Let’s be honest - having an accessible digital customer portal is non-negotiable for collections in 2021. When a customer gets an initial communication from you, whether it’s a letter or a phone call, they will almost certainly Google you. Many of them will look for your online customer portal, and what they see will impact their willingness to pay. You definitely don't want your online bill pay portal to turn away motivated consumers.

What's more, your self-service portal is a low-effort channel and lower-effort equals lower cost. You don't want that self-pay channel to frustrate customers and push them to other, more expensive channels if you don't have to. Per Gartner Research, low-effort interactions result in lower costs across financial services. "Overall, a low-effort interaction costs 37% less than a high-effort interaction. Low-effort experiences reduce costs by decreasing up to 40% of repeat calls, 50% of escalations and 54% of channel switching."

Want to make sure your customer portal functions as well as it should? Here are four key items to consider.

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1. The Bare Necessities

At a minimum, customers must be able to make a payment easily through your web-based portal. After all, most will be inclined to do so. Around 67% of consumers prefer making payments online. But the minimum really isn’t enough anymore. As banking continues to go digital, customers will expect robust online bill pay. That is, they will want the ability to fully service their accounts online. This includes access to account details, like payment histories and documentation, and the ability to view payment options. And by payment options, I don’t just mean single payments via ACH or credit card. Customers want the ability to negotiate a payment plan that works for them. When you build a digital customer portal, it makes sense for you to give them this ability; if customers who fit within the “rules” can create a payment plan for themselves online, and that frees up your agents to deal with more unique cases.

2. Friends in (Mobile) Places

A growing number of consumers pay their bills on their smartphones. Not only does your self-pay portal need to be robust and user friendly on a desktop, but it has to be accessible and easy to use on mobile devices. There have been some debates about creating mobile apps for collections, and while the ROI on building an app is largely unknown, your portal should feel like an app. When you’re testing your portal, test on a variety of mobile devices. Beware out-of-control scrolling, too many buttons, tiny text, or awkwardly spaced sections. In fact, if you are building or adapting a customer portal, consider designing it around mobile use.

3. Judging a Website by Its UX

We know; you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But, bottom line, mobile friendliness and robust payment options mean essentially nothing if the customer doesn’t trust your portal. If it looks like a LiveJournal from 2003, you’re in trouble. Customers will not engage in financial transactions on a site that does not look clean and professional. Make sure to consider color scheme and font (not to mention ADA compliance…). Also, make sure the site is not cluttered and that it is clear to users how they should use the portal. Brand consistency is also a key to customer comfort, so your portal should use the same logos and color schemes as all of your other customer communications.

4. Find the Pain

If your portal confuses or frustrates a decent number of customers, you have a big problem. You want to make the portal as intuitive and easy-to-use as possible. UX designers refer to these frustrating elements "failure patterns," and it is in your interest to test for them and resolve them. Alex Kreger of UX Design Agency recommends testing and mapping out the process for consumers so you can find the user pain points. "The 'failure mapping' process involves conducting UX audits of a financial institution’s existing products and services, as well as similar solutions on the market, to find possible user pain points," he says. "If failure mapping is integrated in the user journey map, the institution will get a view of user experience problems that generate pain points. It will help to identify possible problems and create solutions for them before ruining the product’s reputation."

Bonus listening: Find out how NCB’s self-service web-based portal allows consumers to make payments on their own terms and to set their preferences of when and how they want to be communicated with, including opting-in to receiving emails and texts. Hear more about it on the Credit Ecosystem to Go podcast.


Erin Kerr is the Director of Content at insideARM and the chair of iA Strategy & Tech - a conference for collections strategy executives. She is a seasoned receivables management professional, with recent experience in digital strategy and a passion for crafting digital solutions for a better customer experience.

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