Thierry Maout • Updated on Mar 4, 2022 • 8 min read
If you’re managing data associated with clients, partners or a community, you need a client portal.
Whether you’re a small business, an investment firm, or a SaaS provider, you need to be able to categorize what your users can see and share, providing them with secure access.
If that sounds like something you want to build, look no further. In this article, we will answer the question "What is a client portal?" and give you actionable client portal examples. Moreover, we'll provide you with the necessary tools to build your own client portal.
Let’s get into it!
What is a client portal?
So, what is a client portal? Simply put, a client portal (aka “customer portal”) is a web app that can be accessed via a secure entry point (a login page, typically). The purpose of the web app is to let users access gated content or private information that is associated with them.
Some examples of companies using client portals might be:
Investment funds, providing information and special access to portfolio and LPs;
Accounting agencies, giving customers access to forms, tax returns, and other financial documents;
Law firms, helping clients access details about their case, updates, and progress;
Non-profit, sharing specific access to their volunteers.
The list goes on, from online banking to insurance, SaaS platforms, and more. But it’s not all about big corporations. Think of some popular client portals people around you might use in their daily life:
Airbnb host keeping track of their apartments and related bookings;
Freelancer content writer working with an agency and checking current, past, and upcoming briefs and content;
Real estate agents organizing and managing apartments assigned to them.
Now, when it comes to you and your specific business, why would you need a client portal?
Why do you need a client portal?
You might ask yourself: What are some of the benefits of these platforms for you and for your users? And what are some of the specific use cases for which they make the most sense?
Benefits of client portals
Implementing a client portal presents benefits for you and your users. Let's review some of the key advantages.
One of the key benefits of implementing a client portal is the ability to provide a secure platform to your customers.
Not only is the data completely safe thanks to server-side security and encryption, but you have the ability to set different levels of access. This means that some users will have more access rights than others, based on the permissions you decide on. This is great for platforms where a hierarchical setup is in place: managers and employees, or administrators and members for example.
Another major aspect of client portals is the ability to provide a unique experience.
After logging in with their selected username and passwords, users have access to gated content and personalized information, ranging from usage data to their own, private files. This in itself provides a lot of value and incentive to visit the portal regularly, serving as a powerful psychological trigger to consider it “their” space.
For customers, having access to personal data and unique documents online through a client portal is a major benefit. Think about banking services. Would you sign up for a bank account in 2021 without online access?
Furthermore, client portals are practical. As long as customers have an Internet connection, they can log in to your client portals at any time and, for the most part, from any device. We’re a long way from having to physically visit your bank branch to schedule a transfer like it might have been the case years ago.
When starting out, most SMBs can manage their client base through emails, spreadsheets, and a healthy dose of DIY. However, as these smaller companies start to grow, a client portal will become necessary to scale and handle the growing requirements.
Can you imagine communicating by email with your banker every time you need a bank statement? As you grow, a portal is simply expected by users.
Saving time and money
Last but not least, saving time and money is a major reason for implementing a client portal.
Managing a portal for users is a great way to centralize communications and provide all user information in one place. It also results in reduced costs. From manpower efficiency to reduced operating costs, running a client portal can help businesses save a lot of money. Think about these examples of costly, ineffective practices that can be replaced:
Banks sending statements by snail mail;
Software providers generating and sending reports to customers upon request.
One could argue that the upfront cost of setting up a client portal is high. But as we will see later in this article, new and innovative platforms allow implementing a portal at a much lower cost.
Now that we’ve gone over some of their benefits, let’s take a look at some practical use cases for client portals.
Examples of use cases for client portals
Sharing confidential information
The first and most common use case for client portals is security.
A requirement in a lot of industries, protecting customer data with certain levels of encryption and providing a username and password login is a must. Real estate companies, for example, could require gated content for agents and buyers regarding listings and deals.
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Client portals are a great way for companies to provide each user with a unique experience, based on their specific data.
Contrary to static websites, portals are populated with different information for each user, extracted from their software usage, input, or profile. This makes for a highly personalized experience, with valuable insights and data that will ensure customer retention.
Agencies, whether they provide recruiting, design, or marketing services, get to deal with a lot of collaborators, both internally and externally.
While some coordinators might enjoy going back and forth with dozens of freelancers and different types of assets, a client portal can really simplify the process:
Providing freelancers with briefs, guidelines, or billing history;
Gathering deliverables in one place for easier storage;
Giving clients private access to track progress and give feedback.
What are the must-have characteristics of a good client portal?
You might have encountered the acronym “PISA” on the internet. It’s a useful abbreviation to keep in mind, defining the four main characteristics a good client portal should possess: practical, interactive, secure and accessible.
Client portals are designed to make things convenient, that’s why practical design is one of the first components you should focus your attention on. Besides, since they’re mostly designed to be used by your customers, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to navigate and find the right information at a glance.
From user onboarding guides to friendly chatbots, modern websites are loaded with UI and UX components for your users to interact with. Because this is expected and makes for a more please experience, interactive elements have to be considered for your client portal.
Client portals contain some of the most sensitive data your customers will handle in their journey. Beyond obvious personal areas like banking and health information, these portals are often ripe with data from job performance insights, finances or more. It is hence paramount that proper login and security structures are in place.
Finally, accessibility here means the ability to access your portal anytime, anyplace. The golden standard should be a 24/7 access, with customer support available in case of outage. This is also expected by customer in most cases, led by example by online banking. Remember last time you weren’t able to check your bank account balance? We don’t either!
How to build your own client portal?
Let's say you’re convinced that a client portal is a great fit for your project and you want to build one. But where to start? There are three options available to you:
Fully custom: Coding your own – the most difficult but also most customizable option;
Assisted: Using a dedicated tool like WordPress or Huddle – more limited but easier than coding from scratch;
No-Code: Building a Client Portal in Softr – a great balance between customization options and ease of use.
While each solution has its own pros and cons, we obviously have our preference. Building a client portal in Softr requires no technical knowledge and allows you to have control of both the front- and back-end of your project. No need to hire a developer here.
Let’s give creating a client portal on Softr a closer look.
Building a client portal on Softr
When it comes to building something as potentially confusing as a client portal, simplicity is key. And if you’ve used Softr for a previous project, you know we love to make things easy, and our client portal builder is no different.
With your data safely and privately stored in Airtable, you’re able to design a custom web app for any type of user – internal or external – without code. From user accounts to roles, permissions, member-only content, and more, you get to pick the functionalities you like, and put them together yourself, without any third party.
Oh, and it’s all powered by AWS for maximum performance, scalability, and high availability.
But since a picture is worth a thousand words, you can learn by watching Aron Korenblit (Automate All the Things) and Yohei Nakajima (General Partner at Untapped Capital) building a client portal:
Finally, here are some key insights and takeaways we gathered about client portals:
90% of global consumers expect brands and organizations to offer an online portal for self-service;
98% of comnsumers have tried a self-service solution, including searching for a company FAQ section, help center, or other online resources;
60% of U.S.consumers say that their go-to channel for simple customer support inquiries is a digital self-service tool.
You should now have a clearer understanding of client portals, what they entail, and why your company should have one. From banking institutions to insurance companies and SaaS platforms, client portals have become a staple of the digital world.
To start building your own client portal, check out our templates and start your free trial today.