Design Service Portals for User Adoption


by Phyllis Drucker
January 12, 2016

Many IT organizations struggle with user adoption issues when they release their first service portal or request catalog. There are several reasons for this failure: converting paper or electronic forms into service requests without designing them to take advantage of improved presentation capabilities of today's request catalog tools; asking questions in technical language that customers don't understand; asking too many questions and requiring customers to answer all of them, including those that don't apply; asking so many questions the customer would rather call; offering no improvements to service as a result of catalog use. My previous article focused on transforming the IT service portal into an enterprise service portal that consolidates multiple online catalogs. This article provides advice on portal and service request design that focuses on the user experience as a key to designing a catalog users will love.

The Challenge

Today's service request catalog tools have matured in a way that rivals Internet shopping sites. But the people who design the portal and the requests within the portal are more typically IT associates, rather than experts in marketing and catalog design, like the professionals who design Internet shopping sites. IT also hesitates to reach beyond their own department walls to leverage other department's resources to the fullest extent possible before beginning a catalog initiative. Thus, they design a portal and the service request within IT and from their point of view. The result is an end product that does not appeal to the customer nor help IT gain adoption. Additionally, IT catalog designers might not have the skill needed to leverage the catalog as a way to streamline fulfillment and improve service delivery.

The Business Value of a Good Portal

A service portal with good design and adoption provides value to the organization in several ways:

  • Information can be presented in an attractive, compelling way and/or delivered automatically when users interact with the portal. 
  • Requests can be delivered directly to the appropriate fulfillment team, bypassing the service providers' intake personnel. This enables the provider to focus their efforts on issue resolution and user support, shortening call wait times and increasing first-tier resolution rates. This approach can reduce the need for additional staff, while enabling staff to spend the time they need to resolve callers' issues. 
  • Delivering requests directly to fulfillment teams and enabling them to work in parallel wherever possible shortens fulfillment times, improving customer service. 
  • Online service requests enable standardization by providing a catalog of available items to the customer. When a customer "shops," they are less likely to request non-standard versions of accessories and equipment because they are not requesting these items in the open-ended, free-form style of request a service desk will receive via e-mail. 
  • Customers are able to see the status of their requests, reducing follow-up calls and inquiries that the service desk must handle. 
  • Approvals are gathered electronically, enabling IT to focus only on those requests that are appropriately approved rather than focusing on getting requests approved.

Getting Started

The goal is to provide a professional portal that offers a familiar Internet shopping experience to your customers. Links to information can be integrated into the portal's landing page, bringing information to peoples' fingertips or offered in a pop up when they make a request for service or support.  As the service portal provides the landing page for a request catalog, it's important to ensure availability of a tool that has web capabilities, often referred to as CMS (Content Management System). A good tool will enable an administrator to add requests or categories to the fully designed page via an administrator module once the web page is designed. To clarify, once the portal is designed and implemented, changes to it can be managed by the tool's administrator within the tool's administrative platform, rather than requiring changes to be re-coded. With these capabilities, you can design a portal that meets peoples' needs and that they will want to use again.

The goal is to provide a professional portal that offers a familiar Internet shopping experience to your customers.

TIP #1: Engage People with Design Experience

Good design will utilize attractive graphics and an intuitive design to draw people back once they have visited the portal. This is where engaging people with the right skills becomes critical. Engaging marketing to help design the portal in a way that is consistent with the organization's branding and other web sites is a great idea. For organizations hiring an implementation company, considering their design capabilities is an important factor in vendor selection. It's worth looking at their prototype portals or portals they've designed for clients (where possible). Having the marketing department participate in this activity can further improve selection and, thus, the final results.

TIP #2: Engage Your Customers

Before beginning the portal's design, put together a group of customer stakeholders to help identify portal content and offer feedback on design. They can help identify the service providers they'd like to see offer services through the portal (which can help with engaging these providers), what knowledge and information they use frequently, and the requests that are most important to them.

TIP #3: Determine the Vision and Scope

While this series talks primarily about the creation of an enterprise portal, it's still important for the organization to agree on the vision and scope of the service portal versus existing internal web sites. There needs to be an overarching design and strategy as introducing the portal may also lead to consolidation of other internal web sites to avoid duplication and confusion. This discussion is a great way to bring the stakeholders together and ensure their engagement early in the process of building the portal.

TIP #4: Design the User Experience

Portal adoption is a direct reflection of portal design and its content, so both of these need to be clearly considered and actively designed, as a compelling design increases adoption. Work with the communications and marketing organization to develop a design that not only aligns with organization branding as I mention in Tip #1 but that also reflects the organization's message and offers access to services from the organization's providers.

Portal Style. Incorporate the organization’s style when designing the portal. On a project in one organization, we saw that their corporate web page had a page with boxes that flipped over when clicked. The front side had an image and the back side contained information about the selection. We leveraged this feature in the design of their portal. The main landing page had their request categories and most common requests in the main content block, under the banner. When hovered over, the boxes flipped over providing information about the items within that category to help people find requests. The graphics selected were presented in a style similar to that on their company website, offering users a familiar look and feel and reflecting the organization's style.

Request Design. Less is more when designing requests. Consider information that the provider has in order to fulfill a request and only ask that information. Avoid the following traps: 

  • Don’t have the customer do the service desk’s job; categorizing and prioritizing incidents is not a customer function. If the service desk receives all incidents, all the customer needs to supply is a description of the issue. 
  • Don’t make every field required. Require the “must haves” and let the others slide. If a request is going to require verbal follow up or discussion, it doesn’t really need more than the description or key selections. 
  • Avoid open text fields. Use drop downs and look up fields as much as possible. If an open text field is unavoidable, provide help. 
  • Avoid technical (or other provider-based) terminology. If necessary, get help from customers to translate these items into terms customers understand. 
  • Don’t create overly complex forms that are difficult to complete from a mobile device, and be sure to test them from a few types of devices. 
  • Don’t ask people to supply information you already know: you know who they are, where they work, and their email and phone number. If you want to provide a requested for or deliver to option on checkout, that’s fine. But have the requested for default to the logged in user and prefill the deliver to.

It’s All About the Content

Most enterprise service portals contain a combination of support tools, requests, and information, providing a single hub via which users can find information, get help, or submit requests. The best portals will combine all of these capabilities in a familiar way. Consider today's phone apps. Many of them push information to their users whenever they can. They help organize people, let them know when they have an appointment, and offer the ability to get information easily. The service portal can achieve the same results, but it takes effort to design it this way and to bring information into the portal. In a nutshell, the portal you're designing needs to be able to provide information, make it easy to find information, and make it easy to take action and request things.

With this mission in mind, content plays an important role in portal design. Knowledge bases and content management have matured, enabling organizations to offer a variety of information, while helping to make it relevant. While technical tips and solutions are important to provide as a means of reducing provider call volumes, organizational information, including policies can be just as useful. 

The challenge is that many organizations are intimidated by the level of effort it takes to recreate existing knowledge within the tool they are using for their portal. By the time most service portals are implemented, the organization already has an established location for information about services, policies, internal procedures, and other helpful information. Re-creating the knowledge base in the portal is a highly manual effort organizations resist due to the time it takes to do so, but it can make or break the overall effort. Since many of today's portal tools will display content automatically when a user enters a question or short description into a self-service form, having the content inside the tool becomes more critical.

It's also worth thinking about other content that could be useful to personnel: information about outages, maintenance plans, stock tickers, weather forecasts and airport delay information, headline news, and local office directories and floor plans, for example. Ultimately, the organization should spend some time to consider the best way to deliver each type of information made available in the portal, such as using pop-up messages on log-on, news tickers, content frames, links, and automated display during portal interactions. This is part of the planning that goes into defining the user experience.

It is possible to design a service portal your customers will adopt.
Tweet: It is possible to design a service portal your customers will adopt. @ThinkHDI

With a bit of time to ensure that the organization’s portal is well designed, requests are user-friendly, and the organization has a strategy for continued development, it is possible to design a service portal your customers will adopt. My next article will cover the roadmap for a service portal initiative, providing a strategic of example of how to move from technical services to a true Internet experience.


Phyllis Drucker is an ITIL® certified consultant and information leader at Linium. Phyllis has more than 20 years of experience in the disciplines and frameworks of IT service management, as both a practitioner and consultant. She has served the itSMF USA since 2004 in a variety of capacities including volunteer, board member and operations director. Since 1997, Phyllis has helped to advance the profession of ITSM leaders and practitioners worldwide by providing her experience and insight on a wide variety of ITSM topics through presentations, whitepapers, and articles and now her new book on the service request catalog, Online Service Management: Creating a Successful Service Request Catalogue (International Best Practice, forthcoming 2016). You can read more of her work such as the “What’s in Your Service Catalog” series and her “Self Service, the Cloud and ITSM” articles on Linium’s website. She will share sample designs for a service portal of the future when you sign up for a free portal consult.


Tag(s): customer experience, customer satisfaction, customer service, knowledge management, service catalog, support center, support channels, supportworld

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