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Erika Troconis-Rodell | December 12, 2019

What is a Self-Service Portal? Everything You Need to Know

If you want to know more about what a self-service portal is and how your organization can benefit from using one then this blog is for you. Keep on reading to learn more about how you can go beyond IT when it comes to self-service support to further help business operations and outcomes.

Table of Contents

1. What is a Self-Service Portal?

2. What to Include in Your Self-Service Portal?

3. Business Benefits and Challenges of a Self-Service Portal

4. Calculating the ROI of Your IT Self-Service Portal

5. Calculating the ROI of Self-Service

6. How Knowledge Management Can Play a Powerful Role in Self-Service Portal ROI

7. What is Self Help?

8. Features and Benefits of a Self-Service Portal Software

What is a Self-Service Portal?

Put simply, a self-service portal is a webpage or an app that allows employees (or external customers for externally facing support providers) to assist themselves when it comes to their need for help, information, or service. It’s one of many ways to provide self-service, self-help, and ideally self-care capabilities to those who need assistance, with that assistance often not requiring any input from support personnel.  

Importantly, these capabilities don’t need to be limited to IT support, with a self-service portal also highly beneficial to other lines of business such as human resources (HR), facilities, legal services, etc.

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Are Self-Service Portals Failing?

Before learning more about how to build a self-service portal it is important to note that building a well-established self-service journey should be on every company’s to-do list, and delivering self-service experiences should be on their priority list.

Gartner revealed in their “3 Simple Ways IT Service Desks Should Handle Incidents and Requests” report that “76% of enterprises are [more] focused on improving the self-service experience”1. This is most likely due to the associated benefits that come with self-service itself, including reducing level-1 support costs, delivering faster solutions to all employees, and providing 24/7 support to everyone in the organization.

7 Tips for Getting Knowledge Management Right for Self-Service.

Businesses, however, shouldn’t limit IT self-service to a single designated place, such as a self-service portal, but rather have a combination of tools that provide self-service experiences across-the-board. 

This blog will talk more in depth about why a self-service portal is still important, its benefits and challenges as well as how it can be used to enhance the overall self-service experience.

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Why Should you Consider a Self-Service Portal? 

Many corporate service providers are under pressure to both “do more with less” and, more recently, to also become “better, faster, cheaper.” They might also be subject to a corporate mandate to digitally transform their operations to better support the corporate front office. 

Hence, if your IT organization or other business department’s service desks are struggling with increasing contact volumes, tighter budgets, and evermore demanding employees, then a self-service portal offers a great opportunity to relieve some of that pressure while also reducing costs and delivering a better employee experience. 

Plus, for your organization, it might not only be an internally created need to be “better, faster, cheaper”. This is because employees, buoyed by their potentially superior consumer-world service and support experiences, now expect fit-for-purpose self-service support capabilities as part of an omnichannel service and support offering.

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Customized self-service portal

How Does an Effective Self-Service Portal Work? 

In many ways, this isn’t the right question to commence with. Because the most successful self-service portals don’t start with a best practice framework for how self-service portals should work. Instead, they’re built on the understanding of how employees want to, and will, work. 

In this context, there’s no guarantee that replicating the look and feel of a successful consumer-world self-service capability – such as Amazon’s – will lead to a significant level of employee adoption. So, while all the above potential portal components might be helpful to your organization, there’s a need to start with employee wants and needs. Before then building your portal on the back of these.  

This is mentioned further in the challenges section below. 

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What to Include in Your Self-Service Portal?

Your portal capabilities should be driven by the services you offer, and employee wants and needs. For the latter, employees will have preferences for different channels for different needs and your self-service capabilities need to reflect these.

What to Include in Your Self-Service Portal? 

For example, a complicated IT issue that’s stopping an employee working in the pursuit of an important deadline will likely need a call to the service desk. Whereas an employee with an HR issue of a personal nature might—at least initially—prefer to look at related FAQs in the portal. 

In deciding what to include in your portal, it will also depend on whether the portal is built around the service provider or the employee. For example, there might be an IT self-service portal and an HR portal. Or there might be an employee portal through which employees can get assistance with IT, HR, and many other types of issues and requests. Plus, the reality is that your organization might start with an IT portal, then add HR services, then add facilities services, and so on.  

Examples of what to include from an IT service and support perspective include: 

  • The ability to find information and solutions to common IT issues (self-help) 
  • Issue logging, for IT support assistance 
  • The ability to request new services, either with immediate, automated provision or via IT support assistance 
  • Status checking—which prevents calls and emails to the service desk 
  • Broadcast-type alerts of issues and warnings 
  • Automated capabilities such as password reset or automated resolutions to common issues 
  • Chat capabilities—for personalized help, if needed, while self-serving  
  • Collaboration facilities for peer-to-peer support 
  • Access to IT asset information—which allows employees to self-check what they have versus what they should have, or to self-audit 
  • Software downloads. 

These capabilities can also be supported by in-context help, which is increasingly provided by artificial intelligence (AI). 

When extending the portal capabilities to other lines of business, many of the above IT service and support capabilities can be replicated to meet the needs of HR, say. For example, in assisting employees with issues and requests related to: 

  • Payroll and benefits  
  • Sickness recording 
  • Learning and development planning 
  • Recruitment 
  • On-boarding and off-boarding employees. 

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What are the Types of Self-Service Portals? 

The types of self-service portals can be differentiated in a number of ways. For example, as already mentioned, it could be an internally facing employee portal or one that serves external customers. For internal support, your company could then choose to have separate portals for each line of business. Or it could offer a single employee portal that caters to any type of employee need. 

Then the access method can be considered. From an internally available portal to employees also being able to access it at home—for example, for accessing HR information and help while off sick. Or by the self-service capabilities being available via mobile devices and a self-service app.  

Newer technologies also offer up additional self-service access channels that take self-service beyond the portal. For example: 

  • Chatbots and in-app virtual agents 
  • Email autoresponders that provide a self-service-like response 
  • Automated telephony services that provide possible resolutions and information
  • Voice-based help via smart devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo.
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Business Benefits and Challenges of a Self-Service Portal

What are Some Self-Service Portal Business Benefits? 

Benefits of Self-Service Portals 

The key benefits of self-service portals are very much in line with the need for “better, faster, cheaper” service and support: 

  • Delivering an improved employee/customer experience. And it’s a rising bar because employees expect to see consumer-grade self-service evolutions, including with issue logging, service request catalogs, and knowledge availability for self-help, in the workplace. 
  • Improving availability and efficiency. 24x7 self-service provides increased support availability – even if only for simple issues. It also provides support for more languages and time-zones at a far-lower cost than employing native-language speakers. In terms of increased efficiency, self-service benefits both service desk analysts and employees, with the addition of backend automation key to this. 
  • Easing the pressure on overworked service desks. Where taking employee contacts away from the telephone channel can have a significant effect, especially when issues and requests are self-solved by employees. 
  • Better prioritization of issues and requests. First, it removes the immediacy of response associated with the telephone channel (and first-contact resolution target). Second, self-help removes many of the simpler, and potentially less-important, service desk contacts to then allow analysts to spend more time on the potentially more important issues.  
  • Cost savings. Self-service saves IT money by letting the employee do what the service desk previously did while the same employee waits. However, the real staff and cost savings lie in the use of backend automation.

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Challenges with Self-Service Portals 

Many of the challenges with self-service success are connected to the approach taken to portal introduction. Importantly, this needs to be treated as a people change initiative rather than a technology implementation project. Then, added to this, there are common issues such as: 

  • Failing to create the self-service capability around employee ways of working 
  • Insufficient knowledge articles for self-help  
  • Minimal investment in organizational change management (in what is a change to the existing way of working) 
  • No, or insufficient, backend automation
  • No continual improvement of the self-service capabilities over time. 

So, please bear these in mind when planning your self-service introduction or its extension into other lines of business.

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Building a Self-Service Portal Your Employees Will Use

Let’s imagine you’ve built a shiny, new IT self-service portal that looks great and has all the right workflows running behind the scenes. Your IT team can’t wait to reap the benefits of an IT self-help portal for end users which include deflecting tier 1 calls, lowering IT costs, and reducing workloads. You launch your IT self-service portal, which is sure to make the lives of your end users and IT staff infinitely easier...and your employees don’t use it.

Build Your IT Self-Service Portal and They Will Come—Not!

The above scenario is not so much an infrequent nightmare as a common reality stemming from a simple but egregious error: Designing IT self-service without a focus on the primary audience—your employees. It sounds like common sense to build tools for those who will use them but IT self-service portals are often designed to appeal to tech staff instead. To overcome ingrained habits and office cultural factors, IT self-service deployments must be easy-to-use and enticing for end users—or your employees will continue to reach for the phone, shoot off emails, or even walk-up, which undermines the effectiveness of the self-service channel.

Best Practices for IT Self-Service Portal Success

Recent Gartner research, “Design IT Self-Service for the Business Consumer,” includes expert recommendations for increasing IT self-service user satisfaction and adoption levels, providing details on the following best practices:

  • Engage the business to determine appetite, aptitude, and expectations for IT self-service
  • Identify where IT self-service can have the greatest impact
  • Use consumer service experiences to develop an IT self-service strategy
  • Promote, familiarize, and incentivize the IT self-service experience

In the next section, let’s take it a step further and look at what employees really think about self-service portals, what challenges they face when it comes to adopting them, and what you should focus on to provide a wholesome employee self-service experience.

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What do Employees Really Think About IT Self-Service Portals?

Recent data from employee experience management company, HappySignals, shows that IT self-service portals have the lowest happiness score among the 300K surveyed responses.

Not only that, but compared to other delivery channels, portals caused the most loss of productivity for employees, and haven’t significantly reduced the use of phone and email contact, which comes at a higher cost.

HappySignals What do Employees Think about Self-Service Portals

Source: HappySignals, https://happysignals.com/happiness-score/ (July 2019)

On the other hand, an article by the Harvard Business Review stated that “across industries, 81% of people attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative.” If people are really looking to help themselves and organizations are harvesting the benefits of self-service, then why are self-service portals not enough?

High Benefits. Low Adoption Rates.

The first step in improving the employee self-service experience is to understand why employees are not using self-service portals. Below are three challenges organizations face when trying to increase self-service adoption.

  • The information on the portal is hard to find. Maybe the user interface of the portal is not intuitive, and it is taking a long time for employees to find what they are looking for. When users spend more time searching for the answers versus finding them, then they might end up calling the IT service desk directly instead. The information can also be hard to find if the knowledge articles are too lengthy and provide multiple topics within one article, making it overwhelming for employees to find the answer they need.

  • Knowledge articles aren’t helpful for users. If the knowledge articles are not relevant, then employees are most likely to call the service desk to get the right answers. If you don’t have the right team to help manage the knowledge base or lacking subject matter experts, then the knowledge articles will be outdated—and employees will stop using them.

  • Employees don’t know the portal exists. Think about it this way, if you launch a new product or service and don’t market it, how will customers know it’s there? The same idea goes for IT self-service portals and any other self-service tool. When the implementation or update of a portal is internal or limited to a department, then other employees that might benefit from it won’t be using it at all.

So, what can organizations do to overcome these challenges? As mentioned before, the answer revolves around expanding self-service beyond the portal and focusing on the overall employee experience.

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7 Tips for Getting Knowledge Management Right for Self-Service.

Taking the Employee Self-Service Experience to the Next Level

  • Expand by adding more than one delivery channel for employee support. In other words, supporting omnichannel access to knowledge. This will not only facilitate employees’ access to knowledge but will also benefit their self-service experience. For example, implementing a chatbot can provide quick responses with a ‘human-like feel’ and can be integrated in any application, messaging platform, or website to provide support wherever the employee works. Role-based apps is another example of omnichannel support where employees can obtain information that is specific to a department without having to go through a long list of irrelevant articles.

  • Enable by providing a solid knowledge base. The availability of multiple channels is the first step in shaping self-service experiences, but these only act as knowledge delivery systems. If the right knowledge is not available, then it will be hard for employees to get the information they are looking for. For example, as stated in the previous section, long knowledge articles are not the quickest way to find answers. Providing easily-digestible information in a more interactive format will not only give employees what they need faster, it will increase employee engagement.

  • Educate by talking to employees about what is available and how they can access it. As mentioned previously, implementing new delivery channels and having the right knowledge won’t do anything if employees can’t find or access it. Take advantage of organizational communication such as internal newsletters to let employees that there are self-service options. The onboarding process can also be a great opportunity to show and train new employees on employee self-service.

The success of your employee self-service experience is not limited to the IT self-service portal. By offering the right knowledge delivery channels, strengthening your knowledge base, and communicating to your employees what is available will lead you in the right direction for self-service success.

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7 Tips for Getting Knowledge Management Right for Self-Service.

Calculating the ROI of Your IT Self-Service Portal

Self-service continues to be promoted as the white knight for time- and cash-strapped IT departments and their service desks. And it makes so much sense, whether it’s part of a shift-left strategy—commonly to improve speed of resolution and to reduce costs—or it’s an initiative to improve the end-user experience and customer satisfaction.

These three things are the oft-quoted, high-level benefits of self-service. In this blog we are going to cover the wider spectrum of self-service benefits, the associated return on investment (ROI), and how best to achieve them.

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Realizing the Benefits of Self-Service

Much has already been written about the potential benefits of having a self-service portal, for instance:

  1. Cost savings and increased efficiency. This is IT reducing costs and speeding up resolution by letting the end user do what the service desk previously did through self-help automation or “shift-left”.
  2. Delivering an improved, consumer-like, customer and employee experience. Thanks to customer and employees’ personal-life experiences with technology, they have certain expectations of access and expanding number of communication channels available for DIY support. The bottom line for IT departments is that users now expect consumer-like self-service capabilities in the workplace, including issue logging, service request catalogs, and knowledge availability for self-help. Plus, anytime, anyplace, any device access to these.
  3. Greater support availability. The HDI 2018 Technical Support Practices & Salary Report states that 68% of support centers are not staffed 24/7, compared to 72% in 2016. Self-service can be employed to provide 24/7 support, even if just for issues that can be resolved through self-help. Plus, self-service technology can also provide support for multiple languages and time-zones at a far-lower cost than employing native-language speakers.
  4. Easing the pressure on overworked service desks. A self-service portal deflects calls away from the telephone channel, which can have a significant effect on the IT service desk workloads, so that support staff are able to work on self-service-created tickets at less-busy times of the day (priority levels and service level targets permitting). This potentially also adds to the financial savings, as staffing needs will “smooth out,” i.e. there will be fewer ticket-volume peaks and troughs.

All these benefits positively affect the IT service desk, end users, and the enterprise as a whole. However, it’s important to understand that these benefits will only accrue if employee self-service usage is high enough to make a tangible difference to current operations.

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Realizing the ROI of Self-Service 

In the past, achieving the desired ROI on self-service has been a challenge due to how it was implemented. Today, the industry and individual companies are finally understanding the need for:

  • A sufficient investment in organizational change management to help effect what’s ultimately a change in the way of working
  • A targeted self-service marketing campaign to encourage and facilitate end-user adoption
  • More consumer-like ITSM-tool self-service capabilities

Once an organization focuses on the key elements for building an effective self-service initiative, the ROI can be achieved.

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Calculating the ROI of Self-Service

Importantly, self-service success is definitely there to be had, and companies are investing further in self-service success. The 2019 SDI report, A View from the Frontline, asked: “What would most influence your selection of a new service desk or ITSM tool?” With the top response being “Self-service capabilities” from 70% of respondents.

So, there’s definitely a belief that self-service plays a big part in the present and future of IT support—but how can your company justify its initial investment, or additional investment, in it?

While all of the above benefits are important, most business cases will focus on what can be tangibly measured, for example, the quantitative rather than the qualitative benefits with an emphasis on financial gains.

The easiest way to do this is to calculate the gross monthly savings by using a simple multiplier of the number of tickets expected to be deflected multiplied by the average saving for each. Is it an exact science? No. But it can at least be indicative of the potential monthly savings that can then be matched to the upfront and ongoing costs of self-service to help calculate ROI (plus, a payback-period analysis can be done if needed, too).

Self-Service ROI Formula

Self-Service ROI Formula EV Self Help-01

For this, you’ll need:

  1. The total number of tickets your service desk handles each month.
  2. A prudent estimation of what percentage can be deflected by self-service. Many organizations have reported the ability to deflect up to 30% of tier 1 tickets with an effective self-service initiative that includes the right awareness, technologies, and work pattern reinforcements.
  3. Your unit ticket handling costs (or use the averages below if you feel them relevant to your organization).
  4. The known upfront and day-to-day self-service costs. Note: Since self-service capabilities already exist in most modern ITSM platforms, some costs can be attributed to the optimization of your ITSM investment.

2017 industry average ticket cost data from MetricNet shows that the cost of self-service is less than 10% of the Level 1 service desk cost:

  • Self-help (Level 0) – US$ 2
  • Service desk (Level 1) – US$ 22
  • Desktop support – US$ 69
  • IT support (Level 2) – US$ 104

Thus, the more tickets (and the associated support effort) that can be “moved to the left”, the cheaper they are to resolve or provision against. For example, a US$ 22 Level 1 “human” password reset vs. a US$ 2 Level 0 automated reset. The ultimate goal of self-service is to shift the engagement model to the left (see chart below).

self-service-portal-chart-1024x864

Hopefully this section has helped explain the basis of calculating the ROI of self-service and providing you some insights on getting started. You can also try out our savings calculator to see how much you could save with EV Self Help.

In addition to the obvious financial benefits of self-service, there are also the productivity and end-user satisfaction benefits that should not be discounted. Having a happy and productive workforce is important for every organization and self-service plays a pivotal role!

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How Knowledge Management Can Play a Powerful Role in Self-Service Portal ROI

Feeling overwhelmed with the rising number of routine service desk tickets that need constant processing?  Is the cost becoming too much to bear? Do you look to self-service to remedy these pain points but aren’t seeing the results you expect? You’re not alone. 

Blog-Self Help Value Calculator

The Gartner Report, Design IT Self-Service for the Business Consumer, states “IT organizations that fail to deliver effective IT self-service will struggle to increase agility and to demonstrate value to the business.”* Self-service has many benefits, and one of the biggest benefits is being able to use self-service to help deflect routine issues to the service desk. But in order to accomplish this, employees must use the self-service portal. Users need to engage with self-service and that’s why it’s important for organizations to design portals with the user experience in mind to help achieve true self-service ROI.


See how much you can save with interactive knowledge experiences

When it Comes to Self-Service Portals, End Users Prefer the Human Touch

According to the SDI study, “Realizing ROI from Self-service Technologies,” the key obstacle to organizations not being able to achieve ROI was because “end users prefer the human touch.”  The report goes on to say:

“The most successful organizations were those who benefited from a self-service solution designed with the customer at the heart of the service and realized higher customer preference rates.”

Your goal should be to build a self-service environment that still incorporates a humanized experience for the end users. Learning from consumer service experiences is a great place to start. Companies like Uber, Amazon, and Netflix leverage technology to deliver a better end-user experience so that their services are used more. The same strategy should apply for internal support so employees are empowered to find the answers they need.

So how can Knowledge Management be used to help deliver better user experiences through self-service?

Off the top of your head, you can probably name three issues your service desk constantly receives, which all have a corresponding knowledge base article to help the user resolve the issue themselves. But, they’re still calling or emailing the service desk.

This makes it a great opportunity to leverage these knowledge base articles to create a more engaging user experience where users can solve issues faster without the user having to call or email the service desk.

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What is Self Help?

A self-help strategy means implementing more engaging and interactive knowledge by delivering a natural Q&A interaction as opposed to traditional knowledge documentation. While self-service is primarily focused on request management, self-help is a more evolved capability that uses the employee’s responses to deliver relevant answers. It requires a sophisticated use of knowledge management techniques that enables employees to solve their own issues, which will help you realize ROI quicker!

See the Financial Value of Self Help with an Estimated Three-year Savings Plan 

At the end of the day, it’s about the bottom line. You can see how much your self-service portal can benefit from interactive knowledge experiences with the Self Help Value Calculator.

Simply answer three easy questions regarding your service desk, and the Value Calculator will generate your estimated three-year savings based on using a self-help strategy. You will also be able to download your results in a detailed, one-page report.

After seeing the value that interactive knowledge experiences can have on your organization, you’ll be one step closer to self-service portal success.  Start calculating today to see your potential savings!

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Features of a Self-Service Portal Software 

While the capabilities listed above are important features to look for, with the caveat that they’re capabilities that employees want to, and will, use. There are other non-functional features to seek out too. These include: 

  • The ease of use for employees – including clarity, intuitiveness, and in-context help availability 
  • The ease of finding information and solutions, or how to request further help 
  • Flexibility – in terms of portal implementation and tailoring to your organization’s needs 
  • The ease of updating – whether adding new content or capabilities 
  • Usage analytics – for better decision making (that leads to improvements) 
  • Feedback mechanisms – to ascertain how well different capabilities and content are working 
  • Continued investment in the self-service portal software by the tool vendor – that reflects the changing requirements of employees, e.g. the addition of AI-based assistance. 

I hope that you found this blog helpful. If you would like to see a successful self-service portal in action, then get a live demo.

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1. Gartner, 3 Simple Ways IT Service Desks Should Handle Incidents and Requests, Figure 2. Current and Planned Use of IT Self-Service, March 2018

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Erika Troconis-Rodell

Erika Troconis-Rodell is the Sr. Digital Marketing Manager at EasyVista. She leads the content and blog strategy for the company, and manages global digital marketing initiatives. She loves all things technology and enjoys reading about ITSM, IoT, and SaaS. Fun fact, she also speaks Spanish, French, and Mandarin.