own support requests to accessing a knowledge base, customers can choose self-service options instead of contacting customer support executives—and save a lot of time while they’re at it.
The challenge is that “client portal” means different things to different businesses. Some companies need customer portals to create smoother onboarding experiences. Others need portals to handle lots of customer transactions.
That’s where this blog comes into the picture. We’ll help choose the best client portal software that works for you.
What is a client portal?
A client or customer portal is a secure website or workspace that houses all the information shared between a customer and a service provider in one place.
It creates a single source of truth for customers and enables them to request support, find information, and perform various operational services—all from one location.
Client portals are typically password-protected or accessed via a secure entry point (think: a login page).
A portal is your best bet to offer streamlined self-service support, ensure organized communication across teams, and manage relationships with your prospects and/or customers.
Why use a client portal?
Client management is time-consuming. While communicating with your clients is a good thing, doing so over countless phone calls, long email chains, and links to spreadsheets creates a lot of unnecessary back and forth.
This creates a need for a shared workspace that fosters streamlined collaboration between businesses and their customers. A customer portal is your first solid step in that direction.
Here’s a quick rundown of why customer portals benefit both you and your clients:
Give clients continuous support
With a secure client portal, customers enjoy private and quick access to project files, contact details, and next steps. For instance, you can share testimonial screenshots and use cases to help customers understand how to use your product or service.
Client portal tools like Dock also let you assign customers a point of contact so that they know whom to contact when they need assistance. You can also add an FAQ section and provide directories as additional self-help options.
Enhance your customer success plan
Client portals also inspire trust.
For starters, a login page with secure messaging reassures customers their data is safe. You can also share files when they become relevant to customers to avoid overwhelming them.
Then, customer portal software shows you how customers are interacting with your shared workspace. For example, you can see which files are accessed most often, giving you insights into how to further enhance the customer experience.
Facilitate project execution
With a client portal, you can keep customers in the loop regarding project development and execution.
With client-facing project plans, you can:
- Break the project into different phases and assign them to clients
- Provide clearly defined project objectives and a project brief
- Add a featured deliverable, including video tutorials, PDFs, and links, to showcase deliverables and ensure clients always have access to them
Further, you can expand your company messaging and customize using company fonts and logos to make your web portal more on-brand.
Identify upselling opportunities
Using the engagement data from a customer portal, you can better understand your client's needs and preferences. It's also helpful for identifying more upselling opportunities and finding new customers.
Feature considerations when choosing a client portal
Because “client portal” is such a broad software category, you should pick a client portal tool that is built for your use case.
Generally speaking, a client portal solution is built for one or more of the following use cases:
Sales can use a client portal as a digital sales room to:
- Simplify the buying process by hosting all your sales collateral in one place
- Share files securely and collaborate on documents
- Create mutual action plans to push deals forward
- Send pricing quotes and order forms
- Answer security reviews
Customer experience teams use client portals as a service hub to:
- Onboard new clients
- Manage customer support tickets
- Share a knowledge base
- Manage projects and execute implementation plans
- Share progress reports and business reviews
Finance and legal teams use client portals to:
- Invoice clients
- Collect payments
- Collect signatures
- Sign and host contracts and NDAs
With that in mind, here are some key features you may or not need from the customer portal you choose.
Let’s get one thing straight: just because client portal software creates a safe place for your clients to self-serve doesn’t nullify CSM involvement. They’re still very much a part of the whole setup.
That's why it makes sense to look for software that offers collaboration features to help agents share information or communicate quickly. This includes:
- Secure file sharing
- Document synchronization
- Calendar sharing
- Instant messaging
- Cloud storage
- Workflow automation
These customer portal features are particularly useful when serving a large organization where your client is more than one person.
Secure file exchange with access permissions
A client portal lets your customers and team members review and share important files for easy collaboration—carried out through secure networks or communication channels.
You can host all your client-facing content in a centralized place, making things more convenient for your client as opposed to sending a bunch of back-and-forth email attachments. Also, you can adjust permissions at the folder, sub-folder, and file level, so customers only see data directly relevant to them.
Your client portal software should either have an in-built knowledge base or integrate with separate knowledge base software. This way, you can manage internal and external knowledge bases and seamlessly share the knowledge with colleagues and clients.
It’s even better if the tool offers other self-help options, such as chatbots or community forums, to guide your clients to the information they need without a lot of effort on your part.
Support ticket management and tracking
With a dedicated ticketing system, your customers will feel empowered to take action. They can manage their tickets and requests on their own, as well as track resolution progress, review submitted tickets, and view past tickets.
Full transparency is a key element of a client portal, so picking a tool with a unified inbox is a no-brainer.
Even better to get a customizable client portal software that lets you set your own rules. You can then easily monitor transfers, change ticket priority, and delete obsolete tickets.
Project and task management
Track the progress of each task and the whole project using a shared client portal. By having everything in one place, project and client management becomes simpler than ever, especially when managing higher-touch client engagement.
Suppose you're helping your client implement your software within their organization.
You can use a client portal like Dock to create a single workspace for your clients and centralize all implementation resources. Not only will this facilitate communication, but also allow you to deliver a premium client experience.
You’ll also have complete visibility into who is working on what and when. Think of it as having a customizable bird’s eye view of the entire project to keep you on top of deadlines.
Brand identity customization
Instead of making your clients a part of a disjointed system, streamline their customer experiences with an interface they’re already familiar with, like your logo, website, domain, and brand colors.
Look for customer portal tools that let you add your own branded look and feel to your channel. This will help you deliver consistent branding, thereby increasing your brand recognition.
Types of customer portals (and recommendations)
Client portals generally fit into one of five categories.
Here’s a quick rundown of the different types of client portals, along with our top picks in each category, to help you identify the best option for your business:
1. Client collaboration and project management tools
This type of client portal facilitates client project management.
When selecting a client portal for project management or client collaboration, consider the following questions:
- Does the tool let you share files and documents with clients inside the portal?
- Does it allow you to build workflows around predetermined procedures?
- Can you add custom branding and/or watermarking features?
- Can you store project-related information remotely and securely so clients can access it anytime, anywhere?
Once you find a suitable option, use it to align with the customer around projects and action plans. Break down each project into different phases and sub-tasks, and assign them to the appropriate customer and co-worker.
Using Dock’s customer-facing project plans, you can create to-do lists for your clients that help guide them through the sales process or the onboarding experience.
You can use Dock to embed documents like PDFs and videos, or third-party tools like spreadsheets, data dashboards, or forms. Dock also integrates with Slack Connect, so you can track project status and send notifications from one communication channel.
Popular client collaboration and project management portals: Dock, Huddle, Nimbus
2. Digital sales rooms
A digital sales room (DSR) is a private workplace for B2B sales teams to share relevant sales content (think: product explainer videos, pricing quotes, and security documentation) throughout the sales process.
Some client portal software tools double as digital sales rooms, enabling your buyers by giving them all the information they need in one place. You can use them to deliver personalized customer experiences, empower buying champions, and guide internal buying conversations in your favor.
If a customer portal tool that’s also a digital sales room is what you’re looking for, ensure the prospective tool lets you:
- Share content and easily communicate with clients
- Track buyer engagement insights to guide your follow-up
- Collaborate with company stakeholders
- Update assets to create one source of truth throughout the sales cycle
Opt for flexible DSRs that are suitable for all types of sales processes, regardless of business type and size.
For example, Dock’s digital sales rooms have a modern and flexible editor that lets you easily switch around layouts, move around assets, and add text with a rich-text editor. This way, you aren't stuck with one format and can change your workplace as you please.
Popular digital sales rooms: Dock, Allego, DealHub
3. Customer onboarding and enablement tools
One of the biggest advantages of a client portal is streamlined customer onboarding.
Rather than having to deal with messy spreadsheets or cumbersome project management tools, client onboarding tools give customers a one-stop location for collaboration and communication, where they can begin and continue their journey with your business.
This type of client portal should prioritize features that accelerate your customer’s time to value. These features may include:
Templated task and implementation checklists for onboarding customers at scale
- The ability to embed onboarding content like PDFs, videos, and slide decks
- A content management system for customer enablement
- Engagement tracking
- The ability to message, comment, and communicate in one place
Implemented properly, an onboarding portal can provide a high-touch onboarding experience for your customer without a huge time commitment from your team.
Popular onboarding portals: Dock, Rocketlane, Onramp
For further exploration of onboarding tools, check out our customer onboarding software guide.
4. Business service hubs
If your primary use for a client portal is billing, you should look for a service hub.
Use a service hub to create a centralized place to manage business contacts, appointment schedules, requests, and deals, among other activities. Portals with billing capabilities further let you upload invoices directly through the portal. Customers can then view and pay you directly.
The fact that the payment processing process is completely secure and user-friendly, needing minimal instructions, is another advantage.
The following are extra functionality to keep an eye out for:
- Access to the billing history
- Recurring or one-time online payment customizability
- PayPal and Stripe integration
- Coupons and discounts
- Saving customer credit card details
Popular business service hubs: Portal, Onehub, Suitedash
5. Customer service tools
Customer service tools like help desks aim to empower customers through effective ticket management. If you have a high volume of customer service requests, consider using an all-in-one customer service tool or ticketing system as your client portal.
Customers can create new support requests, check their status, subscribe to the content they need, and review knowledge base updates—all from a single place.
These support portals also provide full visibility into internal progress, as well as automated and manual messaging and real-time reporting and analytics.
Popular customer ticketing tools: Zendesk, LiveAgent, Zoho Desk
Empower your customers with Dock
Client portals can be a game changer for your business. They allow customers quick and easy access to relevant information, enabling you to deliver memorable customer experiences throughout the customer journey.
If you’re looking for a flexible and collaborative option with powerful client portal templates and deep analytics, give Dock a try.
Dock helps revenue teams better manage customer relationships and improve your buyer and client experience. All this ultimately helps retention, helping you create a loyal customer base that keeps your business thriving.
Experience Dock for yourself. Try Dock for free today.