In this time of customer relationship management, every activity is undertaken to both decrease costs and increase customer satisfaction, even in online invoicing and billing . Self-service portals help meet these goals.
Self-Service Paradigm in Enterprises
You’ve encountered customer portals before: your Web hosting control panel, your banking app’s self-service system, your email marketing service.
Ditto when you want to pay your cell phone, electric or cable bill online. Known as do-it-yourself (DIY) self-services, these portals are created for your convenience and for your satisfaction.
From Verizon Mobile to GoDaddy to Duke Energy to Time Warner, enterprises have long ago adopted a self-service paradigm for their valued customers. Transparent to consumers, these personal portals are part of their accounting system, ERP, or standalone billing apparatus.
Benefits of a Customer Portal
As a small business, freelancer , or virtual assistant, the benefits to your customers are the same benefits you enjoy personally using similar day-to-day services.
Having embraced online invoicing apps for your business, you’ve turned your attention to realizing even greater savings within your enterprise. A close second will be customer satisfaction across your organization. (If you haven’t yet implemented online billing but you’re in the market for an online invoicing app, read on as a few are listed below to help you create your short list.)
From a small business standpoint, implementing self-service provides a variety of welcome benefits, encompassing customer support, client satisfaction and cost savings. Customer portals satisfy these business trends at once.
The cost savings to business shine most notably in operational costs and the customer support department. Notably, businesses save employees time with less time on the telephone researching and answering customer queries about invoices; and correspondingly, realize a reduction in postal costs to mail printed copies of invoices and receipts to customers.
Customers experienced reduced wait times, avoid phone tag or email tag, receive instant gratification, immediate 24/7 and 365-day online, immediate access.
Access to a customer portal integrated into the online invoicing app ultimately relieves customer frustration, contributing to a delightful experience and further goodwill.
What’s Inside a Customer Portal
Giving your customers the ability to manage their own account means less work for you. No more re-printing lost invoices or hurrying to the bank to make that deposit. Your customers can view and print their own invoices and online payments are deposited into your bank account automatically! — Invoices Made Easy
In addition to viewing invoices, receipts, credits, and updating contact information, self-service portals can encourage customers to conduct other activities that don’t involve support personnel, such as:
- Pay current invoices
- Make advance payments
- Order new services
- Upgrade or downgrade services [not always available in portal]
- Ask a question, leave feedback or make a comment
- Printing missing receipts
- Review project expenses
- Cancel account (hopefully not!)
Online Invoicing Apps with Customer Portals
In a recent review of online invoicing apps, roughly 50% had client portals; 50% did not. (Of those that did not, I’ve noted a few of their strong suits in parentheses. If you’re not necessarily looking for online invoicing apps with customer portals, those strengths might tip the scales for you.)
Great Features But No Customer Portal
A customer portal would be a welcome addition to these 7 SaaS billing services.
- Invoicera 
- Free Agent (customers can comment on estimates and invoices)
- Due.com  (bill customers by projects and customize invoices)
- Send Invoices (can send a hard-copy of your invoice to your client via postal service )
- The Invoice Machine  (can also send invoices for you by snail mail)
- The Get Harvest App (transfer time to and from standalone project manager like Teamwork)
- Blinksale  (includes payment processing by Stripe)
These 7 SaaS and Standalone Apps Include Self-Service Customer Portals
- Freshbooks 
- Zoho Invoice 
- Invoices Made Easy (quoted above)
- Apptivo Business Solutions  (Invoicing module)
- VTiger  (also has a standalone version that you install on your own server)
- Ronin 
Will Customers Use It?
The short answer to “will customers use it?” is this: YES!
That is, they will use it when it makes sense, when it saves them time and effort, or when you send them to it for a specific reason.
Here’s a quick scenario of when you would send your customer to the invoicing app’s customer portal.
A former client sent me an email asking me for a tally of the contract payments for a project completed the previous year. We also have an ongoing project that will not be completed until the end of the current year.
In this case, rather than spend hours compiling a list of invoice payments and detailing project expenses (or emailing each one), it was a simple matter to provide a link to the invoicing app’s customer interface.
Can I can expect to get that same call again? To save time in the future, a link can be included within the cover email or on the invoice itself so that it is always readily available to the customer.
Important Security Questions
Can customers get access to my other invoicing data, my other clients’ information, or sensitive company data?
In brief, no.
Even though a customer portal is customer-facing, you still have control of it from within your main online billing software. You can:
- Turn it on for existing customers
- Turn it off for former customers
- Turn it ON or OFF on an as-needed basis
- Change the customer password at will or force them to change passwords
Or not use it at all.
That being said, in a recent article on Smart Data Collective, think tank researcher Robert Kugel advises :
“Your company should examine the terms and conditions of its contracts carefully to be certain that it has the ability to control, access and retain its data in single or multi-tenant cloud-based systems.”
Security is always a concern, not to be taken lightly.
In this time of customer relationship management, every activity is undertaken to increase customer satisfaction, even in online invoicing and billing.
Implementing a do-it-yourself, self-service component through the use of customer portals in the online invoicing system helps enterprises, small businesses, freelancers and virtual assistants actuate this reality.