What is a customer portal? Definitions and examples

A dvore customer portal including several sections and images. It is presented by a person standing at his desk with a computer.

Customer portal, extranet, customer area, self-service platform or secure online platform

Do you sometimes have trouble differentiating a customer portal from another technology platform such as an intranet, extranet, website or even an eCommerce site? Find out in this article about the specific features of a customer portal, its main functionalities and its advantages depending on the business sector.

Customer portal: definition

A customer portal is a secure online platform that enables customers to access specific information and features relating to a company, service or product. It is a dedicated space where customers can interact with the company in a centralized way, carry out transactions, obtain information, manage their accounts and benefit from various services.

A customer portal is commonly referred to in a number of other ways: customer space, self-service platform, secure online platform, etc. An extranet is also among the terms frequently used to designate it.

An extranet platform is in fact a tool designed to facilitate interaction with external parties. In this way, an extranet is a technology that can be used for customer interactions, but also for managing relations with all external stakeholders, whether suppliers, business partners, distributors or other players involved in the company's value chain.

The difference between an intranet and an extranet

Now that we've clarified that a customer portal and an extranet have many similarities, it's important to note that the intranet is different from these two concepts.

An intranet is a private, secure computer network used within a company to facilitate communication, resource sharing and collaboration between employees. It is primarily focused on the company's internal needs and is generally not accessible to external parties, such as customers or business partners. It is therefore the ideal tool for training your employees online. The term employee portal is also commonly used.

The difference between a customer portal and eCommerce

An eCommerce platform focuses primarily on the online sale of products or services. A customer portal, on the other hand, is designed to enhance the relationship between the company and its customers by providing personalized access to information and services. As such, a customer portal may encompass the sale of products, but goes far beyond this process, encompassing many other functionalities.

Here are the main elements that differentiate a customer portal from an eCommerce website

  • Focuses on customer relations, not just sales
  • Further personalizes the user experience
  • Facilitates account management and customer-specific information
  • Optimizes customer support with direct interaction
  • Makes a large number of personalized resources available, such as online training, a directory or a help center
  • Keeps a history of interactions and transactions
  • Integrates with other systems via an API connection

Why set up a customer portal?

Buyer expectations have changed enormously in recent years with the rapid development of technology. End consumers and B2B customers are now looking for a transparent, secure, personalized and convenient customer experience.

According to a 2023 study by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), a simple and satisfying customer experience, from the moment a product is purchased to the moment it is used, is considered essential by the vast majority of Canadians surveyed.

A customer portal meets these expectations by providing 24/7 online access to company resources, products and services. It simplifies the ordering process by empowering both individual and corporate users.

What's more, a customer portal improves internal productivity by automating tasks, centralizing customer data, and providing a real-time dashboard for informed decision-making.

Who should opt for a customer portal solution

There are many technological solutions on the market. In order to take the digital turn on the right foot, companies need to assess their real needs, both now and in the future, so that they don't have to change platforms again and again. An extranet customer portal can be particularly useful for organizations wishing to offer a complete service, from the sale of customizable products to customer training.

Here are 3 business sectors where a customer portal can be particularly useful:

1. Manufacturers

A customer portal can offer significant advantages to manufacturers, facilitating efficient management of both B2B and B2C (or D2C) customers. For B2B customers, it simplifies the ordering process for complex equipment, optimizes inventory management, strengthens collaboration with business partners, and even enables online training.

A customer portal also facilitates direct sales to B2C consumers, providing information about the company and its products, while letting them complete their order or request for quote online autonomously.

Here are a few features of particular interest to manufacturers:

  • Product configurator including 3D viewer
  • Product calculator
  • B2B and B2C customer groups
  • 3D training
  • Integration with ERP and other existing systems

2. Distributors

A customer portal can also be a relevant tool to implement for distributors with several stores or wishing to sell online at different prices depending on the customer group.

For B2B customers, a portal can simplify ordering processes by providing a centralized, automated means of placing bulk orders. Customers can consult their specific price lists, check product availability and access their order history.

For B2C customers, this technology platform offers a user-friendly solution for placing individual orders. Customers can browse products, add items to their baskets and make online payments with ease.

Here are a few features of particular interest to retailers:

  • Inventory management by store and online
  • Customized pricing according to associated customer group
  • Automated order tracking
  • Integration with CRM or other existing systems

3. Services

A customer portal is also a suitable solution for service companies, because of its ability to improve communication, transparency and operational efficiency. For this type of company, customer relationship management is essential. A customer portal provides a centralized way for customers to request service, track its progress, view invoices, and communicate with the company. It simplifies appointment scheduling and access to essential information, improving the overall customer experience.

What's more, a customer portal facilitates collaboration and communication with internal teams, as customer information and requests are accessible to all relevant departments. Service companies can also use the portal to provide useful resources, guides and information to their customers, reducing the need for direct customer support.

Here are a few features of particular interest to service companies:

  • Two-way communication with messages, notifications and news
  • Centralized management of service offers and their status
  • Management of documents such as reports and contracts

Would you like to see real-life examples of customer portals? Find out here about companies that have implemented a customer portal as part of their business processes.

What are the essential functionalities of a customer portal?

As you will have noticed, the functionalities of a customer portal can vary widely. The key is to choose a solution that can be customized to suit your business model. However, there are some common features found in most successful customer portals. Here are just a few examples: 

  • Orders and invoices
  • Customer area and customer groups
  • Products and services
  • Inventory
  • News and publications
  • Notifications
  • Document management
  • Events

At dvore, our team specializes in developing customized customer portals that integrate with existing technologies. We offer a wide range of modules to meet the specific needs of every company.

Contact us to schedule a demo!