How Manufacturers Use Portals to Streamline Processes, Improve Customer Service

By Adam Hallbeck | April 7, 2020

Self-Service portals for Manufacturers - Order management, Customer Service, Workflows & Data analytics

When you think about portals, a variety of things come to mind: managing your bank account, checking the status of a purchase, or updating your contact information on your favorite eCommerce platform after a change of address. For manufacturing organizations, in particular, the ability for customers to manage processes and data is vital to keeping orders flowing and shipments on time. Customers everywhere appreciate the ability to track what they need when they need to, and the more your organization can afford by way of access and capability the more you'll see your business retain, attract, and scale with growing demand.

The common denominator across the board is simple, yet very powerful: self-service. Let's take a closer look at how Power Apps Portals and Dynamics 365 empowers manufacturers.

End Customers, Third Parties, and Sales Pipeline Engagement

The benefit of a customer portal really starts with even the most basic of features. Everyone with a customer relationship management system knows that accurate data is both the most important part of the system and the most difficult to maintain. A customer portal helps exponentially with this issue as your customers can update contact names, email addresses, relationships, addresses, and more, which all links directly back to Dynamics 365, keeping the data in your CRM system as accurate as possible.

You are likely already tracking vendor products, data, and availability within your system. By opening up that information directly to your customers through their own personalized portal, they’ll be able to request information or purchase items at the moment of decision without having to reach out to a rep at your company. Additionally, your team can gain valuable insights into which products your customers have been researching but have yet to purchase. This information empowers your sales reps with additional market development opportunities that they may not have known about otherwise.

As sales or purchase requests come in, whether through the portal or directly through a sales rep, you can generate quotes and upload those to the customer portal, which allows for collaborative reviewing and editing prior to the order. This not only ensures that both you and the buyer are on the same page when it comes to ordering expectations but also helps answer any questions down the road regarding when orders were completed, quantity requested, etc.

Order Management and Tracking in Portals for Manufacturers

Because your portal is integrated directly with Dynamics 365, your team can generate sales quotes from within Office (integrated with Dynamics 365) or from the sales hub in Dynamics 365, and then share those directly in your customer portal. Once approved, transitioning those quotes to an order within the system that is routed to production is as easy as a click of a button. All manual processes or uploading files into separate systems is eliminated.

Production managers can quickly react to real-time sales information and scale up or down the production of specific items based on data pulled directly from the sales portal. In turn, sales reps also have access to information on quantities of items in inventory and expected to restock dates. They can also access information about specific orders and when production will be completed.

For Orders already being worked on or in-flight, that ability to submit critical change requests or collaborate in real-time is critical. With Power Apps portals, Power Virtual Agents, and other Power Platform tools, the time-to-resolution- and resources required to manage those processes- is greatly reduced.

Power Platform, Dynamics 365, and Azure Integrations

A large benefit of Dynamics 365 is the ability to integrate with the full Microsoft stack. Those solutions go beyond the solutions that typically come to mind – Word, Excel, Outlook – and include Power BI, Power Automate, Virtual Agents, and Azure.

With Power BI, you’ll have access to real-time data that will give you insights into your business so you can make informed, strategic decisions. Native Power Platform and Dynamics 365 charts and portal dashboards are available for use, but both internal users and reps using Power Apps portals can use embedded Power BI dashboards for an enhanced analytics experience.

Power Automate allows you to set up automatic workflows to ensure your team is up to date with information as quickly as it comes in. For example, when a client submits an order request through the portal, the sales rep can instantly receive a push notification to their email or cell phone alerting them of the order details. Once an order is fulfilled and shipped, another notification is automatically sent to your customer alerting them to the order status.

Virtual agents allow you to maintain a fast response time while still minimizing the number of labor hours required. By deploying frontline bots, you can manage those initial tier-one conversations and requests from customers or prospects and either automatically generate answers to questions or transfer those conversations to live agents once enough information and details have been gathered. This speeds up your time from initial conversation to sale and ensures that each customer reaches the best representative for their needs. These virtual agents can be deployed in both your customer portal and on your public-facing webpage.

Deploying a vendor and a customer portal can help your manufacturing business work collaboratively, efficiently, and strategically, leading to long-term success. By gaining valuable insights into your network of contacts, you can scale production to better match actual demand rather than projections. With a portal that integrates into your full software solution, each department has access to real-time data from anywhere and at any time.

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