What Is an Extranet?
An extranet is a secure, private network that allows trusted clients, vendors, partners, suppliers, customer service departments, and other parties to access specific business information. Extranets often take the form of an external website or software, and users can only view the information while using an internal network connection.
Businesses use extranets for document, media, and file sharing with users outside of the company. That said, the use of an extranet is carefully controlled and limited only to authorized parties, such as outsourced customer service departments.
How Does an Extranet Impact Customer Service?
Logistics and shipping companies were among the first to use extranets. Since then, customer service departments have adopted extranets as a powerful telecommunication tool for sharing personalized information with clients.
An extranet allows customer service departments to deliver real-time, customized online support. While the features of an extranet may vary, many businesses use the web portal to streamline their remote or outsourced customer service departments and limit the time their associates spend answering phone calls or emails.
At the same time, customer service departments can take advantage of dedicated extranet portals during a client support call. As a result, they can retrieve pertinent information and provide a seamless experience from start to finish.
What Is the Difference Between an Extranet and an Intranet?
An intranet is a private network that a company uses to host training resources, knowledge bases, employee communication channels, and collaboration tools for internal users.
On the other hand, an extranet allows authorized external users to access information through a web portal or other file-sharing service. Businesses often use extranets for:
- Sharing product availability with wholesalers.
- Developing or sourcing new products from a trusted vendor.
- Providing services to other companies, such as project management, online banking, or customer support.
The most significant difference between an intranet and an extranet is the portal’s intended audience. Intranets are private domains designed solely for employee and management use.
An intranet may contain blogs, content management and document organization systems, wikis, and secure databases with internal forms, policies, and tools. Some intranets also help improve company culture with features like chat streams, commenting, and polls.
Extranets typically have a much wider audience. Though access is tightly controlled, the portal serves as a central hub for both internal and external users who need specific information and private communication channels.
Typically, employees, managers, and partners can only access intranets and extranets through a secure network, such as a virtual private network (VPN). In addition, employees, contractors, and other users often need login credentials to enter the portals.
Advantages of an Extranet
An extranet provides a variety of benefits for companies, employees, customer support departments, and third parties, including:
1. Improved Efficiency
Businesses often work with external suppliers, vendors, and development teams to create products, provide services, or complete new projects. Extranets create a simplified portal for highly detailed project management workflows.
2. Enhanced Customer Experience
Extranets allow companies to provide a cohesive customer experience from start to finish. The portals enable customers to find self-service resources and resolve issues without the help of a company representative. At the same time, client support teams can access relevant information during support appointments, resulting in an improved customer experience.
3. Streamlined Telecommunication
Organizations can leverage extranets to share important information, such as announcements, news, or organizational updates. In addition, companies can efficiently provide customized support for customers, improving customer satisfaction and reducing the number of associates needed to manage support requests.
Why Companies Use an Extranet for Customer Service
Extranets streamline the customer and stakeholder experience by providing information in a concise, easily accessible manner. Rather than spending hours on the phone or answering emails, client support teams can share extranet portals with customers. In addition, customer service associates can easily retrieve the data they need to provide hands-on care for clients at every stage of their journey.