Customer web portals have become the norm for the logistics and transportation industries. Client portals bring much-needed transparency to the table, improve user satisfaction, and automate ordering. But can logistics customer portal development help businesses improve their performance?
In short: yes. And we will explain how.
”Every step of the shipping process must be visible to logistics and transportation companies. For them, customer portals are more than simply a means to automate support. Acropolium’s customer portal development services can help logistics companies optimize the ineffective aspects of their businesses to make them more cost-effective.”
Oleksii Glib, CEO at Acropolium
A feature-rich web portal allows companies to track shipments, identify the fastest routes, plan deliveries, and cut operational costs. But how can you develop a customer portal that helps improve logistics performance? Keep reading to find out.
Why build a customer portal for logistics businesses?
The logistics customer portal is a self-service web platform designed to provide clients with an easy way to access and manage orders and related information. In logistics, this data goes far beyond shipment status. Based on the customer, the information can include:
- Insurance policies
- Order and quote management
- Return merchandise authorization
- Vehicle tracking
- Feedback from customs
- Carrier’s and vendor’s track records
- In-depth reports with pictures
A key objective of a client’s portal is to improve the customer experience. And the customers for a logistics company usually are:
- Wholesalers and retailers (especially in the agricultural and food sector), who rely on logistics to connect their products with consumers
- Independent contractors and transportation companies who transport goods for other logistics companies
- Third-party logistics companies (3PLs) that use third-party carriers, warehouses, and vehicles to distribute goods
These customers have different pain points. For example, wholesale businesses put tracking at the forefront as they want to see every step of the shipping process. Independent carriers need to know they are transporting goods from a reliable vendor with the necessary licenses. As for 3PLs, they are more interested in reducing transportation costs and mitigating risks.
How can you make all these clients happier? Develop an online customer portal for the transportation business. Here are some of the benefits of a sophisticated self-service platform:
Transparency is a cornerstone for many industries, especially retail. By investing in a customer service portal development for a supply chain business, you can get an app that provides information about every step of shipping:
- Acceptance and delivery of goods
- Real-time tracking information
- Warehouses that store the cargo
- The temperature in the storage area (in warehouses and vehicles)
- Information about the transporting vehicle and its driver
- Detailed reports (sometimes with photo or video evidence)
- Document packages (including scans, images, and tracking codes)
Additionally, during the shipping process, carriers can use mobile apps to connect with the customer portal on the go. This feature allows them to see important events (notifications), communicate with vendors securely, update shipment status, submit invoices, and upload scans.
Business transparency works both ways. Retail organizations can use customer portals to check the service history of the transportation firm. Conversely, logistics companies want to make sure they are carrying permitted goods from a reputable vendor. Companies can also track their shipment to detect potential fraud. For example, you suspect the driver uses a vehicle for personal journeys or takes additional packages when on deliveries. With a web portal, you can check the vehicle for unscheduled stops and actual traveled distance. If you find anything unusual, you can request compensation from the transportation company.
More customer lifetime value
Web portals provide accurate and detailed info about shipments without needing to contact support services. According to 2020 McKinsey & Company research, digital interactions are three times more important to customers than traditional interactions. This kind of convenience can help you keep your customers and improve your bond with them. And the more customers you retain, the more profit you can expect to earn from ongoing relationships.
Improved customer support
Let’s picture how logistics companies handled customer support a decade ago. The phones are blowing up from clients asking about their cargo. Operators take hours to answer them manually. Plus, another department has to make another hundred calls to arrange a new shipment.
We have great news for you! You can automate most of these processes with the help of platform-based logistics customer portal development.
According to a 2020 Gartner report, about 65% of CIOs in different industries noticed increased self-service usage even before the COVID-19 pandemic. And with a complex industry such as logistics, customers will want to do basic tasks independently. The best part: you will reduce the number of support requests and take the load off your staff, allowing them to focus on high-value tasks.
Ways to improve logistics performance with a customer portal
A well-functioning web portal can help improve revenue and optimize logistics processes. How? Here are some strategies.
Invest in blockchain for shipping optimization
We’ve mentioned transparency on more than one occasion. Blockchain-powered software makes the business a whole lot more visible. Based on the 2018 Deloitte research, about 55% of C-level executives at high-revenue firms find blockchain adoption necessary for a competitive advantage in the business.
Creating a customer portal in logistics with blockchain technologies can make many processes safer. For example, secure contracts can keep the logistics company closer to the manufacturer, making most counterfeiting attempts unsuccessful.
Cost-efficiency is another factor. Wholesale, 3PLs, storage facilities, and carriers will benefit from smart contracts — secure peer-to-peer payments you can conduct without paying banks or other intermediaries.
Implement IoT into the customer portal
Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a system of computing devices (trackers, sensors, and communications software) that automatically connect and process data. It’s an invaluable investment for a company wishing to optimize its performance.
When data from IoT devices is integrated into the customer portal, a company can monitor various aspects of the shipping process, such as:
- Products. Are you delivering perishable items, such as food or medicine? You can get immediate alerts if the temperature in the containers deviates from the required levels.
- Assets. Customers can see any vehicle’s status and plan when to send them for a service without disrupting the supply chain.
- Carriers. Logistics companies can send messages to drivers or modify routes in real-time, resulting in more effective change management.
A customer portal with IoT integration has short-term and long-term benefits for logistics performance. Reactive decisions save your cargo in case of emergencies, while in-depth data analysis can help you improve asset efficiency.
Take advantage of automated data analysis
Spreadsheets won’t be enough to analyze vast amounts of data. If you want to make the most of IoT and Big Data, you need to invest in automated data analysis. Machine learning can help you turn raw data into actionable information, thanks to which you can:
- Create more efficient routes to avoid late shipments
- Plan assets and inventory based on the customer demand
- Improve the efficiency of transportation management systems (TMS) by predicting cargo disruptions and proactive shipment management
If such data is available to your clients, they’ll be able to identify bottlenecks and improve their workflow.
Focus on the customer’s needs
According to a 2019 Forbes report, about 40% of executives believe personalization leads to more sales and improved customer lifetime value. And, as we mentioned, different categories of customers want different things. It gets worse: they may even need different interfaces.
This sounds expensive, but don’t worry. You can reduce the logistics customer portal development cost if you focus on the core features customers expect to see in a self-service portal.
What are these features? Keep reading to find out.
Key features to include in custom logistics customer portal software
Now, what components do your customers want to see in an online portal? Let’s have a look.
The dashboard lets users see essential information about shipments at a glance. Simplicity is the fundamental element here, meaning you shouldn’t clutter the screen with information blocks.
Display only the crucial data for the main screen, such as the tracking history for the last shipments and recent notifications. The user should be able to quickly navigate to other sections of the portal for specific information and reports.
- Project44 allows shippers and 3PLs to automate processes and improve their delivery services while providing vital data on an intuitive dashboard.
Invoice & billing management
Your customers will want to view, submit, and approve standard documents. At the very least, your self-service portal should allow companies to manage:
- Bills of lading
You also need to consider the ability to add custom templates. This will allow your customers to maintain a steady document flow from your portal.
- Spire is a successful company with self-service tools for online payment, paperless billing, and invoicing.
Your customers should be able to create orders themselves without talking to logistics managers. Moreover, the process should be convenient. Clients will look elsewhere if they have to fill in tons of unnecessary fields for every order.
A few tips to make ordering as fast as possible:
- Implement an auto-fill feature
- Allow users to edit templates
- Make it possible to load shipment info from files
We recommend letting users choose the type of shipment and delivery item category first. After all, the number of fields will vary depending on the required services.
- Amazon Logistics is a prime example of a user-friendly web platform where customers can quickly order deliveries.
Analytics and reporting are necessary for improving business performance. This feature can provide users with logistics metrics, giving them insights into the money and time spent on shipping, successful deliveries, cargo weights, and customer satisfaction. You can even add ratings for different companies and contractors.
- OOCL Logistics offers a dedicated customer portal for storing reports or photos and convenient data exchange between vendors.
Perhaps the most sought-after feature in the logistics business. With efficient tracking software, your customers will know the exact position of their shipments. This can allow them to plan routes, adjust delivery dates, and react to unforeseen circumstances. It’s essential to establish a constant link between your trackers, software, and customer portal. This can create potential security concerns, but you can overcome these if you outsource your logistics customer portal software development to an experienced company.
- DispatchTrack is a delivery portal with an innovative logistics tool that allows users to track orders in real-time.
Cybersecurity is not so much a feature as a necessity for web portals. The reason is quite simple — hackers could access sensitive personal, payment, and employee data for your portal. They can even use it to track shipments.
Some of the best practices you can use to safeguard your portal include:
- HTTPS protection for your web portal
- Tokenization features
- Role-based access control
- Reduced log-in sessions
- One-time passwords and adaptive authentication
- Carrier authentication for each real-time tracking request
The most effective solution is DevSecOps — a methodology that integrates cybersecurity into software development from the start. The right software development company can build a highly secure customer portal with robust security features to protect your business data.
How to build a customer portal for logistics in 6 steps
We’re telling you upfront: creating a customer portal for your logistics business will be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. We’ll break it down for you in six steps for easier understanding.
Step 1: Discovery
Successful development starts with research. This stage includes:
- Identifying the target audience
- Competitor analysis
- Defining business objectives
If you’ve been following us until this point, you should already know your target audience. With this in mind, and after researching your competitors, you’ll be ready to consider your key goals.
Step 2: Requirements gathering
Next, your team should gather requirements and define specifications for the product. This includes the technology stack, the project’s budget, and time estimates. At the end of this stage, companies usually create a development plan with a detailed technical description.
Step 3: Design
The design stage involves the creation of a portal’s layouts, sitemap, and interface elements. You have to make the portal visually appealing for the target audience (which can be pretty wide for logistics businesses). Therefore, your team should be serious about color selection, icons, and interactive elements.
Step 4: Coding
Coding is the central stage of the development process, during which your team should first create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) of your web portal. It will give you a glimpse into the essential features of the client’s portal and allow you to calculate the total development time and budget. After approving a prototype, your development team will have to proceed according to the technical specifications and project architecture.
Step 5: Testing
Testing happens throughout the development (unit testing) and before the launch (integration testing). The goal is to make sure all services and technical features work correctly. Additionally, your team needs to verify the web interface and mobile apps work with other plugins and third-party systems your customers rely on. And, most importantly, the web portal should have strong cybersecurity to prevent data breaches.
Step 6: Release and maintenance
Many companies think their work is done after the release. But that’s not entirely true. The release is only the beginning. Web portals have a very high usability level, and you always need to be ready to fix bugs, improve functionality, or add new features.
Our way to create a logistics customer portal
Your in-house engineers might not know the critical aspects of building a customer portal for logistics, and that’s okay. Even the most skillful team can benefit from relevant experience. And that’s what Acropolium can offer: vetted engineers and project managers with successful customer platforms on their track records. We have vast expertise in developing web-based customer portals for logistics, route optimization software, AI-powered bots, and monitoring solutions. More importantly, we know how to turn your existing concepts into viable business solutions.
The bottom line
A web portal is so much more than a self-service substitute for customer support. With the right technologies and innovative software, it can become a powerful business tool that gives companies a competitive edge. And our experts can help you streamline customer web portal development for the logistics industry. We can also build your portal from scratch and support it after release. Get in touch, and we’ll be happy to share our thoughts and expertise with you.