How to Design CRM for the User Experience


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How long did it take you to learn eBay or How many manuals did you read? How did that experience compare with learning your CRM application?

Consumer technologies have set the standards users expect in their personal and professional application usage. However, when trying to leverage these technologies with business applications most organizations get it wrong because they fail to understand the difference between the user interface (UI) and the user experience (UX).

The UI is focused on the visual presentation, but the User Experience is much more than that, as it contributes to an emotion that either enhances or degrades the continued use of the application. To achieve a positive emotional connection, the UX should precede the UI so that form follows function and utility is aligned with user-centered design. What that means is that the UX begins by engaging users to understand what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it. Any attempt to achieve a UX objective by hiring designers, creating wire frames or dressing up existing applications with UI facelifts – without first understanding user behaviors, expectations and prioritized use cases – will not achieve a successful user experience.

Understanding the CRM UX ROI

Before you belittle the power of emotional attachment toward a CRM software application, consider the tangible benefits and their financial payback. CRM applications that deliver a positive UX also achieve the following benefits:

  • A positive CRM experience lowers learning curves and fast tracks staff on-boarding. These benefits are often cited as a result of improved ease of use and can accelerate time to value by 40 percent.
  • Improved user satisfaction leads to greater application utilization – including better data input, more process automation and enhanced information reporting. This in turn achieves higher technology investment payback. On the flipside, when users fail to see the value of their CRM software, they revert to the bare minimum operation, maintain separate shadow systems (often Excel spreadsheets) and incur more manual effort. Most companies struggle with CRM software utilization, which is why most companies use less than 25% of their CRM applications capability.
  • More enthusiastic CRM adoption reduces training costs, rids the need to create custom user manuals or help pages, takes advantage of CRM updates, lowers support and help desk costs, and reduces documentation expenses.

How To Achieve the CRM User Experience Payback

Once you understand the upside, the next question is how to achieve it.

As with any business strategy the first task is to define the goal. For most adopters, the strategic objective for user experience is to deliver the right experience to the right user at the right time on the right device. This objective should be quantified into more practical terms by role.

The next step is to define the plan. While project plans will vary, the first task is to know your user. Before you can design for the user, you need to really know your user. Start by identifying and segmenting your audience and then identifying their roles, content needs, devices, use cases and CRM software expectations.

The plan will vary greatly based on whether working within the platform, constructs and tools of a particular CRM application or developing bespoke customization which permits more powerful and flexible platforms, tools and technologies. For a specific CRM user experience example, refer to my post on how to customize the Dynamics CRM user experience.

The CRM UX Formula

With the prerequisites in place, you can begin the user experience design. I’ve found a relatively simple formula that can deliver a predictable CRM user experience.

Relevance + Personalization + Context + Outcomes = UX

I’ll explain these building blocks.

  • Relevance is all about delivering what users consider important. Technology should be designed and configured to deliver relevant information by role and based on use cases.
  • Personalization adapts the CRM software based on configurations, preference settings, role, past use, channel, device and location. Personalization goes beyond the way the application looks and includes how the application responds, what content is displayed or promoted, how content is consumed and how the use case outcome was achieved within the user’s personal preferences. CRM software applications permit simple user management, user segmentation and role-based configurations which contribute to personalization. However, to maximize this capability you’ll need to apply several tactics I’ll share later in the user experience best practices section.
  • Context advances content from static views to dynamic information based on what’s needed at any point in time and based on variables which match a situation. Within a CRM application context brings what’s needed to the forefront faster and with fewer keystrokes. By understanding users past behaviors and actions (or what we sometimes call situational data and outcomes) you can anticipate situations, predict the best case responses and configure CRM software to proactively react.
  • Outcomes are the results that cement the users experience. The three factors that most impact the user’s perception of CRM outcomes are predictability, convenience and timeliness. Use cases must be designed for these three variables.

Next: CRM User Experience Best Practices

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Chuck Schaeffer
Chuck is the North America Go-to-Market Leader for IBM's CRM and ERP consulting practice. He is also enjoys contributing to his blog at


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