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What is a Client Portal? (+ Why Your Agency Needs One)

October 31, 2023

client portal

Client portals have come a long way. 

What was once considered a "nice-to-have" feature is now a game-changer for customer-focused businesses.

You can’t simply underestimate the impact of client portals from a customer service standpoint. These platforms offer a dedicated self-service space and 24/7 availability, where customers can access the information they need or request services at their own pace. 

Isn’t it nice to reduce the workload for your customer service reps while building brand awareness, improving customer experiences, and cost-effectively maintaining competitiveness? 

Intrigued? Let’s closely examine what a client portal is, address potential implementation challenges, and highlight key factors to consider when choosing one for your business. 

What is a client portal? 

A client portal (or a customer portal) is a secure digital interface that provides a centralized hub for clients to share and receive information, instructions, reports, messages, tasks, and approvals. Customers can access these portals via a website or mobile app behind a password-protected environment. 

Most client portal software can be molded into desired workflows, features, and visual elements, making these apps impactful to multiple industries - from law firms to marketing and freelancing. 

Businesses have been keen on using technology to maximize competitive edge, whether for customer satisfaction or operational efficiency. This trend is apparent with the rise of interest in client portals over the last decade. 

Google trends graph showing the rise of interest in client portals over the last decade

Source: Google Trends

What is a client portal used for? 

Inherently, client portal software is designed to help smaller businesses and boutique firms manage customer transactions, expectations, information, and service delivery. 

However, these electronic gateways also help with industry compliance, such as the ESIGN Act and HIPPA. Depending on the vendor, there are ways to implement customizations that adhere to these acts.

screengrab of the ahsuites client portal


Many portal software solutions provide customization options to align the portal's appearance with the user's branding. It all boils down to the “flavor” best for your business. 

  • Client collaboration and project management: Streamlines processes to interact with clients throughout the project or service lifecycle while ensuring everyone’s aligned.
  • Digital sales room: Creates a virtual stage to display products, conduct pitches, and finalize deals, all while removing the limitations of brick-and-mortar spaces.
  • Customer onboarding and enablement: Facilitates client onboarding, support tickets, progress reporting, and self-service options (such as help center, knowledge base, chatbot integration, and tutorial videos). 
  • Business service hub: Provides a central nexus where clients can seamlessly access services, facilitating smoother transactions and interactions.
  • Legal and financial: Finance and legal teams use these portals to invoice clients, collect payments or signatures, and host contracts and NDAs.

Beyond just functionality, a customer portal represents a company's commitment to transparency and user-centered design. Embracing these tools can redefine the business-client relationship, fostering trust and encouraging collaboration.

Which client portal features and functionality should you look for?

Client portals are often called "all-in-one" solutions due to their comprehensive nature. 

If budget permits, you can get a product offering invoice generation. But these functions listed below should be your top priority if you're looking for value. 

  • Client login: Users gain portal access through an email invitation or password. Some platforms even use two-factor authentication (2FA) to boost the security of their solutions while maximizing convenience.
  • Personalized dashboards: Most client portals allow users to embed files from Google Workspace and other cloud-based platforms for customized reports and previewing drafts without specialized software. 
  • Document sharing: Information is the key to excellent decision-making, which is why portals allow clients to upload, download, and share important documents securely.
  • While-label: Customer portal software (especially products focused on enterprises and agencies) has a white-label option to ensure consistent branding. 
  • Secure storage: Since client portals handle sensitive information and customer data, most solutions providers encrypt data using the 256-bit SSL protocol. 
  • Service requests: Portals can help with customer support services by making it easy for clients to request specific services, report issues, or raise inquiries, thus streamlining client-business communication.
  • Messaging and documentation: Portals should provide real-time collaboration features to mitigate communication gaps while ensuring all conversations are documented and accessible to the right user.
  • Team collaboration: The best customer portals make unifying collaborators inside and outside the organization more manageable through control implementation. 

Other customer portals may include additional features such as time tracking, automated form filling, password manager, and work journals. Choose what’s best for your workflow to maximize the value of your purchase. 

What benefits does a client portal offer?

Do you really need a client portal? It depends on the nature of your industry, the goal of your business, and available resources. 

Consider that 57% of customers prefer contacting companies using digital media channels (rather than voice). With this in mind, having a client portal can significantly improve your online presence and customer satisfaction while giving a productivity boost to your team. 

If your business has many moving parts, a client portal also helps centralize operations, communication, and document sharing. These tools can make progress tracking and monitoring much easier when appropriately implemented. 

Client portals can be a game changer for remote teams as they can help comply with federal and state laws by providing secure storage and encrypted data transfer. You can even find solutions that offer automation to alleviate administrative burdens. 

Lastly, client portals can help small businesses minimize operational costs while giving access to essential business management tools. This means not paying for separate messaging, project management, and knowledge base tools. 

What makes a great client portal? 

Let's examine the key features that differentiate top-performing portals from others and learn how to ensure that your portal meets the needs of your business and clients with user-friendly interfaces.

Easy to use

Intuitive interfaces mean users can instantly navigate and complete tasks. There are no lengthy tutorials or confusion, just straightforward functionality. Quick access, clear labels, and logical layouts make all the difference in productivity and stress-free experience.

Robust collaboration

It's all about teamwork. The best portals let teams and clients chat, share, and work together seamlessly, strengthening the bonds and improving project outcomes. It's not just about talking — it's about achieving together, ensuring projects move forward cohesively.

Scalable solution

As businesses evolve, so should their tools. A versatile portal adjusts to growing client numbers, expanding data sets, and emerging business needs. It's a platform prepared for the present and the unforeseen future challenges.

Secure file sharing

Peace of mind is vital. With top-tier security, clients and businesses can share files confidently, knowing their data is safe. Strong encryption, permission controls, and regular security audits ensure that every file transferred remains confidential and protected.

Seamless implementation

Transitioning from your current system to a client portal should be a breeze. An industry-standard portal should integrate smoothly with existing tools, ensuring that teams and clients can get started without hitches.

Reporting and analytics

Knowledge is power. Businesses can tweak and refine their strategies to ensure they're always on the right track. A client portal should also integrate analytics tools. 

Customer support

A swift, efficient support system means any issues or queries get addressed promptly, ensuring continuous productivity. You can check out a product’s customer support performance through user ratings and other metrics such as ease of use and setup.

Integration and customization

Every business is unique, which makes it a necessity to customize the client portal for your company. A good portal should easily mesh with other tools and allow tweaks to its appearance and features, making it feel like part of the team.

Challenges with client portal implementation and how to address them

Implementing a client portal can be a game changer for your business. But like any technology, it comes with its own set of challenges. From security concerns to user adoption issues, it's essential to be aware of the potential roadblocks and have a plan to address them.

1. Integration with existing systems

Integrating a new tech with older, well-established systems is often tricky. There's a looming risk of data mismatch, lost records, or even double entries. The familiar dread of two tools saying different things can confuse users. 

Solution: Collaborate with IT teams and the portal provider to devise a comprehensive migration strategy. Testing integrations in controlled environments can preemptively address potential snags, ensuring a smoother transition for everyone.

2. Data security concerns

The digital age brings both benefits and vulnerabilities. High-profile breaches make headlines regularly. Clients and internal teams may raise eyebrows at the idea of storing proprietary data on a new platform, anxious about potential exposure.

Solution: Choose a secure client portal with industry-standard security. Emphasize the implementation of end-to-end encryption and ensure regular security audits and patches. Frequent updates to clients and teams on security enhancements build confidence.

3. User resistance

"If it isn't broken, don't fix it." Employees accustomed to specific tools might resist a switch. Setting up a client portal seems daunting, and there needs to be more clarity about the learning curve and potential disruptions to daily tasks.

Solution: Address resistance with proactive change management. Highlight tangible benefits, ease of use, and efficiency gains. Organized training sessions, supplemented with readily available resources, can help. 

4. Customization limitation

Generic customer service portals might need to align with a business's unique DNA. The absence of customizable features or the presence of redundant ones can make the portal seem more manageable and effective, leading to potential workflow inefficiencies.

Solution: Engage with portal vendors who understand and cater to niche requirements. An iterative customization process, grounded in user feedback, can help mold the portal closer to business-specific needs. 

5. Maintaining client engagement

While efficient, a portal's digital interface might need more warmth for personal interactions. Clients used to face-to-face meetings or direct calls might feel a digital void, leading to perceptions of reduced attention or care.

Solution: Augment the digital experience with regular personal touchpoints. Features like video calls, virtual meetings, and personalized updates can bridge the gap. Regular client feedback ensures the portal meets their needs.

6. Scaling issues

What works for a business now might not in the future. As clients multiply, data volumes surge, and demands diversify, the portal may become a bottleneck rather than an enabler, affecting performance and user satisfaction.

Solution: Proactively scout for portals built with scalability in mind. Performance evaluations and growth plans ensure portal evolution with business. Providing the flexibility to upgrade, enhance, or even migrate is essential for future readiness.

7. Cost overruns

Budget escalations can blindside businesses. Unplanned expenses, like extended training, additional customizations, or unforeseen technical hitches, can strain finances and lead to questioning the portal's ROI.

Solution: Detailed financial planning and transparent vendor negotiations are paramount. Recognize and factor in potential hidden costs from the outset. Financial reviews clarify investment worth and guide course corrections.

How to choose the right client portal for your business

Choosing technology for your business is an investment that can affect your success. It’s not just about the most popular option or the sleekest interface; it's about a holistic evaluation based on these various factors. 

Business needs

If you aim to hammer a nail into the wood, a heavy piece of rock would be more beneficial to you than a set of diamond tools. The goal should be the decisive factor when investing in tools. 

Understanding specific business requirements ensures that the chosen software aligns with your goals. A mismatch can hinder processes and client experiences.

Team members

You will only know if you have the right tool if your team can use it at 100% of its potential. This time, let’s return to the “nail into the wood” example with a hammer. If the hammer is too small, too big, or too overengineered, your team will require more work just to get the job done. 

The best client portal must be user-friendly for all team members to accommodate varying technical proficiencies. Tailor your collaboration tools, controls, and user permissions to team dynamics and roles.

Storage concerns

File sharing is a part of any business model, even if it takes on different forms for each company. It must always be secure, accessible when needed, and cost-effective. Since file sharing is a core feature, choose a product with a stellar security reputation. 

You can choose between cloud storage options to ensure industry-standard security and scalable performance. Alternatively, on-premise portals would be ideal for those who want to provide secure access and personalized control.

Lifetime cost

Tech purchases are rarely a one-done deal. These tools often have maintenance, updates, and scalability costs, which can end up bleeding your funds if not appropriately considered. 

Decision-makers should also consider the indirect costs needed for successful implementation. These include training costs, additional support, consultancy, and associated products.

Personalization level

Ask this question: What features does my client need? 

The main thing for customer portals is providing a personalized experience for clients. Find a product you can tweak into a workspace ideal for client interactions. 

And don’t forget to weigh in visual elements into the decision-making process. Using a visual feature that doesn’t fit your aesthetics might confuse your clients. 

Client feedback

Functionality and usability for customer portals are not just for team efficiency. Your clients should also love the product you’re using to deliver business. These tools should be easy to navigate and don’t require the user to have prior experience with similar software. 

Not all clients will like the product that you want to use. And because of this, consider getting a minimalist effect that allows you to cover most bases.

External apps

Businesses use different apps for different functions. However, there will always be a time when you will need to connect a solution with other solutions. 

Use a client portal that supports third-party automation. This consideration is to avoid redundancy and create a more cohesive digital ecosystem. 

Look into the future

While the surge in client portal usage is recent, industry players notice its advantages. In joint research by eMoney Advisors and the Financial Planning Association, businesses using client portals increased their client relationship metrics. 

With the resounding success in a stringent industry like finance, more and more businesses are considering adopting a form of modern client portals into their operations. The client portal market, currently valued at USD 1.67 Billion, is projected to grow by USD 3.34 billion by 2030. 

As the AI revolution approaches, client portals will continue to expand their offerings. A study by Harvard Business Review uncovered how companies are starting to use AI to provide high-quality experiences to their client base. 

The client portal industry will move toward an uptrend in the coming decade. Whether it lives up to its potential, only time can tell. However, this is an excellent time to learn more about this technology and determine if your company needs one. 

As companies harness the power of customer data to provide tailor-made digital experiences, discover what lies ahead for digital experience platforms in 2024.

client portal software
24/7 access for clients

Give your clients round-the-clock access to their data and reports and effortlessly manage client interactions with client portal software.

client portal software
24/7 access for clients

Give your clients round-the-clock access to their data and reports and effortlessly manage client interactions with client portal software.

What is a Client Portal? (+ Why Your Agency Needs One) Discover why client portals are a must for customer-focused businesses. Learn their benefits and what to consider when implementing one.
Kevin Frei Kevin Frei is the founder of, a platform for freelancers and agencies. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and young daughter. In a past life, Kevin was a digital nomad and wrote musicals for high schools.

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