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Technology has revolutionized the way industries deliver critical services and keep in touch with the customers. One of the most efficient and revolutionary technologies in customer management is self-service portals. These are web-based applications that provide twenty-four-hour IT based services and support to customers. Self-service portals (SSPs) emerged due to the necessity to end high volumes of calls coming in the human service desk. Modern SSPs are interactive, lively, powerful tools that can carry out any function needed by a customer and traditionally performed by a customer service agent. Self-service portals allow customers, employees, partners, and even suppliers to log in and perform desk operations such as high-value transactions as well as simple activities such as paying bills and finding valuable information. A tech-savvy generation supports the establishment of self-service portals on the websites of most companies. Therefore, it leads to higher operational efficiency and customer experience. SSPs also provide customers with increased convenience as they can access the services of their service provider without physical visits, numerous emails, and phone calls.
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Origin of Self-Service Portals
Self-service portals originated in Britain in the early 20th century. The development of technology allowed the fast adoption of the e-service innovation. At the end of the 20th century, most companies started looking for more innovative, efficient, and low-cost methods to provide customers with vital services without having them visit help desks or make direct calls and emails (Spohrer and Kwan, 2009). An organization with two thousand employees needs more than three hundred customer agents to respond to queries and other customer needs. However, such a large workforce is excessively costly and affects companies’ revenue. Therefore, cutting costs and providing clients with critically necessary service laid the foundation for the development of self-service portals. Original SSPs were simple systems that could do a small bunch of operations such as reset passwords and provide basic information. The development of the Internet provided the necessary platform to manage customers and other stakeholders and initiated the self-service portals’ evolution.
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Self-service portals are Internet-related innovations that appeared due to the quick growth of the Internet in the 20th century. The Internet allows customers and employees to access the organization settings from virtually anywhere as long as there is an Internet connection. Self-service portals are based on two main parts: the Internet, which provides a connection or access to the self-service systems, and the self-service systems themselves, which are a combination of software and hardware components that provide portal users with the vital information. Thus, the Internet is the primary medium of communication that allows the portal user to send and receive information (Nam, et al. 2016).
Self-service technology is one the most widely accepted and implemented technologies in various organizations. Organizations such as banks, schools, hospitals, Internet service providers, government departments, hospitality and tourism firms, insurance firms and even airlines have self-service portals. The widespread adoption of SSPs in the society results from the development of e-services such as e-banking, e-health, and e-education (Scupola, 2011). Self-service portals allow customers to access information, files as well as make necessary payments. There is no limit to the adoption and deployment of self-service portals given their numerous benefits to all customer service oriented fields.
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Capabilities and Applications
A web-based portal is a permanent all time up system with an extremely low cost per contact. A web-service costs about $0.1 per user contact compared to $5 or higher when a human agent is employed to do the same job (International Customer Management Institute). At present, self-service portals are operated by all learning institutions. For example, the school self-service portal allows a student to check course units, access teaching materials, review payments history, performance, access loan and course information, and request new services. Another case study is the application of self-service technology in banks. It shows that it is possible to check the bank balance, bank statement, send money and request a credit card from a banking portal. Interestingly, some banks also allow customers to borrow mortgage while logged in to banking portals. Lee (2015) provides the example of the application of self-service portals in the hospitality industry with a focus on airlines. The author (2015) highlights that airlines use SSPs to allow bookings, give traffic information, and notify customers of the changes in schedules. SSPs boost the efficiency of services and give customers more convenience (Lee, 2015). The adoption is not limited to the hospitality industry, with other fields mainly in health services benefiting from the development of self-service technologies. Web-based portals extend convenient services to consumers due to a greater frequency of their adoption in healthcare (Baird, et al. 2015). Major health facilities and smaller ambulatory care clinics have realized the benefits of self-service portals as a tool in keeping in touch and relevant to their customers (Baurd, et al. 2015). Therefore, web-based portals have unlimited application potential in any field with a consumer service orientation.
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The benefits of web-based or self-service portals can be illustrated by looking at the example of a ticketing firm TicketLeap. TicketLeap is a ticketing company that allows customers to purchase tickets and access key data about airlines including schedules, delays, and destinations. To provide its thousands of clients with the necessary information, TicketLeap had to employ a large number of customer care agents. Apart from eating on revenue, there were not enough agents what led to increased occupational stress, strain, and subsequent low productivity. The agents could spend 80% of the day time handling customers’ questions and issues. As a result, TicketLeap implemented a powerful self-service portal that could allow the customer to log in and access all services. The turnaround was immediate with TicketLeap agents now spending only 20% of the time on the phone and only in problematic cases. The rest of 80% is spent on marketing and other programs to increase consumer experience. The workload and strain on customer agents also reduced what considerably increased their productivity (Hisaka, 2013). Thus, this case provides an example of the numerous organization benefits of the application of self-service portals.
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A similar self-service portal was deployed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) which supplies water to 1.6 million people. With such a large number of requests, the customer base is virtually impossible and catastrophic without technology. LADWP deployed the Oracle WebCenter Portal that allowed them to receive account information, pay bills, receive supply information and rebates (Rupple, 2013). Therefore, self-service portals provide customers with efficient services and allow companies to achieve increased productivity.
In conclusion, self-service portals emerged owing to the need to provide more efficient and low-cost services to a large number of customers. The cost of hiring many self-service agents and low reliability forced companies to rely on technology that provided an effective solution to the problem. In this respect, the Internet became the backbone of self-service portals. Today, SSPs are advanced systems that allow customers to access information, make transactions, and manage their relationship with various service providers. Thus, such service providers as schools, banks, and government departments successfully operate SSPs, which allows increased efficiency and customer management. The reasonable cost, efficiency, customer management, and employment productivity make SSPs a key technology for organizations to adopt.