The Changing Trend – Self-Service Portals

Portals were preferred over other content websites to provide consolidated, customized and updated information. The trend moved towards one-click information on weather, cities, movies, music, communities, latest news, stock update and much more with customized and personalized user web space. Users started expecting the possibility of paying bills, checking bank accounts, transferring funds, city information and tracking insurance claims through a secure online platform. Users, no longer, wished to be caught in the slow and lengthy request-processing loop offered by call centers.

Highly acclaimed community portal, Yahoo, introduced the user-centric personalized portal My Yahoo! in 1996. Users needed to create a profile to access a gamut of information through a personal web space. The users experienced up-to date view of information streamed on the basis of their preferences. Self-service portals, thus, evolved a user-centric web-based platform approach. It enables an anywhere anytime model with 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. With Service Oriented Architecture enabled, the information can be accessed through PCs, mobile phones, PDAs and other channels. With online self-service model, companies significantly saved on customer services.

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 personalized platform for users with data and applications accessible on-demand. The end-users are provided with extensive information streamed through a wide network of sources. The information is then processed and collated into precisely the data requested by the end-users.

The overall costs incurred with toll-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 functions of portals. The advanced analysis capability enables easy identification of potential customers by capturing user-browsing behavior. ‘Customer lifetime value’ can be enhanced with personalized and instant interface. It also optimizes the business environment for remote and local collaboration of data, software and applications. Portals are designed to manage large data requirements like integration, storage and data processing.

With rapidly growing demands of an increasing customer base, the customer-servicing costs have become unaffordable. Dependence on human interface and contact centers is reducing due to deteriorated services and high costs. The late 90s experienced changing trend in the way customers wanted to be served. Growing complexity in businesses led to a massive increase in the number of processes, applications and user database to be maintained. Data being stored at multiple locations consumed more time to integrate. With number of users increasing and complexity of processes growing, companies outsourced their customer services to multiple call centers. The costs and the dependence on human interface, thus, added tremendous burden on company funds whereas quality of customer servicing continued to drop. Users expected faster services and access through multiple channels like the Internet and mobile phones. From an IT perspective, this translates into data integration across the enterprise and web-based customer and employee portals founded on the fundamentals of a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).