NOTE: Starting with Spring ’12, the Self-Service portal isn’t available for new organizations. Existing organizations continue to have access to the Self-Service portal.
What exactly is a Self-Service Portal (or SSP)? A Self-Service Portal is an authenticated website (requiring a Username and Password) to provide your constituents the ability to create and view Cases in your Salesforce.com instance as well as search for Solutions (or Knowledgebase). The big win for companies that choose to utilize a Self-Service Portal is that they can now provide customer support beyond normal business hours, 24/7, and it empowers customers that would rather try to figure out a solution to their problem on their own rather than picking up the phone or sending an email for support.
The other big win is that it is native, and it does not require and additional license expenses to set up accounts for Self-Service Users. If you choose, every Contact you have in your Salesforce.com org can be a Self-Service Portal Users. You can choose a record type and unique page layout for your portal than inside your Saleforce.com instance. I have also discovered that Field Validation can also be enforced on a SSP to help with data entry.
It is a one-size-fits-all portal. Every SSP user has the same experience, meaning you cannot have different branding or different page layouts by who is logging in. Though highly functional, it is not super fancy out of the box (you can however dress it up with your branding and HTML). You can only expose Cases and Solutions over the Self-Service Portal and no other pieces of Salesforce.com. If you need to grant access to anything else in your Salesforce instance, such as Custom Objects or Opportunities, then you are probably looking at a Customer Portal or a Partner Portal respectively.
More on Customer Portals.
Setting up a Self-Service Portal requires quite a few steps, but overall is not that difficult. The heavy lifting will be the planning on how your support process will accommodate cases created from the web (where do they go and how are they handled) and creating all your Solutions (knowledge base articles) if you do not use them today.
Ok, let’s get started configuring a SSP (Self Service Portal).