What Is a Self-Service Portal?

A self-service portal is a website, consisting of self-service and self-help functions, that enables and empowers the consumer to request services, find information, and register and resolve issues. A self-service portal can be thought of as the “electronic front door” to the IT organizations’ “store”, from which the consumer can obtain products and services.

From simple administrative functions such as resetting passwords and reporting incidents, to more complex actions, such as downloading software and taking corrective actions in response to issues, a well-designed self-service portal is invaluable to a consumer community that is "always on, always connected."

Many ITSM tool vendors feature a self-service portal, but self-service portals are not necessarily just for IT. Many other business functions from HR to Sales can benefit from having a self-service portal.

Why Is Having a Self-Service Portal so Critical?

Simply put, it’s all about the consumer. Consumers want and need to do work and complete tasks at any time they want. A self-service portal helps the consumer meet that need.

A self-service portal allows the consumer to control when and where they work, while at the same time, have the convenience of support whenever that support is required. Consumers want to work when they want, and the self-service portal frees the consumer from the constraint of the support hours of a service desk.

A Veriday blog post discussed why having a self-service portal is so critical:

Designing a Self-Service Portal

Designing a self-service portal is not just about having the consumer log their own ticket. It’s not just about having the consumer perform the tasks traditionally performed by a service desk agent. A self-service portal is about delivering a positive consumer experience with the service provider via an easy-to-use interface.

However, before designing and delivering a self-service portal, the fundamental building blocks must be in-place. The first of these building blocks is the defining of a service request catalog. The service request catalog depicts what products and procedures are provided by the service provider. This would include items such as password resets, system access, laptops, smartphones, and other consumable items provided by the service provider.

For each item in the service request catalog, request models must be defined. A request model is the set of actions that are executed to deliver the object of the request. By defining request models, not only will the actions to deliver the request be repeatable and consistent, but it will facilitate automation of the request. For example, a “password reset” request model might look similar to the following:

  1. Confirm user identity
  2. Confirm user access rights
  3. Confirm userid
  4. Login to the system using a privileged account
  5. Reset user password to random value using password generator tool
  6. Capture value of newly generated password
  7. Set user password to expire upon next login
  8. Logout of system
  9. Communicate new password to user

Knowledge articles must be developed and published as part of the self-service portal offering. Well-written knowledge articles, written in the context of the consumer, are a critical aspect for enabling self-help.

User experience maps must be developed. These maps define the consumer experience with the portal, from initial access through issue resolution. Developing these maps not only help identify and avoid any consumer “dead ends,” but also help ensure that the consumer has a positive experience in using the self-service portal. A user experience map may look something like this:

The Consortium for Service Innovation™, the developers of the Knowledge-Centered Services® (KCS®) methodology, offers this advice and design criteria for self-service:

First the advice:

Design criteria established by the Consortium includes:

Oded Moshe from SysAid offers this further advice for designing self-service portals:

Benefits of a Self-Service Portal

Both the consumer and the service provider benefit from the implementation and use of a well-designed self-service portal. Adele Halsall points out the following benefits of a self-service portal:

Challenges with Self-Service Portals

Providing a self-service portal is a decision not to be taken lightly. There are a number of challenges that come with delivering a self-service portal.

Lacking a ‘Personal Touch’

The self-service portal may be perceived as being impersonal. Many consumers appreciate the perceived “personal touch” provided by live assisted support. Consumers need to feel that they are being heard and that their issues are important to the service provider. A poorly designed self-service portal may cause the consumer to feel less valued and alienated by the service provider.

Poor Design

Also, if poorly designed, the self-service portal could be difficult to navigate and result in the consumer becoming frustrated and forming a lower opinion of the service provider. Creating a positive support interaction is important with all support channels; the self-service portal is no exception.

Availability and Credibility of the Portal

The self-service portal must be “always on” and “always up-to-date.” Delivering a self-service portal requires an investment in higher levels of availability – the portal simply cannot be down, as consumers will be relying on the portal being available when they work. In addition, having stale (or even worse, wrong) answers and solutions within the portal is worse than finding no answer or solution at all. The self-service portal must be reliable and the information found within the portal trustworthy and credible.

Determining the True Benefits of the Portal

Ascertaining the benefit provided by the self-service portal vs. the cost of providing the portal can be difficult to determine. While determining the number of self-service sessions is straight-forward, the benefit derived from using the self-service portal may prove difficult to measure. How many consumers became frustrated with the portal and simply ‘gave up’? How many consumers, after attempting to use the self-service portal, were unable to adequately address their issue and had to seek other assistance? What investments are required and what on-going costs will be incurred to deliver the value demanded by the consumer?

Providing Assisted Support

When and how should assisted support be introduced into the use of the self-service portal? Even with the most well-designed self-service portals, there will be times that assisted support must be provided. How should that support be introduced? How can the consumer request this support? What are the parameters for the delivery of assisted support in those circumstances? How will the person responding to the request for assisted support be provided with the background and context of the support request?

Organizational Change

Managing the organizational change that comes along with the introduction and use of the self-service portal is crucial. Educating and encouraging consumer use of the self-service portal must be a formalized and on-going effort. And don’t forget that deciding on how to deal with any displaced service desk agents as a result of implementing a self-service portal must be part of the organizational change management plan.

The Bottom Line on Self-Service Portals

Providing a self-service portal is rapidly moving from a “nice to have” to a requirement for the modern service provider. With the ever-increasing convergence of IT with the business, coupled with the consumer’s need to work at any time from any place, the self-service portal is a critical value-enabler for both the service provider and consumer.

For some great advice about self-service, have a look at Real-World Tips for Self-Service Success, a webinar hosted by industry gurus Stuart Rance and Stephen Mann.