Companies of all types and sizes are realizing the benefits of self-service portals for everyday operations like customer account management, employee benefits administration, and access to the organization’s vital data resources. According to Parature’s 2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report, 90 percent of consumers in the four countries surveyed (Brazil, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S.) expect the companies they transact with to offer self-service customer-support portals or FAQ knowledgebases.
Here’s a look at how organizations are putting the self-service model to use in ways that improve customer service and make them more efficient. The IT functions that are candidates for the self-service model are also presented.
Asheville's Simple Search Portal Puts Residents in Touch with Services and Info
In Asheville, North Carolina, the city replaced a complicated morass of portals and PDFs on the city website with what may be the simplest portal interface possible — a single search bar. The SimpliCity search engine provides residents with information about crime and developments in their neighborhood, as well as simple answers to questions like “When is my recycle day?”
The SimpliCity self-service portal created by the city of Asheville, North Carolina, makes it easy for residents to access city services and to find information about their neighborhood. Source: Mountain Xpress
As Hayley Benton reports in an October 7, 2015, article in the Mountain Xpress, SimpliCity is noteworthy not only for its ease of use and effectiveness, but also for the manner in which the app was developed. A small, in-house team led by Asheville CIO Jonathan Feldman used “lean startup” techniques to create a small prototype linked to the city’s ArcGIS ESRI server. The team measured real user behavior and used that data to adjust the app through constant iterations to improve the experience for citizens.
SimpliCity is an open-source project hosted on GitHub and available for any government agency to adapt for use by their citizens. The project was the winner of a Technology Award at the October 2, 2015, Code for America Summit in Oakland, California. Among the award judges’ comments was that the app’s simplicity benefits city workers as much as its residents, which translates into more efficient use of public resources.
HR Portal Puts Employees in Benefits Driver’s Seat
One of the most common applications for self-service portals within organizations allows employees to manage their benefits without the human resources department serving as intermediary. Not only do such portals give employees a sense of control over the administration of their benefits, it frees HR to manage more effectively by reducing paperwork.
That’s the conclusion of Emily Rickel, who is the HR director at medical alert system provider Medical Guardian. Rickel relates her experiences with employee self-service (ESS) portals in a February 2, 2015, article on Software Advice. By adopting the Zenefits ESS system, the company and its employees have saved time and reduced resource consumption throughout the organization.
Software Advice’s survey of HR employees who have implemented ESS found that the two primary uses of the systems are for choosing insurance options and checking paid time off (74 percent in each category), followed by checking insurance information (66 percent) and requesting paid time off (59 percent).
A survey of HR use of employee self-service portals found that choosing insurance and checking PTO are the most common uses of the systems. Source: Software Advice
Self-Service Use Cases for IT Departments
No group has been affected more by the cloud disruption than the IT department. As TechRepublic’s Mary Shacklett explains in a September 4, 2015, article, the convergence of ready-to-use tools and a growing willingness among employees – some would say preference – to do things themselves has made implementing self-service IT portals much simpler.
While Shacklett points out that not all IT functions are amenable to the self-service approach, she identifies 10 areas where self-service portals are worth considering, five of which are listed below:
- Allow users to participate in testing new apps, particularly in the areas of test resource provisioning and test-result automation.
- Give business managers the ability to issue and renew user IDs and passwords, reducing IT’s role to approving the requests.
- User requests for enhancements to apps and systems can be automated via online templates that prompt them to describe the functions and features they are proposing.
- Likewise, requests for new equipment can be made via online forms that feed into the IT asset management and tracking systems.
- End users and managers may not be aware of the range of reports maintained by IT about company activity that can make the workers more productive. Creating a browsable “gallery” of these reports enhances access to and increases the visibility of the reports.
It makes perfect sense that the department most closely associated with automation would take the lead in applying automated processes to its core operations. Self-service portals serve the dual purposes of bringing users and managers closer to IT, and bringing IT closer to the people and operations of their companies’ business departments.