Organizations are continually striving to be better and differentiate themselves from their competitors. One way to stand out is to expand your customer offerings with an extranet, which allows you to share information, data, and resources with customers as well as partners, suppliers, and vendors. Similar to an intranet for internal users, an extranet allows external users access with proper authentication and authorization credentials.
A well-designed extranet can benefit the organization’s customers by providing an option to interact with the following:
1. Easy access to information and resources which empowers customers with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. Some examples are access to reports (which normally would have been emailed to them), customized pricing/rate information, or customer-specific product/service documentation. Can also provide historical account information for comparison and reporting purposes.
2. Self-service capabilities that enable customers to be more self-sufficient. This includes processes such as submitting orders, tracking shipments, or paying invoices. This can save customers time and effort and reduce dependency on customer service representatives. This is especially helpful when your customers work in multiple time zones (outside of your standard 8-5 pm schedule).
3. Enhanced customer support such as creating a knowledge base of common issues with resolutions so customers can try to troubleshoot and resolve basic issues themselves. Or have a help desk portal to make it easier to submit a ticket as a known/VIP user.
Attributes Of A Good Extranet
There are several attributes that make an extranet great to ensure it supports the needs of your customers. At the top of my list is security. This includes both security measures such as authentication and encryption, and also security to control and restrict authorized users with proper credentials. Set up security roles so that the organization can identify who (employees) have access to what (functionality). For example, not everyone should be able to see “financial” information such as outstanding balances and payment history. Also, want to make sure access for terminated employees is removed timely.
Usability – the extranet should be easy to use and navigate with an intuitive interface that allows customers to access the information and resources they need quickly and efficiently. Features such as personalized dashboards and a mobile app (minimizing clicks) can enhance the usability of an extranet. For example, some customers will use laptops/desktops, but other customers not in an office (e.g., a warehouse or construction site) will leverage smartphones, iPads, or other mobile devices.
In the background but particularly important is the performance. The extranet should have high availability, minimal downtime, and fast response times. Customers will expect to be able to access the information and resources they need without delays or interruptions.
Low Adoption Or Usage?
If your organization already has an extranet, you’ve already made that initial investment. But do you have low adoption or usage? If so, the first step is to ensure your customers know the extranet exists. Demonstrate the features/functionalities and how they can benefit by using the extranet.
The next step is for customers who are set up but aren’t finding value in using your extranet. Make sure the extranet is meeting their business and compliance requirements. Encourage and solicit feedback about their specific needs and wants. Or are customers complaining and reporting issues such as difficulties accessing certain information, difficulties navigating, too many clicks in the mobile app, etc.?
Performance-related issues such as if the extranet experiences frequent downtime, slow response times, or other performance issues are signs that improvements are needed. Latency and unexpected unavailability are the enemies. You want to monitor performance metrics and analyze trends before they become problems.
As the customer’s frustration increases, their usage will probably decrease. So be proactive in recognizing when your extranet needs to be updated and improved.
A well-designed extranet can increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement, ultimately benefiting the relationship with your customers. Your extranet could be the differentiator that sets you apart from your competitors!
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