How Customer Portals Can Drive Organizational Change

August 24, 2020 / Sarah Hoidn


»Customer centricity« is non-negotiable today. Customer needs should be the starting point for all business decisions – no matter the industry. Nevertheless, too much potential is still left untapped, especially in B2B. Now, efforts in numerous industries to create new service portals oriented towards customers are bringing fresh momentum to the sector. They promise a lower threshold to setting up digital processes without having to immediately take the plunge into digital commerce. Modular frameworks and microservices are making it possible to expand step by step.


The manufacturing industry is facing immense pressure for digital transformation. Companies are faced with changing expectations on the side of their customers, especially in chemicals, metals and electronics – industries which rely heavily on advising and guiding customers in their purchasing decisions. Whereas in the past the personal relationship with salespersons was the driving factor, today's customers want to find information independently online, expect digital services such as round-the-clock support or want to be able to order products directly. Things that have become an integral part of B2C are increasingly becoming obligatory in B2B as well. The keyword is self-service.


Let’s end product centricity


Many B2B companies have responded to this with strategies that are essentially e-commerce approaches. Both manufacturers and retailers are investing heavily in developing online stores, marketplaces or trading platforms – projects that naturally make digital agencies like us happy, but which are at the same time lengthy and complex. The sole focus can no longer be on selling the right product to the customer. The goal should be to improve the entire customer experience with digital means. After-sales services and support must generate real added value, such as saving valuable time, allowing for direct communication and creating greater transparency.

In short: it’s not merely about keeping in touch, but intensifying the relationship.



Modern technologies make starting out easier


This is where customer or service portals come into play. In itself, there is nothing new about this: After all, a good customer experience has always meant more than just buying and selling. With digital services, however, the customer experience can be extended more readily. Existing customers can use digital service portals to receive support more efficiently, view and manage their customer data and order history, or access information that really helps them in their particular situation. Companies that have not yet brought their B2B sales into the digital age should start with their existing customers and proceed step by step.


Customer portals are becoming the ideal starting point for this right now, because modern technologies make gradual development possible. Up until a few years ago, commerce systems always had to be implemented as a whole – or great efforts were required to extract just the individual functionalities needed. Special software solutions for customer portals, on the other hand, are not well suited for expanding into e-commerce. The effect in any case: high project and time expenditures.


Modern software products, such as Spryker or Commercetools, are modular; individual functionalities can be implemented independently of each other. This allows us to first implement services that offer added value to existing customers – such as master data or order management. Then, the scope can be broadened step by step. On the one hand, this means less development effort if you start with only individual modules. On the other hand, it makes you more flexible. And there are no barriers to expanding into digital commerce.


New portals are gradually being expanded


Kuka is showing how it's done. The robotics manufacturer recently announced that with its new customer portal my.KUKA it is offering a central interaction point for system partners, existing customers and prospects. It bundles product information, support services and a knowledge database. Gradually, the company will enable configuring products and ordering them via a marketplace. The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the driving forces behind this, as it has shifted interaction with customers increasingly to digital media. According to the company, motivation to engage with new digital services both on the customer side and among its own workforce is currently extremely high.


Similar plans are also being pursued in other industries: Ink and packaging specialist Siegwerk is currently testing various means of digital customer retention. The goals are to make expert knowledge accessible, establish more efficient processes and fill the void left by canceled industrial trade fairs. In Switzerland, plastics manufacturer Meraxis is already expanding its own customer portal into a »360-degree system« that even includes procurement automation. As always, some are further along than others.


Customers and internal teams can grow with the portal


The advantages of such projects speak for themselves. Starting out with a customer portal means initially reducing the complexity of the project. Compared to commerce projects, there is less integration and development effort required to connect third-party systems and model processes.


Moreover, it allows you to achieve the seemingly impossible: Customers and their own teams can simultaneously switch to (new) digital processes. Anyone who satisfies the customer's need for guidance or support with new digital processes also needs to get their own departments up and running at the same time, such as order management, the product data team or customer service. Customers and employees can grow with the portal and develop along with the evolution of the platform.


Even the sales force, which often sees its existence threatened by digital sales channels, can be convinced more easily by the added value for customers and the reduction of workload through automating standard processes.


Don't forget the data


Here’s some more wisdom: Knowing your own customers puts you at a clear advantage. Customer portals are a good tool for observing user behavior and collecting data. You learn, for example, which services they use particularly often and which information they call up frequently. This allows you to obtain direct feedback, which is incorporated into the continuous development of the service. That’s how a gradually expanding service platform drives change across the board.


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Sarah Hoidn, Senior Consultant
+49 030 28 47 26 40 0