Client Portals for Agencies: Communicate with Clients the Right Way
How does your agency communicate with its clients?
If you’re anything like the majority of agencies, you likely still use phone calls and emails to communicate with clients. Over half – 55% – follow this approach, potentially leading to stilted communication in which the client either takes too long to respond or an issue is only brought up when the agency thinks to raise it.
Granted, some agencies are migrating over to other forms of communication.
About 11% use project management tools to help them stay in touch with clients, with the same number using chat tools – such as Slack – to check in on their customers. Still, you may find yourself looking for a more effective way to keep projects (and your clients) on track.
Enter client portals.
These software packages can bridge the gap between an agency and its clients by providing each with a more effective way to communicate with the other.
What Are Client Portals?
Think of client portals as a combination of a support system and an informational resource for your clients.
Most agencies use them primarily as a ticketing system. The client logs in to the portal and raises an issue – or makes a request – with the agency receiving a notification that they have a problem to look into. However, more active agencies can use these portals as ways to educate their clients using resources that explain the client’s role in a project and what’s required from them to keep the project on track.
Your agency essentially brings all of its “self-service” aspects together into a central app or piece of software. What those “self-service” aspects may be differ from agency to agency. But in most cases, you’re using the client portal to give your customers a way to learn more about what you’re doing while ensuring they have a simple means of contacting you if they have an issue to raise.
Why Client Portals Help You to Communicate the Right Way
Though some immediate benefits are already clear from that description, the obvious downside is that implementing a client portal costs money. Building your own can lead to an upfront cost of around $37,000. And though there are plenty of client portal apps out there that serve as alternatives, their pricing structure means you’ll be paying monthly fees – often based on user numbers – that could also put a dent in your bottom line.
So, the question becomes simple:
Why is it worth paying that money to offer a client portal?
Easier Management of Your Clients
One of the chief benefits of a client portal is that it allows you to create “users,” which are essentially individual accounts, each relating to a specific client. That enables the client to log in to their “version” of the portal at any time so they can seek out information or track support requests. Plus, the user can change details – such as shipping addresses – as needed without having to inform your agency via email or phone.
On the agency side, the clear benefit is that having a client portal makes it easier to manage multiple clients simultaneously. Though all have profiles within a central location, your software ensures you can categorize projects by client – ideal for data security. Add to that the ability to authorize specific people in your company to see certain clients or data and your agency simplifies the client tracking process.
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Your Agency Improves Its Quality of Service
In November 2022, AdAge reported that almost 40% of companies were on the verge of dumping their marketing agency in the next six months to find a better service elsewhere. That aligns fairly well with figures from Search Engine Journal, which claims that the average agency has a churn rate of about 40%.
The message is clear:
In difficult economic times, clients expect agencies to deliver the highest quality or they’re going to look elsewhere.
A client portal enables you to deliver that quality in several ways.
First, the fact that it can be used as an informational resource means your clients don’t feel like you’re leaving them in the dark. They can use the documents you upload into their portion of the portal to check project scope and gain clarity on what you need from them to do your job well. Your relationship strengthens as a result, as does the quality of your work because the client understands what they need to do to bring the project to a satisfactory conclusion.
Second, a client portal helps you to prioritize appropriately.
The portal moves you away from the “fire drill” model – in which you’re constantly dealing with emergency and last-minute issues – and into a model where you can provide more timely responses to clients. Granted, fire drills may still happen. An emergency is still an emergency, after all. But having a portal makes it easier for clients to raise their issues, as well as ensuring your people can enhance quality of service by communicating rapidly.
You Achieve a Higher Revenue with a Client Portal
One of the features we haven’t yet mentioned about client portals is that most allow you to brand your version of the portal so it aligns with your agency. This is obvious if you go the self-built portal route – you control how the portal looks and feels – but it can be a real boon if you choose off-the-shelf software.
Consistent brand presentation can increase the revenue an agency generates by up to 23%. Of course, your portal alone isn’t going to lead to that increase. But it’s a large piece in the overall branding picture because it shows your clients that you have specific company resources dedicated to them.
This branding is also far from the only revenue-driving benefit that comes from client portals. According to Money Info, agencies that use client portals achieve 19% higher revenue per staff member – as well as 18% higher per professional – than agencies that don’t. These increases likely come down to the organizational aspects of the portal, which make it easier for your people to categorize and track their work.
Scope bleed becomes less of an issue because clients and employees can use the portal to check the initial project scope. Any requests that come through the portal that exceed this scope can then be charged at their appropriate rate, rather than being work your people do for free to keep the client happy.
Client Portals Deliver Better Information Hygiene
Earlier, we mentioned that 11% of agencies use their project management apps to communicate with clients. While there’s a clear benefit here – both client and agency can keep real-time tabs on a project’s progress – this approach also creates the potential for data leakage. For instance, imagine you set a client up inside your project management app but don’t handle their authorization correctly. That could lead to the client seeing confidential internal documents relating to their project. In the worst case, the client may even see documents pertaining to another client’s project, meaning you have an information leak on your hands.
Client portals prevent these data-related issues.
Though you still store information in a central location, each client is a separate user on the application. Immediately, that means they don’t have access to any other client’s information because they can only see the documents you upload to their user profile. As for what the client sees, you’re in control of uploading, which ensures no internal documents make their way onto the portal.
So, client portals are a win-win for information hygiene.
This benefit extends to ensuring you no longer have to use potentially vulnerable tools to share documents with clients. For instance, a sensitive document you may have shared on Google Docs or Google Drive in the past can now be transmitted using the portal. You get extra layers of security both because the portal has more specific user access rights and due to it being less of an obvious target than these widely available document-sharing methodologies.
More On-Time Invoice Payments
On-time invoice payment has long been a problem for businesses.
Barclays – a bank based in the U.K. – revealed the extent of that problem across the pond in 2022 when it found that 58% of companies with fewer than 50 employees have money tied up in unpaid invoices. Extend the scope to medium-sized businesses (those with between 51 and 250 employees) and the percentage rises to 94.
The reasons for these late invoice payments will vary from agency to agency. In some cases, late payments may be a consequence of late submission, with your client delaying payment until the next month because you didn’t get the invoice in by their deadline. In others, the client may claim – rightfully or otherwise – that they didn’t receive the invoice, leaving you in a position where you’ve completed work for which you haven’t been paid.
Client portals account for both sides of this potential issue.
Many include billing and invoicing features that allow you to quickly upload an invoice into a client’s account. Payment tracking becomes much easier – the invoice will be marked as unpaid until you receive your money – and some even allow you to set up recurring automatic payments.
On the communication level, the benefit is clear – you and the client know when an invoice is due and can track what happens to any invoice you upload. Accountability is encouraged on all sides, with clients being unable to claim they haven’t received an invoice that isn’t in the system while your billing department knows that you can see if they fail to issue an invoice on time.
Implementing Your New Client Portal
With the communication – and revenue-related – benefits of client portals established, your focus switches to implementation. After all, a new portal means little if your agency’s employees either don’t understand how to use it or reject it outright in favor of their “tried and tested” methods.
Start With Choosing a Provider
If you develop your own portal, you can partially skip this step as you have control over the features the portal offers. Otherwise, choosing a provider comes down to two things – your non-negotiables and how well the portal integrates with your current platforms.
For the former, create a list of everything that the portal needs to have. Not only does this help you to shortlist portals that offer appropriate features, but it ensures you don’t spend more on a portal that comes with bells you’ll never ring and whistles you won’t blow. As for integration, you ideally want the portal to integrate with – or allow easy porting of information and files from – your document management and agency management platforms.
Build a Knowledge Base Fast
The average professional in the United States spends 28% of their working day reading and replying to emails.
In an agency’s case, many of those emails will be questions from clients that either reiterate what you’ve already told them or quiz you on project-related issues that you may not have made clear before. Either way, a client portal’s knowledge base – ideally a searchable one – can offer answers so your people spend less time on emails and more on servicing your clients.
Train Employees First, Then Clients
Many of the communication benefits that come with client portal implementation evaporate if your employees don’t know how to use the software you’ve installed.
So, train them.
This may seem like an obvious point until you realize that 88% of employees say that the skills training they receive is “inadequate.” Using a client portal effectively is a skill. Make sure it’s one that your employees have before you start teaching your clients about the portal.
Client Portals Enhance Communication
The key snippet to take away from this article is that client portals streamline several aspects of how you communicate with clients. They provide a centralized place – broken down into user sections – that you can use to manage each client individually in one place. They also act as knowledge bases for those clients. That saves time for your employees and helps you to drive revenue – both key goals during turbulent economic times.
In short, client portals allow you to provide greater support to clients, improving communication and increasing your standard of work to reduce client churn in the process. Discover more about these helpful tools – and how they can enhance your relationships with your clients – by contacting Function Point to discover how our agency management platform can help you.