Mobile CRM User Experience Best Practices

Mobile CRM is different than its desktop counterpart. Unfortunately, most mobile CRM adopters fail to recognize that difference, which is why CSO Insights reports that 42 percent of sales people use mobile devices, but 4 out of 5 are only using basic productivity apps such as email, and only 1 in 5 organizations have integrated mobile use cases to their business processes.

In a similar way, creating a satisfying mobile CRM user experience is different than achieving that same goal on the desktop. While user experience planning has some things in common regardless of device ― such as starting with measurable goals, segmenting your audience and identifying their roles, content needs, devices, use cases and CRM software expectations ― different devices require different plans and tactics to achieve not so different user experience objectives.

I've found those differences to be in the areas of design, content, features and analytics, and will use this post to share how each of these elements can improve the mobile CRM user experience.

Design. Mobile CRM isn't a downsized CRM experience as much as it is a more purposeful and specialized experience. The design behind that experience should help the user focus on the one or few things that matter most or support specific use cases. To that end, here are several design tactics that I've found helpful.

  • The two primary mobile structures are hierarchical and hub-and-spoke. Hierarchical structures (aka tree structures) are simple parent-child relationships while hub-and-spoke structures permit navigation from a source page (the hub) to any number of destination pages (spokes). Hierarchy structures are more popular and often better suited for simple mobile apps, however, hub-and-spoke structures can make a lot of sense for CRM applications which need to cut across sales, marketing and service. Your user cases will dictate the best mobile app structure.
  • The golden rule with mobile CRM design is to avoid feature creep. Do not attempt to replicate pages, features and functions in your customer relationship management system to the mobile CRM experience. Such an effort renders the app overly difficult and challenges user adoption. Instead, work with users to find the balance for the smallest list of most used features. According to Gartner, as a rough guide, make a list of desired features for your mobile CRM app and then discard half of them. Similarly, for every feature you introduce into your backlog, one should be removed.
  • Breadcrumb trails improve the user experience for most mobile apps. If used, the breadcrumb labels should be hyperlinks which permit navigation to any of the displayed intermediate pages.
  • CRM views are pervasive in CRM systems but must be scaled down for a mobile CRM user experience. Account, contact, activity, opportunity, case, campaign and similar views are most often displayed in tables with many columns. Because these views are actually previews to large data sets there is a tendency to display as many columns as can fit without horizontal scrolling. This won't work on a mobile device so mobile CRM views should be reduced to one or two columns, or no more than three.
  • Gartner shared some usability research that suggested mobile CRM apps should not use more than three key strokes to get to the desired function. Each additional keystroke reduces the user experience and results in user drop off.

Content. Content may be king, but the kingdom will be a lonely one if not integrated with several design and placement techniques.

  • Content placement requires content prioritization. With very limited smartphone form factors and the navigational inefficiency of scrolling, it is critical to position what's most important first – and preferably on the home page above the fold. A good mobile UI places the most used functions at the start.
  • A mobile best practice is to structure content using an inverted pyramid. This content design mimics news writing whereby the most important information or conclusion is delivered first, and is then followed with supporting details.
  • Because different mobile operating systems display text differently, font control is critical to achieving readability and a consistent user experience across devices. Font placement factors which should be used to improve readability on mobile devices include increased kerning (the horizontal spacing between characters), increased leading (the vertical spacing between lines) and consistent use of either a monospaced font (whereby text occupies a constant amount of horizontal space) or a proportional font (where text spacing is apportioned based on the shape and width of each character). Using a sans serif font will aid readability. Applying these font control methods will make a noticeable improvement to users.
  • Mobile performance is a critical success factor in the user experience, and the single biggest factor to achieve faster pages is to remove images. If you use images at all, you should use grayscale, monochrome (multiple shades of a single color) or highly optimized (GIF or PNG) images.

Lists. Smart lists are a part of effective content design, and have many special purposes on mobile devices.

  • Mobile CRM home pages often use lists of numbered links to accelerate navigation, reduce fat fingering errors and provide an alternate navigational method for those mobile devices that don't support pinch-and-zoom.
  • Lists facilitate scanning and improve readability as compared to placing multiple topics as continuous text. Research shows that scanning a horizontal (sentence based) list takes about 25% more time and effort than scanning a vertical list.
  • Another list technique is to insert clickable list topics above multi-page text so that users can quickly see what is included without having to scroll through the pages, and so users can hyperlink to the desired content. At the end of multi-page content be sure to insert a Back to Top link.
  • Make extensive use of lists, determine whether list order will be based on importance, logic or another method such as alphabetical order, and consistently follow your list order standard. Research shows that users scan lists and often stop scanning once they find a relevant item. This user behavior may favor creating CRM lists by relevance or importance rather than by sequence or alphabetically.

User Aides. Small features which collectively deliver big impact to the mobile CRM user experience include the following:

  • Pagination of CRM records. CRM pages often include hundreds or thousands of accounts, contacts, activities, opportunities or cases. It's important that these views be paginated (i.e. delivering no more than 50 or so results at a time) in order to maintain acceptable performance.
  • Increased used of bounded fields. Data entry is severely limited on mobile devices. This limitation can be compounded with CRM systems due to high volumes of new activities or extra text associated with account notes or sale opportunities. To improve the text entry experience, try to use more bounded fields which preset the option values for selection and entry instead of unbounded fields which depend on free form text entry.
  • Where unbounded text entry is required, use a field control which automatically formats the text appearance. For example, in Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics CRM, use the text field controls which also permit text sub-types to format URLs, email addresses or telephone numbers.
  • Type ahead / autocomplete. Most users recognize this functionality as part of their SMS. It's not as common in CRM software, but there are tools and techniques so that CRM apps can suggest or autocomplete field entry. I share an example of how to do this in my post on how to customize the Microsoft Dynamics CRM user experience.

Analytics. Analytics deliver the insights for continuous process improvement. Here are some mobile CRM analytics aids.

  • Heat maps are particularly useful in showing user actions and preferences on mobile devices as they visually depict movements such as taps, pinches and swipes. Some mobile app heat map tools show user navigation flows, click-throughs, drop-offs and how content is consumed (or not consumed) while others actually record and replay user sessions. I recently used the Appsee product to view user actions on mobile devices and was able to quickly make some changes that significantly improved the user experience and user adoption.
  • Other measures to improve the user experience include analyzing device types, mobile operating systems, user locations, time on app and the tabulated listings of most used features (to be prioritized for improved content placement) and least used features (to be replaced or discarded).