Visibility is a strengthening factor in client relationships. But figuring out the best way to offer it to your clients can be a challenge. One hack for doing so with the least amount of manual effort is to implement a client portal.
A client portal, or customer portal, is an interface that allows clients to access information relating to projects and services. This may also include files and billing history.
Client portals are used across various industries to streamline the client experience. Commercial organizations, design studios, insurance firms, banks and others use client portals to create an efficient line of communication with their customers. They can be especially useful for mid-sized or small businesses looking to better manage time and day-to-day operations.
A client portal has the potential to change the way you interact with the people you serve. We’ll cover just some of the numerous benefits of using this kind of software for your business.
One of the primary advantages of a client portal is the ability to provide your clients with the status updates they need with minimal time and effort on your part. Your clients can stay informed at their convenience. With a centralized platform to share information, you reduce the need for back-and-forth communication and, more importantly, foster trust.
Client portals aren’t just for the clients’ benefit. They can significantly boost your internal team’s efficiency, too. Ad-hoc communication with clients can be time-consuming, so by streamlining it, you’re giving your team back precious — and potentially billable — hours. Increased efficiency is an operational win, but its effects trickle down to your clients, as their projects and issues can be handled with speed and accuracy.
Another key advantage of customer portals is the facilitation of review and approval of estimates, quotes, change orders, contracts and other important documents. Your workflows become less about tracking down your clients and more about making decisions and pushing timelines along.
Sharing files with your clients in a secure environment is critical. Secure client portals allow you to upload files while ensuring sensitive data stays protected. Instead of having to manage sharing permissions via a file storage system, you can use a portal as a repository for particular clients and make it easy for your team to see a history of what’s been shared.
Client portal software also lends structure to the onboarding process for new clients. Depending on the platform’s functionality, you may be able to send quotes and documents, see when they’re viewed, allow clients to comment on and use e-signatures to accept them. The portal offers visibility and an audit trail. If you choose a white-label portal, you can brand it with the client’s logo and colors to personalize these transactions and give a great first impression.
While you may not have a help desk, you need a way to accept ad-hoc issues without chasing them down in multiple team members’ inboxes. A client portal is one of the easiest communication channels for messaging your customers. It offers a dedicated way to collect and give updates on customer support requests. Even better if those support tickets come through to your support team via an integrated shared inbox!
Ideally, you’ll adopt a somewhat customizable client portal with a range of features that can be tailored to your client-based business, but you should first consider the must-haves. Below are some of the highest-priority features to look for.
Even if you use quote templates, the process of sending and communicating about quotes with clients can be inefficient. The ability to review and accept quotes directly within a dedicated client portal can accelerate the process and reduce the need for excess communication. Plus, your clients will be less likely to overlook your quote (and quicker to accept it) when there isn’t the risk of overlooking an email.
Detailed project breakdowns aren’t just key for your team; they can greatly enhance customer satisfaction and engagement. Imagine yourself on the client side. Wouldn’t you love to be able to check that the business you’ve hired is diligently working through your project? Transparency goes a long way in setting realistic expectations and can limit the number of basic project update questions your team has to field.
Perhaps even more important than visibility over project progress is access to current and past invoices and payments. When your client has a question about money, they shouldn’t have to wait for an answer. If you offer self-service options like viewing and paying invoices directly from a portal, they get the sense that you’re honest and interested in making life easy for them.
Permissions are an essential aspect of any business software, but especially one you’re using to communicate with the people who trust you to protect their data and business details. Not only should client portal software have safeguards such as multi-factor authentication, it should offer your clients the option to control their team members’ access.
Many client portals include a resource section with links to things like knowledge base articles, FAQs and community forums. These resources empower your clients to find answers and learn more about your services without negatively impacting your efficiency. Immediate assistance in as many modes of learning as possible helps you to support lots of clients at one time.
You may find that a lot of client portals are standalone software tools. However, they’re far less impactful and cost-effective when they’re siloed from the work your team performs. Look for a platform with plenty of native integrations and, ideally, an open API for building custom integrations.
Remember: Integrations can help with automatically updating information such as project status and billing information in a portal, but they may also put you at risk of having too many disjointed tech platforms. While you want to consider which integrations each portal software offers, consider whether a unified client work management platform with a portal might be best.
To help you connect with the right software, we’ve compiled an overview of key features, pros and cons of five leading client portal examples.
Accelo offers much more than a convenient, user-friendly client portal: It’s an end-to-end client work management platform built to help professional services businesses automate tasks, improve visibility and increase profits.
Instead of being limited to a client portal, Accelo is also a solution for all stages of client work, including sales and quoting, project management, task management and customer relationship management. The platform features a complete ticketing system, billing and retainer management and much more.
Accelo’s client portal is available as part of the features and benefits included with the Business, Advanced and Elite tiers. See full pricing details here.
Huddle is a SaaS document collaboration tool that aims to provide aesthetically beautiful shared spaces via its client portals. Ideal for organizations that focus on teams, partners and other groups, Huddle works for a range of industries, including government, accounting, managed services, transportation and more. The platform provides an efficient workspace for managing documents, approvals, discussions and revisions.
Because Huddle offers bespoke solutions, custom pricing quotes must be requested.
HyperOffice is a collaborative software that focuses on service provider industries. Its solutions works best for those in healthcare, education and the public sector. HyperOffice Atlas, its customer and employee portal creator, offers some unique features, including rich editing and a code snippet library.
HyperOffice’s services start at $18 per user per month.
ShareFile’s client portal provides services focused on security, collaboration and comprehensive tools. This client portal solution is designed for industries like accounting, finance, healthcare and legal services.
ShareFile’s offers four pricing tiers:
Zoho is a widely known software that provides unique and effective solutions for businesses, including its client invoicing portal. Zoho Invoice, part of the Zoho platform, allows users to collaborate with clients about payments, quotes, invoices, expenses and more.
Zoho Invoice is free, though there are separate fees to connect it to additional Zoho products.
The right client portal solution can bring a lot of benefits to your business, but it needs to be adaptable to your current and evolving requirements. Don’t rush the process of selecting a portal. Take the following steps first.
Lead this decision with a focus on aligning with your business goals. Are you looking to increase efficiency, reduce request resolution time or improve customer satisfaction? All of the above or something else?
You should never adopt new software without first considering why. And remember that you won’t just be rolling out this software to your clients — your team will need to be trained and comfortable with it, first and foremost.
Next, it’s important to think about how your clients have responded to communication thus far and what’s missing. Not all clients need or care to access the same kinds of information, so a client portal won’t be a one-size-fits-all. You should evaluate platforms with a critical eye, considering the following:
Use the feature examples earlier in this blog to determine which capabilities of a client portal you’ll need and which would be nice to have.
For example, perhaps you need the ability to send and communicate about quotes and show billing history, but resource links aren’t relevant.
Or, maybe you have to comply with specific industry security standards that limit how much and what you share with your clients. Some portal solutions will meet that criteria, but many may not.
Whether or not you have an immediate goal to scale your business, it’s always helpful to think about a new software’s ability to keep up with what comes. Put each platform you evaluate to the test: If you doubled your client base, would that portal still function efficiently? What about if you added new services or changed the way you invoice? How easy is it to update and add new users?
Just as your business evolves, what you need and want will also change. Any time you’re evaluating new software, imagine what you may care about six months, a year, two years or five years down the road. It’s possible that you’ve never thought you’d be able to offer access to certain information, such as project milestone progress, without having to spend lots of time on individual client emails. Once you investigate each client portal, you could be inspired to innovate and interact with your clients in new and better ways.
When you’re looking into a given portal software, don’t forget to look for examples of people with similar business models having used it successfully.
If you run an agency, you’d probably be seeking seamless collaboration via easy sharing of campaign materials and efficient client approval processes.
For an IT business, on the other hand, you might need it to be primarily a support portal with specific types of request forms that integrate with your ticketing platform.
Read stories and reviews about how service professionals and their clients use a particular platform to get a sense of how it will fit into your day-to-day.
Most client portals will streamline communication between you and your clients, but as you can see from the list above, they’re often limited and far from an all-in-one client management solution.
With a client portal that’s only built for sharing invoices or requires that you manually enter status updates, you won’t gain efficiency. In fact, you might lose more time than you would sticking with manual outreach.
An integrated platform with client work as its focus is much more effective than a basic client portal for most service businesses.
Accelo’s client portal is truly a self-service portal because it’s connected to the platform’s other client work features: CRM, quoting, projects, time tracking, team scheduling, ticketing, billing, retainers, expenses, reports and more. Explore Accelo’s full functionality in a demo to understand its potential to revolutionize your business’s productivity, client engagement and profitability.