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Customer Portal Design

Customer Portals: Common Challenges & Fixes


Easy solutions to common challenges that B2B marketers face when designing a customer portal. Increase retention and customer lifetime value with a great online experience.

Tessa Burg, Chief Technology Officer
November 16, 2020

A customer portal is an important tool for many B2B businesses. This self-service tool enables your customers to instantly access account-specific information when and where they want it.

88% of customers expect a customer portal

Members of the Tenlo team have 35+ years of combined experience designing, developing and managing customer portals for both B2B and B2C applications. Over the years, we’ve learned that the key to a successful customer portal is delivering an ideal user experience.

1 in 3 customers leave a brand they love after just one bad experience

Here are a few hurdles we’ve come up against when designing customer portals. Plus, some ideas on how to overcome them.

Challenge: Difficult Sign-On

Research suggests that people have an average of 70-80 passwords for their online accounts. That’s a lot to remember. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 20% – 50% of customer service calls are to reset passwords. Of course, that percentage only represents the people who are willing to call, rather than abandon their account.

The Fix: Easy Password Recovery

People expect an online customer portal to provide a seamless experience. If customers prefer to access their account online, enable them to remain online. You can provide multiple password recovery options—such as call, text or email—but don’t force them to switch communication channels if they don’t want to. Make password recovery quick and easy to provide a great experience that customers expect.

“The biggest mistake I’ve seen was while working on a customer portal for a Fortune 500 company. Dealers who forgot their username or password had to call a 1-800 number … then wait 5 business days for a response.”

-Cheryl Boehm, Director of Copywriting, Tenlo

Challenge: Inaccessibility

Today’s customers are extremely connected. They want to access your customer portal when, where and how they want. That may look different for every person. If you don’t keep these different access points in mind, it can lead to a poor user experience.

The Fix: Customer Experience Landscape Research

To increase access to your customer portal, it’s important to understand the Customer Experience Landscape. This means conducting an honest and unbiased assessment of the customer experience.

Companies must recognize the various devices (desktop, mobile phone, tablet) customers will use to access the customer portal. Identify the browsers (Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari) customers will use most often to get there. Plus, determine which channels (social media, email, chat, SMS) will drive customers to the portal.

Once you have a clear understanding of the landscape, you can then optimize the journey to address customer needs and create the best experience.

“When I was working on the portal for a large subscription service with a 40% mobile audience, customers were directed to log on a desktop when they tried to access their account via phone. This alienated a lot of customers.”

-Patty Parobek, Director of Integrated Marketing Strategy, Tenlo

Challenge: Multiple Portals

Businesses sometimes create multiple portals for the same users. So rather than going to one online portal, a customer must go to three (or four or five) to access the information and tools they need. What’s more, each portal often has its own look, navigation and sign-on requirements. This can cause a disjointed user experience.

When a company has multiple portals, each one is typically “owned” by a different team within the organization. This usually causes a lot of overlap. Multiple portals end up with the same or similar information as well as functionality. This causes confusion among customers as well as technical debt.

The Fix: Clear Definition & Single Sign-On

If there’s no way to get around multiple portals, make sure each one has a clearly defined purpose and technical architecture. There shouldn’t be any crossover. Also create a single sign-on solution. This allows users to use the same credentials to log into all of the customer portals.

“I worked with a client that had five portals. They all had similar information, but looked like five different brands. We gave each one a clearly defined purpose—news, education, marketing, rewards, transactions—plus the same look and single sign-on for a seamless experience.”

-Cheryl Boehm, Director of Copywriting, Tenlo

Challenge: Poor Data Capture

It’s critical to collect the right data through your customer portal. Without it, you’re unable to personalize the customer experience. It’s impossible to create the ideal experience across all touch points in the customer journey. Or, to make highly relevant product and service recommendations that are valued by the customer.

The Fix: Collect The Right Info The Right Way

More data is not better. Collect only usable data that you can properly work with to improve your customer experience.

Furthermore, make sure the data is accurate. Companies commonly rely on multiple data sources, which often leads to duplicate records within the same database. Inconsistent data and quality issues causes nothing but confusion.

Also make sure data is clearly organized in a way that’s easily searchable. Usable, high-quality data won’t do your team any good if they waste time digging through it and can’t find what they need.

“Worst customer portal mistake I’ve seen? Not requiring customers to provide an email address to place an order. It not only prevented order confirmation and delivery emails, but the company couldn’t follow up with other product recommendations after the sale.”

-Crystal Madrilejos, VP of Creative Strategy, Tenlo

Challenge: Standard Functionality

A portal should make a customer’s life easier. However, they commonly fail to add value beyond standard functionality, turning customers off. Many portals burden customers by requiring them to enter the same information over and over, like a billing or delivery address. This creates user frustration Or, they recommend irrelevant products and services, which lead to distrust and a lack of loyalty.

The Fix: Personalize The Portal Experience

With this approach, a customer portal gives businesses the opportunity to learn more about their customers. By monitoring their preferences, shopping behaviors and purchasing habits, you can personalize their experience.

 You can automate entries using saved preferences. Plus, cross-sell, up-sell and recommend related products that are meaningful to the customer. This high-value service ensures ongoing customer engagement. 

“On a past portal project, we listened to customer feedback. We incorporated returning user pricing options within the experience to increase lifetime value by double digits.”

-Patty Parobek, Director of Integrated Marketing Strategy, Tenlo

Challenge: Unidentified Role

A customer portal isn’t a stand-alone tool. It’s just one touchpoint along the customer journey. Many businesses fail to understand how a customer portal fits into the customer experience and interacts with other business systems.

The Fix: Integrate Into Business Systems

As technology continues to develop, it’s important integrate your customer portal with your existing technology and business systems, including sales, operations, customer service and billing. This integration allows you to meet the needs of your internal teams, while also bridging the gap between your customers and employees. A seamless integration between your customer portal and business applications will streamline your business, automate your processes, increase collaboration and improve customer retention.

“My proudest moment working on a customer portal was backfilling Salesforce with customer purchase history and preference for the sales and retail teams.”

-Tessa Burg, VP of UX & Technology Strategy, Tenlo


A customer portal fuels your company’s ability to offer customized service, personalize the experience—and ultimately—increase customer lifetime value and retention. Most businesses build their customer portal from the outside-in, based on their current technology. At Tenlo, we use a data-driven approach that starts from the inside-out and focuses on customer needs.

To learn more, download How to Design, Develop, Manage & Measure Success of Customer Portals.

In her previous role as Vice President of Technology, Tessa helped clients execute engaging, multi-platform experiences and products to bring their brands to life. Moving into her role as CTO, Tessa oversees Mod Op’s technology stack to ensure the agency is leveraging the right platforms to deliver valuable and measurable marketing communications, entertainment and experiences.

Tessa Burg, Chief Technology Officer

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