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Test Your Customer Self-Service Portal

In this two-part series on optimization testing in the financial services sector, we start by exploring how valuable it is to focus on the customer self-service portal.

A Common Trouble Spot

In my work as Senior Analyst on Oracle Maxymiser’s financial services team, I’ve noticed a troubling trend: companies overlooking the customer self-service portal. Why is this such a big deal, you ask? As we’ve covered in previous posts on the Oracle Blog, “self-service portals are a progressively vital element of the customer experience,” enabling users to complete transactions themselves via the Internet instead of calling or traveling in person to a brick-and-mortar location.

In other words, companies that seek to give the best possible user experience are falling short by not optimizing this heavily trafficked area of their site. Eliciting massive user engagement and catering to people’s rising need to complete high-value transactions quickly and on their own, customer self-service portals should be a major part of your customer retention plan.

If you succeed in making your portal fast, efficient, and personalized, you have a distinct competitive advantage over the many financial institutions that fail to do this.

Get Out of the Way!

How can you start bettering your self-service portal? It starts, as it always does in CXO, by examining what users are trying to do when they access your site. After this, think about how the current design or features of your site might actually be getting in users’ way.

For example: People who visit banking sites often want to review recent charges or check their balance, while insurance users might want to renew expiring insurance policies and brokerage users want to place trades. How are you making some of the most desirable default tasks for these segments easier? Understand the most likely things different groups want to achieve and remove barriers to the finish line.

Free Up Your Phone Lines

What is the right feature set for a self-service customer portal? The answer: a set that allows users to be self-sufficient, which is a boon to both you and to customers. The right feature set not only increases convenience for users by saving them a trip to their local branch or making a phone call, but it also saves your organization money by lowering the call volume to call centers.

The right feature set both increases convenience for users and saves you money by lowering the call volume to call centers.

Imagine, for instance, that your customer portal does not provide a way for users to change their mailing address: a simple but critical piece of data. Instead, all users must personally call to your offices whenever their address needs updating. So many customers would call in that wait time would increase, which would negatively impact the customer experience—not to mention tie up the lines for people who are calling to address issues that can’t be updated with a simple form fill online.

Hopefully, you can see the huge advantage, both monetary and word of mouth, in enabling users to take straightforward actions or make simply changes on their own, without your company’s personal intervention.

Dodge HiPPO Attacks

I know how business works: Even though I may have convinced you to improve the customer self-service portal, what about all the red tape and controversy that tends to pop up whenever people suggest changes to important site areas? How can you help the highest-paid person see the value in this idea? If there are competing internal priorities, or if you’re unsure about the viability of investing in a new functionality—run a test!

In a test, you can roll the potentially new functionality out to a small sample group of users to determine how it resonates, both overall and with certain segments. This will help you get ample evidence that your investment would be worth it: that it wouldn’t be a waste of resources underused or not appreciated by the customer base, but that it would yield tangibly positive user outcomes.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Keep in mind that while most groups will have obvious default or common tasks—e.g., bank site users often check their balance—these tasks are often not one-size-fits-all. Optimizing the self-service portal for all site traffic is a great start, but it’s just that: a start. Once you’ve done this, it’s time to start personalizing the experience for your different user segments.

Once you’ve optimized the portal for all site traffic, it’s time to personalize the experience for different user segments.

For example, people who use brokerage websites are most likely there to make trades, sure. However, there is a big difference between what the ideal experience would be for a veteran trader and what it would be for a first-time trader. If you showed every single trade option to a rookie trader, it’s possible she’d be too intimidated to complete the transaction. On the other hand, if you deprived knowledgeable traders of the full set of options, they’d probably feel frustrated—and might even think you’ve designed an incomplete experience.

Different sectors within the financial services industry will have different customers with different needs, but at the end of the day, the main objective for all sectors is to provide the best possible user experience to the largest number of users. That’s why leading organizations make testing and optimization for their customer portals a priority.

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