Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a group of software tools that manage customer information ranging from simple details like name, email, and physical address, all the way to sophisticated tracking of every interaction your company has had with the customer.
Companies that use these tools well leverage them for storing information and analyzing their data to drive better business performance. For example, a CRM tool might help you determine whether one particular sales tactic is more effective than another or if specific customers are struggling with a new product.
However, these systems can become isolated “islands of data” that aren’t shared, updated, and utilized throughout your business. Too often, these systems fall victim to one of the great pitfalls for tech leaders: implementing a system on time and on budget but not spending a small incremental effort to make the system broadly useful across the company.
What is a CRM Portal?
A CRM portal is a gateway into your customer data that provides access to a limited set of CRM information and transactions. This portal can be accessed by some combination of your internal employees, external vendors and partners, and customers.
Consider a simple example. Suppose you already have an extensive database of customer contact information, but when a customer needs to change their data, they must call or email your customer support center. A CRM portal, ideally easy to discover from your main website, might allow them to view and update their data, which in turn updates your CRM.
More sophisticated examples include deeper integrations to your CRM, like:
- Allowing customers to schedule a sales or support call and having that interaction recorded in your CRM
- Creating an internal portal that allows employees to see interactions with a customer for the entire company, so a salesperson from one department doesn’t contact a customer that’s recently been contacted by another department
- Integrating CRM data in your order management and customer support tools, creating a seamless portal for your customers
The goals of an effective CRM portal should always be twofold and based on the understanding that customer data are some of your organization’s most critical assets. First, you should create tools that make your CRM the “single source of the truth” for customer data. It would be best if you didn’t have different databases that store different versions of your customer data, lest you end up with conflicting information about your customers.
Secondly, strive to make CRM data “self-service” where possible, allowing employees, partners, and customers to view and update their data. If you’re concerned about allowing updates, create approval workflows or similar processes that would enable external updates to be queued and approved by an authorized individual before updating the record.
Note that the most sophisticated CRM portals are hidden in plain sight. For example, adding a new shipping address to your favorite online store is likely updating that company’s CRM system in the background, just as participating in a chat with a support tech also updates the CRM. The most effective CRM portals aren’t necessarily standalone update tools but are integrated with other systems and business processes.
Steps to create a CRM Portal for your Business
CRM Portals are a technology that can benefit significantly from Human-Centered Design. Rather than considering the technology as the start of building a CRM portal, consider the people you’re trying to serve and their needs.
For example, your customers are unlikely to hunt for a section of your website to update their shipping data but would happily do so when ordering a product. Similarly, your field sales staff might be unwilling to view a beautiful and detailed CRM portal unless it’s accessible from their phones while making customer calls.
With your users understood and your design objectives captured, determine the technical aspects of your CRM portal requirements. If your CRM is equipped with APIs that can be quickly integrated into your existing web tools, your job may be quite straightforward. If you’re using an older CRM, you may need to build an integration layer or other method for allowing your CRM portal to interact with the backend CRM system.
Consider whether you’ll need any approval or routing workflows integrated with your CRM portal and whether any of these can be automated. You’ve likely encountered an automated check when updating your shipping address on your favorite commerce website. Your address is checked and standardized, and the website suggests an updated version based on your entry.
Keep your design principles in mind to avoid frustrating your users. Not allowing them to skip an address verification or asking for excessive information and prompting them to verify they are “not a robot” five times might be great for your data quality, but might also cause them to abandon a purchase from your company.
Finally, keep security front and center at all times. This is a complex topic in its own right, and you must take care in exposing CRM data to open networks and avoid direct system access. Even with a well-designed portal, ensure you test basic security precautions and the potential for denial-of-service or other attacks that could damage or disable critical business information systems like your core CRM.
Even simple CRM portals can significantly make life easier for your customers and allow your company to maintain more accurate and current data. If you haven’t already explored CRM portals, start simple with some focused, high-value tools for your customers, employees, and business partners.
You’ll likely discover that maintaining accurate and accessible customer data used throughout your business is a great way to get new value from your existing CRM investment.