Surprise and delight: The user-friendly CRM

Is user experience something that a CIO needs to worry about, and if it is, what is the best way to go about guaranteeing it?

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Surprise and delight: The user-friendly CRM
By  Tom Paye Published  April 21, 2015

CRM software is as much hated as much as it is beloved among sales teams around the world. By this point, there is no doubting that the market-leading CRM solutions help sales teams with their leads, as well as manage current business.

But end users bemoan the stilted look and feel that make these solutions difficult to work with, particularly for employees that lack high levels of computing skills. However, with the next wave of CRM products ready to hit the market, it seems as if the big vendors are paying much more attention to user experience. The question is, will an enhanced user experience actually make the solutions more effective?

“Enterprise software sucks,” Charles Phillips, CEO of Infor, famously claimed at the 2013 Inforum global customer conference. He was making light of Infor’s then-recent creation of Hook & Loop, an in-house design agency tasked with making Infor’s products more user-friendly. During his keynote presentation, Phillips took swipes at SAP’s products, claiming that they looked like they hadn’t been updated in 20 years. And while the joke was slightly underhanded, it garnered a good response from the crowd, who, it seemed, were largely in agreement that user-friendliness needed to be improved.

While SAP never publicly responded to Phillips’ dig, it seems that company is beginning to take the general usability of its products more seriously. Ahead of the big unveil of SAP Business Suite 4 SAP HANA earlier this year, CEO Bill McDermott promised “Facebook-like quality and beauty” for the new offering.

“It’s beautiful to consume on the mobile, and completely game-changing,” he told Arabian Computer News ahead of the launch. The question, however, is whether CIOs should care that much about the beauty and user-friendliness of their enterprise software products.

CRM solutions have been a prime target for aesthetic going-overs in recent years. Indeed, according to Karim Talhouk, Microsoft Business Solution lead for the Gulf region, the idea of beautifying this sort of solution is hardly new — vendors have been trying to improve usability since the beginning of CRM. He explains that this has been done more out of necessity than anything else, given how limited early CRM solutions were.

“CRM solutions have evolved over the years to provide improved user experiences. The first CRM systems were not fully-baked and the technology was not intuitive and easy to use. It was hard to implement with long time to value, and difficult to become proficient in its use. It was even harder to change the business processes that had been implemented. Older CRM systems were also difficult to integrate with a company’s IT ecosystem, which meant that many actions needed to be repeated in multiple systems. For example, consider a CRM system that was not integrated into a company’s e-mail system. This means that a sales person would have to cut and paste a customer communication from their e-mail correspondence into the CRM system, which was labour-intensive and often not done,” he says.

“Furthermore, most CRM systems were very limited in terms of scalability. This inevitably meant that as more users were added, the system would eventually slow down to the point of being unusable. Duplication of effort, slowness and user-unfriendly interfaces detracted many sales, marketing and customer service professionals from using the tools. This meant that CRM records were incomplete, inconsistent and many times inaccurate. And, as information became stale, fewer employees used the CRM system, which added fuel to the fire.”

There’s no doubting that older CRM systems had their faults, then. But with the new generation of solutions, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that user-friendliness actually increases productivity — companies embracing user-friendly CRM products find much joy in proclaiming that their employees are happier as a result, meaning more productivity and better returns. And according to Jawad Ali Khan, regional CEO at Focus Softnet, there is some sense to this logic.

“It is important to note that departments that typically employ CRM solutions often face higher-than-normal attrition rates of moderately skilled resources so clearly a more user-friendly solution will always be quicker to adopt, and generate higher efficiencies, ultimately resulting in stronger ROIs,” he says.

Unsurprisingly, given his CEO’s comments, this opinion is shared by Grant Halloran, global vice president and general manager of Infor’s Marketing and CRM software group. But Halloran goes as far as to say that old-style, difficult-to-use CRM solutions will actually negatively impact a company’s financial results.

“Everyone needs beautiful, easy-to-use applications. We live in a world of information overload and everyone uses apps all day now, not just at work. If you are forced to spend many hours a day in an ugly, hard-to-use system you are going to tend to avoid using it. In sales that is bad, because accurate visibility into pipeline drives accurate forecasts, which drives what companies tell the market about their future performance. Bad forecasting is bad for share prices,” he says.

The upshot, then, is that, if a CRM system is difficult to use, employees won’t use it, negating the benefits to investing in the solution in the first place. And much of the pushback against difficult products is driven by the consumerisation of IT, according to Melvina Tarazi, head of business development and industries, SAP MENA.

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