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CRM Tutorial – Part 7: Creating a Customer Service Portal 3

Managing CRM systems for profit

You should be in no doubt that a Portal based customer service function can have a major impact on the bottom line. In our operation, for example, we reduced direct costs of service (headcount) by 40% whilst improving on our KPI of response on time by 28%. These are tangible, quantifiable numbers. What impact would they have in your organization?

The key to achieving these gains is an approach whereby every single customer service issue must be recorded through the Portal. Operate a zero-tolerance policy across the board so that no excuses are accepted for customer service issues not being recorded in the system. Make sure you use it yourself and also use the information contained in the system for appraisals, meetings, informal discussion etc.

In short – walk the talk! There is no easy answer to this and it takes leadership and drive to get it up and working.

But the rewards are there to have. As well as the productivity gains described, we (and other customers) have experienced significant jumps in staff motivation and morale. If you’ve ever working in a customer service environment you’ll realise that you get kicked by the boss as often as you get kicked by the customer. You get made to feel that you are in the sales prevention team! As important an outcome of these processes is the access to valuable informational and knowledge within the team. This returns a degree of control to your customer service people in an environment that is notoriously event driven and stress-filled.

We can also point to improved customer retention levels and more sales success. When potential customers see how they will be treated by your organization for the same cost as dealing with Acme Inc up the road, it’s usually a no-brainer.


Take time to plan out the relationship model of your organization. There will be a few very important ones as well as a whole range of relationships that are not so important. Start with the important ones first and build from there.


Giving customers access

Perhaps the most powerful feature of iportinstant web based CRM is the capability to grant your customers (or indeed anyone external to your organization) controlled access to your CRM Portal. This, when set up and managed properly, can help you to reap huge rewards in terms of quality of service and also in terms of cost savings. Think about it – how much of your administration cost is tied up in re-entering customer information or contacting customers to keep them informed of progress. How much of that could be saved if your customer was able to do for it themselves?

But it’s not enough just to launch your CRM Portal site and grant them access. Customers are not dumb: they won’t do something for you (like your share of the admin) unless you are doing something for them.

So be prepared for a less than enthusiastic uptake at the outset. Don’t let that put you off however; the trick is to recognize that customers may be sceptical from the start but you need to carry on with the process so that you deliver a measurable improvement. That’s what wins hearts and minds. In our case, the uptake in our first year was only 11% of customers. That had grown to over 40% by year three and is still growing. So keep on plugging the message that your service is now online and that everything you are delivering to them verbally/by email/by fax can be accessed at

Of course, you can’t give customers access to everything online. You need to define what aspects of the CRM Portal they can see. This is where the Permissions within iportinstant web CRM come into their own.

Permissions operate throughout your iportinstant Portal. For example, when an Individual is created in the Portal, you assign them to a User Group. This User Group has a set of default Permission associated. These permissions set the overall access rights: what applications they see, whether they can add new transactions or only read those that are there and also what Zones of the Portal they can access. A Zone is simply a section of the Portal – for example Systems Admin is a Zone. Obviously you would not wish any Customer to have any access to the Systems Admin Zone of your Portal so you can effectively switch this off from their menu.

There are some specific Permissions already created within your iportinstant Portal:

  • Full access – anything can be edited/updated
  • Customer access – read only on most elements of the transaction but some update on notes and comments.
  • Update worknotes – permission to update all notes and comments
  • Read only – as it says.
  • Assigned to for action – makes the transaction appear on an individual’s task list
  • Linked to – sets up a relationship between the transaction and an organization or individual but grants no processing rights to the organization or individual. Useful for associating transactions such as sales opportunities with customer organizations.


You can, of course, create your own Permissions, but these tend to cover most of the most common types in our experience.

The great thing with these transactional permissions is the added layer of control and functionality they confer. For example, you could set up a User with Systems Administration level access rights and yet restrict him/her to Read Only permission on a specific transaction.

On a more practical level, this means that you can set up your iportinstant Portal for access by any customer, supplier, associate, consultant…in fact, anyone that you deal with external to your organization.

This has a particular importance to customer service however.

Setting up customer service transactions which allow access by the individual in the customer organization through an Update permission will mean that your customer can not only see the results of your investigations/efforts to resolve the issue, but that customer will also be able to take part in the solution by entering details of what progress they are making too.

The most obvious application of this is in a software or IT helpdesk – but we have also implemented the same kind of solution in retail, distribution and manufacturing environments.

All of our metrics across a wide range of industry types show that granting customers access to your systems improves trust, loyalty and service levels. The evidence is overwhelming and undeniable.

Chic McSherry