How to start building your next-gen enterprise portal
The common denominator for most of today’s enterprise portals is that they’re bloated and complex. And while they’re designed to serve multiple purposes – provisioning, bill presentment/payment, usage monitoring, equipment upgrades, tracking customer support, for example – the result of such complexity is still a poor user experience.
Don’t frustrate your largest clients
It’s obvious that the average business spends a great deal more money on communications infrastructure and services than a family of four might spend on TV and cellphones. Less obvious, is that breaking common user experience principles can lead to frustration and lost brand trust for these larger enterprise clients. A term often used is “consumer grade experiences” and they should not solely be the domain of the retail customer. Enterprises deserve consumer grade experiences too! They’re paying big money and a frustration-free experience needs to be job one – not an afterthought. But all too often at some companies, the A Team designs for consumers, and the B Team designs for enterprise applications. This shouldn’t be the case.
Less is more
Most enterprise portals evolved over time, with functionality often powered by multiple back-end systems that were gradually cobbled together. The effect on users however – who generally just want to get to their most used tasks quickly – is that they become overwhelmed by complex navigation or dense menu screens that were never properly planned.
The solution lies in redesigning these menus from scratch, with simplified navigation and easy access to the most frequently used tasks. As long as the full range of tasks remains available for more advanced users, the tried-and-true “less is more” approach remains far more likely to result in a positive user experience.
Follow the users’ mental model
Ultimately, observed data is far superior to reported data. The best methodology for discovering customers’ thought processes, or in User Experience parlance – Mental Models, involves observing their experiences in order to identify critical information. This means looking past what users say and going to the heart of what they think. Put into practice, such an approach is far more effective in uncovering key findings about how customers truly think about and use the portal.
Meanwhile, labels and instructions, as well as thoughtful wayfinding that seems intuitive to portal designers can often baffle real users. That’s why it’s important to take a fresh look at mental model research every few years. This can help portal designers not only meet but exceed user expectations when designing a complex or large B2B functionality-driven site. And for the uninitiated, wayfinding is an easier way of referring to all of the interface affordances. Affordances are a designer’s term for those things that help an end-user stay on the scent of the trail for the tasks they are trying to complete.
Ultimately, if you need to provide training to portal users, it’s a sign that the design is not intuitive and could lead to loss of customer trust.
Consistency is key
Customers generally learn how a portal works much faster when similar elements (navigation bars, buttons, links, menus, etc.) have a consistent look and feel and work the same way across the entire site. This is a core “user experience design” principle, which has been proven countless times through usability studies. Whereas in the last principal, it was important to land on the right label that maps to the users thought processes, this principal deals with its consistent usage throughout the portal’s interface. Oftentimes, a quick review of these low hanging fruit can ensure your portal delivers a far better return on your overall investment.
A customer’s lingering memory of how well they were able to achieve their goals is of crucial importance and leads to better brand perception. Why not do the same for the most lucrative enterprise customers as well?
Want to learn more about enterprise portals? Watch this video from Heavy Reading to find out why and how service providers are digitalizing enterprise self-service.
About the author: Joe Dyer is Director of Experience Strategy & Insight, projekt202