| By Chuck Schaeffer
I’ve written about how to design for CRM user experience objectives and best practices for mobile CRM user experiences. Now I’m going to use this post as an illustrative example to share methods and techniques to improve the user experience with the Microsoft Dynamics CRM application.
It's important to remember that user experience design is not overtly focused on the user interface – which often results in the all too common mistake of modifying the presentation layer – but instead facilitating and directing user behaviors and outcomes by understanding what's most important to users and applying use cases or journey maps to design the application in a way that facilitates their goals.
Each packaged CRM application has its own platform, tools and constructs. While it's possible to instead use more powerful development environments I normally recommend against that practice as it complicates reliability, scalability, support and the steady stream of continuous software updates.
The Microsoft Dynamics CRM application offers a number of tools and constructs such as Dashboards, Forms Designer, Process Guides, Workflow, Dialogues, custom views, PBL (Portable Business Language) and Business Rules which can individually and collectively provide prescriptive user guidance, improve ease of use, facilitate more intuitive navigation and ultimately achieve a more rewarding user experience. These tools can further put CRM where the users want to consume it – on the desktop, tablet or mobile – and either online or in Outlook.
So with objectives and technologies understood, here are some practical examples that can be applied to Microsoft CRM for an improved user experience.
Dashboards. There's no better tool to focus on what's most important to users than dashboards. These landing pages should be created by role and display the most vital performance measures and prioritized activities. For example, the sales person role may display metrics that influence incentive compensation, highlight active sale opportunities, display current and overdue activities or share new customer intelligence. The InsideView integration with Dynamics CRM is a great tool to bring sales executives the most current and relevant news about their customers. Applying the InsideView neural scores facilitates time management by prioritizing which accounts should be followed up with first. Tools that accurately suggest what users should do first and next in an easy to consume interface will improve the user experience. If users also operate their Dynamics CRM in Outlook, the dashboards may need to be replicated in Outlook.
Navigation. Improving navigation for users in Microsoft CRM is best done by modifying the navbar (aka SiteMap) and creating Process Guides. The navbar resides at the very top of each page and delivers a contextual breadcrumbs trail with hyperlinked buttons that permit navigation to any of the displayed intermediate pages. Unfortunately, except for removing menus based on security, Microsoft provides few options to alter the navbar menus. Similarly, Microsoft Outlook uses tree structures to present menus in alphabetical order instead of using the order specified in the SiteMap. To prioritize menus and remove irrelevant menus you'll need to edit the SiteMap in the customizations.xml file. To do this, you can export the file and makes changes in an editor, or you can use a third party tool to make the experience much easier. My favorite tool is the XrmToolbox available on CodePlex. Lastly, if editing the command row actions, a Microsoft recommendation is to display between 5 and 7 actions, and put any remaining under the ellipsis dropdown menu.
Process Guides. If properly implemented, the Process Guides (example illustrated in the red box below) are effective in facilitating end to end process management. These guides allow user defined stages and steps, along with next step actions and stage-gating, in order to streamline business processes and seamlessly link pages together to fulfill those processes.
xRM (eXtended Relationship Management) is an application development framework that essentially replaces or extends relationship management of customers to other entities. This makes Microsoft CRM more extensible and may be the preferred approach for line of business applications or if you want to manage products, assets, employees, vendors or other non-CRM entities which would benefit by inheriting some or many of the standard CRM functions. The .NET Framework can also be applied to xRM applications for more significant customization.
Dynamics CRM Mobile. Dynamics mobile CRM uses the same forms as the web app, however, renders the form based on the device form factor using a technique called fluid forms. This sounds good in theory, but can give you an irregular mobile CRM experience. Adding complexity, Dynamics mobile CRM doesn't allow you to switch between forms. Fortunately, you can hide certain fields, sections and tabs from mobile CRM viewing. To do this, you will need to go into Customizations, select the form, select Change Properties and then uncheck "Available on Phone". If you need to tailor the form beyond this capability for a mobile user experience you will need to create a custom entity.
Okay, with the big methods understood, I'll drill down into some detailed Microsoft CRM user experience recommendations.
Next: Microsoft Dynamics CRM user experience recommendations