The changing trend – Self-service portals

Portals were preferred over other content sites to provide consolidated, customized and updated information. The trend is moving towards information with a single click on weather, cities, movies, music, community, latest news, inventory update and much more with customized and personalized user website. Users began to expect the opportunity to pay bills, check bank accounts, transfer money, city information and track insurance claims through a secure online platform. Users no longer wanted to be trapped in the slow and long request-processing loop offered by call centers.

The highly acclaimed community portal, Yahoo, introduced the user-centric personalized portal My Yahoo! in 1996. Users needed to create a profile to access a spectrum of information through a personal web space. Users experienced an updated view of information streamed based on their preferences. Self-service portals thus developed a user-centered web-based platform approach. It enables an anywhere model of data integration from multiple sources facilitated through an open architecture. Users can access instant information through a personal web space where they can even specify their preferences to view specific data categories. When service-oriented architecture is enabled, information can be accessed on PCs, mobile phones, PDAs and other channels. With the online self-service model, companies saved significant customer service.

The customer self-service portal is targeted to meet the specific requirements of the B2C domain. It provides an end-to-end solution for e-commerce activities enabled through a single sign-on personal platform for users with data and applications that are available on-demand. End users get extensive information streamed through a wide network of sources. The information is then processed and collected in the exact data requested by the end users.

The total costs incurred with free phone support, emails and chat sessions amount to much more than self-service portal. Intelligent data analysis is provided by sophisticated aggregation and integration capabilities of portals. The advanced analytics feature allows easy identification of potential customers by capturing user-browsing behavior. ‘Customer lifetime value’ can be enhanced with personal and immediate interface. It also optimizes the business environment for remote and local collaboration between data, software and applications. Portals are designed to manage large data requirements such as integration, storage and data processing.

With rapidly growing demands for a growing customer base, customer service costs are prohibitive. Dependence on human interface and contact centers is reduced due to degraded services and high costs. The late ’90s saw a changing trend in the way customers wanted to be served. Growing complexity in companies led to a massive increase in the number of processes, applications and user database to be maintained. Data stored in multiple locations took more time to integrate. As the number of users increased and the complexity of the processes grew, companies outsourced their customer service to more call centers. Thus, the cost and reliance on the human interface added a huge burden to the company’s funds, while the quality of customer service continued to decline. Users expected faster services and access through more channels such as the Internet and mobile phones. From an IT perspective, this translates to data integration across enterprise and web-based customer and employee portals, building on the basics of a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).