Self-service portals are quickly becoming the fastest way to transform the way we deliver IT services to our users and expedite our shift-left strategies. But how do you get started, and how can you make your portal something that customers actually want to use? At the HDI Conference in 2019, the WPI team won the HDI Best Use of Technology Award for our customer-focused IT portal. Here are 10 tips from the team to help you elevate your portal.
Chris is speaking about customer-focused IT services at Service Management World!
Tip #1: Know Your Users
In order to design a self-service experience that your end-users want to use, one of the most important things to consider is “Who are your users?” Your users are more than a ticket, but it’s important to ask yourself:
- Who are you designing for?
- How do they consume information (effectively)?
- What information do they want to see?
- What information do they need to see?
The answers to these questions will help you to empathize with your users and to help develop user stories that will inform the buildout of features.
Tip #2: Mobile Matters
According to Pew Research, 95% of Americans own a cellphone, 77% of Americans own a smart phone, and 53% have a tablet. What does this mean? It means that mobile is important for our portals. Making sure that our self-help is accessible on a variety of screen shapes, sizes, and resolutions ensures that we are meeting our users where they are. This may mean making responsive or adaptive layouts or providing new mobile views to make sure, no matter the device, things “just work.”
Tip #3: Accessible Design Is Universal
Universal design is the design of things to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, ability, or other factors. A benefit of universal design is that something intended to accommodate or benefit one group may have additional benefits for others.
In the design world, one of the most famous examples of universal design is the curb cut. The curb cut is the common, gentle, slope at the edge of a sidewalk where the curb meets the street. This cut into the curb benefits people who use a wheelchair, but also has benefits for cyclists, people using strollers, and many other groups. One design benefits many, universally.
For our self-service portals, this means considering accessibility and compliance, such as WCAG, ADA, and 508 compliance. These standards help your content to be accessed by people on a multitude of devices, as well as those who use assistive technology, and makes your sites are easier to use for others as well.
Tip #4: No Dead Ends
In our self-service portals, we tend to think of our features as separate silos. A user views a knowledge base, or accesses their tickets, or views the service catalog. This siloed thinking can create dead-ends. A dead-end is when a user goes so far down a branch, or click-path, that they can’t get out. In our self-service portals, we want to always provide our users with context, and more things to click.
This can be achieved by clear navigation, an easily scannable content hierarchy, and other features such as bread-crumb navigation, metadata, and even items like a generic help form. The primary goal of all of these tactics is to make the user feel adventurous and never feel lost.
Tip #5: It’s All Relative
Try and remember that all of our content is related. A service may relate to a set of articles, or a news post may be about an entry in our software catalog. By linking information to other existing information, we can cut down on the dead-end effect, but also provide users with the information that they need. By thinking holistically about all of our content and how it relates, our users will have the Wikipedia effect, where every new piece of information is just a click away.
Tip #6: Search Is for Everyone
When we think about search, we primarily think about making sure that our users find the right knowledge article. While this is important, we should also consider how our searches are built and how they function to create a better experience for our searchers.
For our sites there are two main searchers.
- We have the robots/spiders, who work on behalf of the search engines. They crawl the site and try to find all of the content we have in order to index it. They love text and take all of the time they need following links, until they run out of links to search. For most, they visit infrequently, so we need to make sure that our content is as friendly as possible for them when they do visit.
- The second searchers we have are our humans, our everyday users. When they search, their goal (usually) isn’t to find every page you have to offer in order to map it out. They have a specific task in mind and are pretty impatient. They’ll likely do one or two searches before giving up and calling the service desk, and within those results lists, they usually only look at the top one or two results.
So how do we enhance our search to make it better for both audiences? For our robot friends, making sure that we have metadata and links on all of our pages helps a lot, but also making sure that we make everything text, or accessible. A robot can’t see a picture, but if we have done our accessibility checks and followed universal design, we have hopefully placed alt text on that image, which our robot friends can read. The robots also love a map; most major search engines allow you to submit a sitemap of your website to help enable it to crawl.
For our human searchers, some of these features can be helpful, but for them it’s about making things as easy as possible. Things like type ahead or autofill features help a lot, but also having aliases, tags, and typo tolerance helps people find things that may have alternate names or spellings.
Tip #7: Analytics Are Key to Success
Analytics and metrics help us understand who is viewing what, and when or how often they are doing it. They provide insight into trends and help us to establish metrics and key performance indicators for how our self-service is being used. They can also provide helpful information such as which items people are searching for that aren’t returning results, so that we can add content that we are missing.
Tip #8: Delight Your Users
It can be easy to take ourselves too seriously when designing our self-service portals. But in order to make our self-service something people want to use, we need to make it exciting, rewarding, engaging, and delightful. Delight is a hard emotion to track, but most users know it when they see it. Delight comes from the fun, the unexpected, or the magical. How do you make your portal magical? Surprise your users! Do you have an article that shows your users how to get the hostname of their computer? Using a little bit of technology know how, you could insert a widget into that article that displays their current hostname, in addition to the steps. Little helpful things like this, or the use of micro-interactions and animations, can help make your portal more engaging and delightful to use.
In order to make our self-service portal something people want to use, we need to make it exciting, rewarding, engaging, and delightful.
Tip #9: Frontends to Backends, and Backends to Frontends
It is common for us to design our end-user front-ends to 1:1 match our technician back-ends. But it doesn’t need to be this way. A laptop order form for our end-user might have pictures, and configuration options, and a very shopping cart-like experience. But our technician probably just wants to know a part number or order details to get the right laptop to the user. By designing separate experiences, we might think we are duplicating efforts, but what we are doing is making both the user and employee experiences better.
Similarly, look at our back-ends. What information do we have, and can we expose it to users? Things like software libraries, or room, location, and building information don’t necessarily need to be hidden or kept secret. As long as there isn’t a security risk, we can share this information with our users. When designing our self-service portals, we should think about what data we maintain and how we can best showcase and share it to help our users.
Tip #10: Sharing Is Caring
It is easy to lose the forest for the trees when building our solutions, but we also need to remember that, for many of us, we are not pioneering in self-service. Look at what other companies, universities, institutions, and beyond are doing with their self-service portals. Look at the features, organization, information architecture, and design, and ask yourself what resonates with you. Find the items you like, the items you think you can do better, and do your best to do so! Share your creations with others, and openly communicate about them. By sharing with each other, we can stop reinventing the wheel in a black box and start truly innovating and better serving our customers.
Chris Chagnon is an ITSM application and web developer who designs, develops, and maintains award-winning experiences for managing and carrying out the ITSM process. Chris has a Master of Science in Information Technology, and a bachelor’s degree in Visual Communications. In addition, Chris is a PhD Candidate studying Information Systems with a focus on user and service experience. As one of HDI’s Top 25 Thought Leaders, Chris speaks nationally about the future of ITSM, practical applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning, gamification, continual service improvement, and customer service/experience. Follow Chris on Twitter