Self-service portal in B2B: The most important functions

Roth, Ellen | 08.09.2023
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A self-service portal (SSP) enables employees, customers, suppliers, and partners to use your company services independently. For example, your customers can access knowledge databases or submit support requests regardless of time and location. Round-the-clock availability plays a key role here. After all, customers require access precisely when they need a particular piece of information, not just the next morning.

The function range of self-service portals varies depending on the individual configuration. However, for the portal to become an effective “Single Point of Contact” (SPOC), certain essential functions must not be missing. These and other supporting functions are presented below.

What is a self-service portal?

A self-service portal refers to a help portal that customers, business partners, and a company’s personnel can log into. Self-service in this context means that users can independently search for contacts, information, or help. In the portal, they can find answers to their questions, autonomously view contract data, place repeat orders, report faults, and complete tasks assigned to them.

Now that the use of comprehensive customer portals has become established in B2C, it has also arrived in B2B. Customers have become accustomed to doing business online and on their own. Contact with an employee is no longer necessary or desired for every business activity or inquiry.

These important functions must not be missing from your B2B self-service portal

Your self-service portal must be individually built and configured with its components. However, the following functions are recommended for most B2B companies:

1. Knowledge base
Every self-service portal should include a knowledge database. This contains all the information on products and services. It also contains operating instructions/how-to articles and checklists, as well as additional content about the product category or industry. In addition to text, this can also be packaged in the form of graphics, tables, or video tutorials. The user has access to all required and approved content at any time.

2. Role-based permissions and budget limits
Assigning permissions via roles not only serves to protect data, but also simplifies portal use. This is because everyone sees only relevant and approved content. A budget limit appropriately restricts the type, number, and quality of services available via the portal. Such approvals and authorizations are not usually assigned to individuals but are controlled by the role that person holds in the company.

3. Support contact options
In a self-service portal, service requests and faults can be submitted without having to know who is responsible for the request. Forms are used to gather relevant information that is necessary for efficient processing of the request.

Chatbots are an option that is becoming increasingly popular. Please note that chatbots do not necessarily have the right answer at the ready, but they can help find the required content more quickly or establish contact with the correct person.

4. Ticketing system
With a ticketing system, your business customers can contact you around the clock with their concerns. They then receive structured processing and a quick response from the right people, including tracking of the processing progress. Ticketing simplifies and improves your customer service enormously. In doing so, you should ensure compliance with the latest ITIL® standard and align your service desk with the needs of your customers to make it more efficient.

5. Contracts and orders
For the purchasing and accounting departments of your business customers, it is important to be able to view the order history at any time; contract data should also be viewable. From the service provider’s point of view, it should be possible to create and file contract offers directly in the self-service portal and manage completed contracts. All information about the business relationship is thus stored in a central location for both sides.

6. Automation of service processes with BPMN
Service processes can be represented and automated using the international industry standard BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation). This is a type of “graphical language” that clearly represents processes as a machine-readable model and automatically executes them in the background. Standardized process modules are used to create a digital process diagram so that business processes can be measured, transparently designed and improved.

7. Info portal for distributors and business partners
Distributors and intermediaries are also grateful for a self-service portal. They can likewise find all the relevant information there. Purchases and returns should be equally automatable. Franchisees need a central repository where they can find marketing materials, read up on contractual details, or reach their contact person. Exclusive news or training courses can also be offered there. This type of self-service portal is also called a partner portal.

8. Access from any device via web client
The functionality here lies in the availability. A good self-service portal is straightforward and always accessible – for example, via an Internet browser. So, consider all end devices, including tablet and smartphone. The service must be usable online and have a responsive design.

9. Internal process tracking
Your specialists should always be able to track which service process is currently in what stage of progress, what the current workload is, or which task is currently being prioritized. Tracking relevant KPIs, such as ticket processing time, can help you identify weak points in your business processes and eliminate them. Internal tracking can also predict and prevent bottlenecks. The goal is to continuously improve all processes (both automated and manual).

More useful functions for self-service

A self-service portal can easily be supplemented with additional services and platform features that help you score points and improve the customer experience. These include, for example:

Customer database for master data maintenance:
The more centralized you manage your services, the more you benefit from using a so-called service management platform. Whether you manage contracts, process tickets, plan and implement projects: a central database is an immense boost for companies.

Customer feedback:
Customer satisfaction is highly dependent on the user experience. To ensure that the needs and opinions of individual customers (or your staff) can be addressed, and the user experience continuously improved, you should enable customer feedback. This gives you information about which areas are perceived particularly positively by your customers and where there is still potential for optimization. This can be implemented, for example, via automated surveys or via the possibility of rating knowledge database entries.

Customizable look:
A consistent corporate design looks serious, earns you the trust of customers, and makes you look more professional. However, the content design of the portal is just as important, especially on the start page: Depending on the user or role, different elements and data can be displayed there so that services that are needed more frequently can be found more quickly than services that are used rather infrequently.

Community or forums:
Communication options between customers ensure that they can help each other further. This not only saves you time, but also has the advantage that you can incorporate indirect feedback into your product development. However, there is a risk of misinformation circulating. Therefore, moderate all forums carefully.

The right self-service portal software for your B2B business needs

A self-service portal represents an access point to an underlying, larger structure of functionalities of a business process ecosystem. It is therefore important that the software can be easily integrated into and adapted to your existing system structure.

You can start with a manageable portal with the most important functions and then expand them as needed – make sure that your self-service portal is flexible enough for this.

The OMNITRACKER Business Process Ecosystem combines an efficient self-service portal with modular expandability, individual customization, extensive interfaces, and a complete solution that grows dynamically with your needs.