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 Chuck SchaefferDesigning CRM for the User Experience

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CRM User Experience Design and Development

The following user experience best practices and tactics will improve the CRM software user experience.

Navigation. Intuitive navigation is a big contributor to the UX, and the 3 top factors which achieve impressive navigation include defining the right starting point, showing suggestions for the next destination (or next best action), and displaying path and location information.

Good navigation starts with the right home page. An ideal starting point for CRM software is a dashboard configured by role and displaying top performance measures, prioritized activities and suggested actions. A well designed dashboard facilitates user priorities and time management, and answers the question: What do I do first? And then what do I do next? Applying user experience design to align behaviors with company goals is a lot like good compensation management plans that align behaviors with company priorities.

Most CRM systems enable users to choose their default landing page and access that home location from any other page in the application. When leaving the home page, users should see a breadcrumb trial or similar navigational aid which shows them where they are and how to back out if desired.

A few navigation user experience best practices include putting key links (aka editorial links) above the fold, making the breadcrumb trail linkable, using paging instead of excessive scrolling, shunning horizontal scrolling, avoiding modeless pop-up pages and always enabling the Back button so users can return to their prior location.

Page design. Content may be king but utility aligned with design rules UX success. Good design makes content more valuable and consumable. Three CRM design best practices include theme consistency, context and content positioning.

Theme consistency should be maintained across CRM applications (i.e. sales, marketing and service) and ancillary systems (i.e. partner portals, partner relationship management, field service management, mobile apps). Consistent use of page structure, design, colors, brand and images can be aided with CRM templates for CRM pages, documents (proposals), reports and correspondence (emails and letters). Other tactical design elements include generous white space (aka negative space), low page text density, sans serif fonts, web-friendly colors, image links, two dimensional images, judicious use of background images and anti-aliasing (aka dithering) of bitmap images, jagged images, diagonal lines and curves. Lastly, avoid jargon and cluttered pages. Research shows that users find what they're looking for 55% faster in an uncluttered display as compared to a dense display.

Another design technique to improve readability and usability is facilitated scanning. CRM account, activity, opportunity and case pages can accumulate a lot of content. By designing pages with clear titles, headings, sub-headings, short captions, highlighted phrases and pre-sorted columns users are better able to scan and find what they are looking for fast.

Context reduces the number of visible choices to those which are most relevant or applies variables at a CRM location in order to position specific content. For example, when navigating from an account to a map, be sure to pass the account address parameters to the destination map. Or put up-sell and cross-sell links or options directly on the opportunity page or service case page. And because recording activities is the most popular transaction type in CRM systems, make creating activities available from the users' home page. By identifying use cases by role, you can add or reposition CRM menus, links and buttons to locations where they are more pertinent.

Search. Google has taught the world that search is a preferred navigation technique for many users. But unlike Google, most CRM system search results display countless pages of unorganized or irrelevant content. Delivering a Search function that works will improve the user experience. Here are some tips to improve your CRM search engine.

  • I’ve found that the search algorithms for most CRM software search engines ― including, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and SAP CRM ― prioritize page titles, headings, account names and opportunity names. also prioritizes custom tags. Giving these data types smart titles and relevant naming conventions improves search results.

  • When searching help, the search is only as good as the CRM software help content, which generally isn't very good. Fortunately, you can modify or create your own help content. A quick approach is to append the CRM vendor’s help pages with titles, tags and terms relevant to your business in order to improve search engine results. It's also a good idea to include keyword misspellings, misused plurals, extra spaces and other variations or common errors in search phrases. A best practice is to review search engine logs to see what keywords, terms, phrases and subjects users are searching for and then update the help content to correlate to these search phrases.

  • You may also want to consider excluding certain CRM site and help pages from search results in order to narrow content and better filter results for users. Each CRM search engine is slightly different but you can insert a meta tag (i.e. <META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX") on select pages to exclude them from search engine indexing and results displays.

Analytics. Achieving user experience goals is a continuous journey and analytics provide the fuel for that journey. Analysis tools to measure and improve the CRM user experience include the following:

  • Closed loop cycle analysis – CRM administrators can streamline business processes by examining historical user actions in end to end sequences, identifying where planned processes break down, and re-configuring navigational sequencing or process workflows. The path a user takes reveals what they are interested in.
  • Content conversions – measure information consumption in order to elevate frequently used content and discard unused content.
  • Feature utilization – measure CRM application utilization by role/user/function over time in order to identify irrelevant features, or possibly under-utilized functions that can be expanded with targeted education or communications.
  • Testing tools – simple tools such as heat maps and first/next click testing recorders deliver a quick view of what users click and what they avoid.
  • A/B testing – control/challenger testing is useful for testing variations to user home pages, dashboard components, queries, views, lists and reports in order to continuously improve the CRM user experience.
  • Voice of the Customer (VOC) – you can't guess what users want, you have to ask them. Simple surveys or discussions at user group meetings allow users to tell you what they like and don't like in their CRM software system.
  • In the past I've created UX dashboards to display key performance measures such as Daily Active Users; Average Time on Site (by role, function, page); Average Data Input (new entries) and Average Data Output (queries, views, reports, dashboards). I also use these dashboards to display the most and least used content assets.

Technology. Whether using's, Microsoft Dynamics' xRM or any other CRM software platform, it's critical to understand these environments, leverage their capabilities and stay within the CRM software’s tools and constructs to the maximum extent. This practice will reduce maintenance, improve stability, maintain scalability and ease the steady flow of seasonal updates and new versions. End

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Whether using’s, Microsoft Dynamics’ xRM or any other CRM software platform, it is critical to leverage their capabilities and stay within the CRM software's tools and constructs in order to reduce maintenance, improve stability, maintain scalability and ease the steady flow of seasonal updates and new versions.


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