We're pretty passionate about Self Service, which also means we like when it's done right. One of the most common questions we get as consultants is how to ensure users actually use the Self-Service portal. One part of that answer is to have a portal that users want to use. How?
1. UX-optimise your Self Service Portal
You work in customer service, not customer confusion. If your portal isn't user friendly, you have run into a problem right away. In marketing, they talk a lot about user experience optimisation, and this really is what you should be aiming for.
Making the user experience of your portal as seamless as possible has to be your number one focus throughout the entire design process. In the end, it's a portal for your users and if they feel confused about the lay-out then you haven't achieved your goal of clear, simple self-service.
2. Keep in mind both clickers and searchers
As part of the user experience, it's good to take into account that people will behave differently. Some are clickers who will click around and explore articles until they find the answer. Others are searchers, who will want their answer quickly and prefer to "google" it.
TOPdesk, for example - and some other tools like SysAid - has accommodated for this by integrating a search functionality in the portal. For clickers, be sure to link items to each other, so that they can easily explore the portal.
3. Speak the users' language
This is incredibly important for your user experience (and it's a point worthy of repeating as well). Your customers won't all speak Service or instinctively know what fault they are experiencing. To increase the user experience of your portal, consider labeling your various items something that is easy enough to grasp even for someone who doesn't really know how to solve the problem.
"I need new equipment" instead of "Request workspace material", for example.
To extend on the point of not confusing your customers - it's important to realise that customers don't always know exactly what department to turn to - and your Service Portal should reflect this. If you are adopting a Shared Services (or ESM) approach to your Service Management, there's no reason not to set up a shared service portal as well.
This boils down to that your customer won't know whether to turn to IT or Facilities when logging a ticket. And sometimes even both departments may have to be involved. It's best to to give your users one store-front and solve all task assignment in the back end.