What is a Self-Service Portal? 

What is a Self-Service Portal? 

Self-service is transforming the way organizations handle IT Service Management (ITSM) issues – increasing both IT efficiency and customer satisfaction. The main purpose of a self-service portal is to be an interface between the customer and the service provider. It’s filled with information and tools that provide customers with the ability to solve issues on their own, likely leading to a reduction in ticket volume for already busy IT help desks. 

Easy-To-Use Portals Are Essential

It’s important that your portal is easy to use because if it’s not, users won’t feel empowered to answer their own questions. They’ll go straight to the service desk to help them, doing anything they can to avoid using the portal because what they want is for their problem to be solved quickly.

In a situation where a customer uses an easy-to-use self-service portal, the time spent resolving their issue will be less than if they put in a ticket to have an IT employee help them. However, if the portal is confusing and difficult to use, getting human intervention will be seen as the faster way to fix the problem.

This was the case at MarketLab, a medical supply company based in Michigan.

Prior to TeamDynamix, MarketLab was using Microsoft SharePoint to manage its service and support, but it quickly outgrew SharePoint’s capabilities.

Because SharePoint wasn’t designed specifically for IT ticketing, IT staff were spending too much time making changes to the various forms they used to collect information on IT incidents and problems. In addition, those changes would often break reports the team relied on, causing additional work to be done to remedy any errors.

And since it was much simpler for company employees to email the IT department to request service instead of logging into SharePoint and filling out a form, most employees opted for this route instead—which meant the IT department had no way of tracking those requests and often had to go back and forth to get all the information needed to create the ticket themselves before addressing the employees’ issues.

MarketLab switched to TeamDynamix ITSM about a year ago, and Enterprise Systems Engineer Brendan Lesinski said the new system is “universally loved.”

“We wanted a tool that could be used as a service portal for potentially anything, as well as project management,” he said. “We found a lot of the other tools we were looking at were very hyper-focused on just ticketing or just project management, which is fine, but we wanted a tool that could do it all and be easily managed by people in facilities or our HR department while still giving us complete control of how married together those experiences are. We liked that the flexibility was there [in TeamDynamix] and we could manage the tool in a way that works best for us.” 

The system’s built-in automation has transformed MarketLab’s delivery of IT services. For instance, service tickets can be generated from email requests automatically. Lesinski calls this auto-creation feature “brilliant,” adding: “It has resulted in significantly less lost work.”

Another great way to encourage self-service portal adoption is to implement conversational AI as part of your self-service strategy. Conversational AI chatbots have the potential to revolutionize the way IT support is delivered by automating routine tasks and providing instant assistance to users. 

Conversational AI chatbots are intelligent software applications that can understand and respond to user queries in natural language. Their primary role in IT Service Management is to provide quick, efficient support to end-users by resolving common issues, answering questions and guiding users through various processes. By incorporating conversational AI chatbots into your self-service portal, you can significantly enhance the overall user experience and streamline your IT support operations. You can also deflect tickets, requests and calls/emails from your IT help desk.

It is important to note the distinction between conversational AI chatbots and traditional chatbots.

When talking about traditional chat, we mean a chatbot experience that has a limited conversation path. It can take inputs and guided dialog paths to return answers in a simplified question/answer format – similar to what you’d get if you searched a knowledge base or FAQ – there aren’t many actions a user can take from the conversation with a traditional chatbot.

Traditional chatbots don’t fare as well as those built on conversational AI. In fact, a recent market study from CIO.com found that nearly 76 percent of chatbot customers report user frustration with existing solutions. However, When conversational AI is used, the study shows more than 61 percent of respondents could effectively resolve problems vs just 35 percent when traditional chat is used.

Challenges of a Self-Service Portal

A self-service portal can positively impact your organization only if it is developed correctly, and certain challenges lie in making an effective self-service portal.

When you are creating a portal, you’re tasked with explaining technical services to a population that is, in most cases, non-technical. One way to get around this difficult task is to use plain and clear language.

Steer clear of technical jargon or strings of letters that have no meaning outside of the world of programming. This will help the customer comprehend the solution you are providing them with while also making them comfortable enough to know they do not need to contact the helpdesk.

Another thing you can do is test your portal before making it available organization-wide. This will give you the opportunity to see if non-technical employees understand the language you use, to gain feedback on how easy it is to use, and allow you to see where users run into dead-ends. 

Another challenge is that you need to gain buy-in from users. This entails convincing people who have always gone straight to the helpdesk the moment they have an issue to change their course of action.

In reality, people want to solve issues on their own especially if they know how quick and easy it can be. However, they might be skeptical of a self-service portal until they use it for the first time. So, creating and testing the portal is only half of the process- getting your organization and customers on board is the other half. You can do this by advertising the benefits and showing people how simple the concept really is.

It is also crucial to be sure that there is trust within your organization. No one will take the time to try out something new if there is no trust that those who developed this portal did it in a way that will actually yield results and provide people with the help it is intended to.  

Benefits of a Self-Service Portal

Self-service holds major significance in organizations because it can dramatically reduce the number of tickets that are submitted to IT. And reduced ticket volume can do two things.

First, it decreases the per-incident cost incurred by IT as fewer resources are used on each issue. The cost of a support call, on average, costs an organization $22, while a self-service incident costs $2.

Second, it saves time because help desk employees don’t need to waste time addressing smaller issues that they get a call for. Rather, they can spend their time resolving more complex issues that a self-service portal is unable to fix.

Another benefit of self-service portals is higher satisfaction throughout the organization. Users like the independence and favor a ‘do it yourself’ system over one where they need intervention from someone else.

Lastly, self-service portals lead to an enhanced overall user experience, because IT issues consume less of users’ time. Self-service doesn’t decrease the number of problems that arise for any single person, but it does greatly decrease the amount of their time that is allotted to dealing with those issues.  

At Shaner Hotel Group self-service is key to success. Using TeamDynamix for ITSM, the company has been able to simplify the intake process for IT support tickets with the use of a self-service portal.

Because the portal is web-based, employees can initiate service requests from their phone or another mobile device. That’s an important benefit for an organization where many employees aren’t sitting at a desk all day. “With limited help desk employees, we’re trying to cut down on the number of phone calls we get requesting support,” Steve Shala, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, said. “We’re trying to push everybody online instead.”

When service requests come in through the online portal, they’re routed automatically to the appropriate team member for a response. Because help desk staff are answering fewer phone calls, they can respond to service requests faster and more effectively as they come in through the portal.

“Creating an employee self-service portal was a pivotal step in streamlining IT service for the city,” said City of Buffalo System Support Analyst Nathan Ignatz. 

Powered by TeamDynamix, the portal allows city employees to find answers to their IT questions online. This provides instant gratification for employees and eliminates the need for further assistance in many cases. 

If employees can’t resolve their own IT issues, they can submit a service request through the portal by choosing from an online service catalog. Their request is then routed automatically to an appropriate IT staff member for a response, based on the nature of the problem or request. 

Aided by the dynamic workflows built into the TeamDynamix platform, a small team of IT staff members create and maintain knowledge base articles for the city, ensuring that this information always remains relevant and up to date. 

“Before the service portal existed, employees would call or email the help desk to ask questions or request service,” Ignatz said. This tied up IT staff time in fielding questions, creating service tickets, and getting them into the hands of the correct team members. Having employees enter service requests directly through the portal ensures a faster resolution to their issue and frees up IT staff to work on other tasks instead. 

“It allows us to provide service quicker,” Ignatz observes. 

The Role of KCS and Knowledge Bases in Self-Service Portals

Knowledge-Centered Service® (KCS) is a methodology established by the Consortium for Service Innovation that is all about making knowledge abundant and available. It is often used as part of self-service strategies through the use of a knowledge base, which is a collection of articles that are created to guide users through solving their own problems.

KCS and knowledge bases are two core pillars of a successful self-service portal, as they contribute to many of the major benefits that come with self-service (lower ticket volume, higher satisfaction, etc.). 

Just like a self-service portal, a knowledge base is only beneficial if it is executed correctly. Unless the content within the knowledge base is constantly updated to include the most relevant information, users will either be misled or not find what they’re looking for.

A recent report shows that 81% of organizations have a knowledge base, but only 5% of them report that it is fully maximized with updated, crowdsourced and relevant information. This means that if you make your knowledge base and self-service portal a priority, your organization will be ahead of most others. 

Human-Centered Design

Incorporating human-centered design is one way to design your self-service portal in a way that will help drive adoption. In short, it is a creative approach to problem-solving that focuses on the users’ needs, and is based on a number of fundamental principles: 

  • Involve users in the design process from the very beginning: critical design decisions are evaluated based on how they work for end-users. 
  • Requirement clarification is important: the team always tries to align business requirements with users’ needs. 
  • Introduce a user feedback loop in the product life cycle: the team collects and analyzes feedback from users regularly. This information helps the team to make more user-focused decisions. 
  • Iterative design process: the team constantly works on improving user experience; it introduces changes gradually as it gains more understanding about its target audience. 

There are three phases to implementing human-centered design: 

  • The Inspiration Phase – learn directly from the people you are designing for by immersing yourself in their departments and gaining a deep understanding of their needs. 
  • The Ideation Phase – take what you learned, identify the opportunities for design, and develop possible solutions. 
  • The Implementation Phase – bring your solution to life. 

This kind of design ensures that your portal will benefit those who use it. Instead of guessing the ways in which users need it, you go straight to the user and see it for yourself. This will also help instill trust because employees will be able to see that effort is being put into truly understanding their needs. 

If you’re looking for examples of stellar portal designs, check these out. 

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