The Widgetization of #CRM

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I’m a long time CRM consultant and architect, but I’m a fairly horrible CRM user. I know this for two reasons. First, I deal with projects and one-off requests more than I deal with the traditional Sales, Marketing and Customer Service roles. I still deal with them, it’s just in the context of the project, generally or some ad hoc situation. I’ve worked with very few internal CRM implementations that have integrated project management into our CRM platform well. Mostly because we spent our time on our customers and not on ourselves.

The other reason I know I’m a horrible CRM user is because my customers always show me how to do something in a way that the vendor, or the consultant, had never thought of. Sometimes this is this great, and I try to remember it when designing a process or interface. Sometimes it’s horrible, and is the reason I spend a day and a half attempting to duplicate an issue.  The bottom line is that given a huge and comprehensive piece of software, there are, not coincidentally, an infinite number of possible entry points to a particular task – all through a big cumbersome application.

Now let’s talk more about me

People like me may be non-traditional CRM users. However, project management and execution is certainly customer facing. Therefore, I consider it to be a component of CRM – or the front office. So, it should be just as easy for me to use a platform as anyone else. Since we consultants & developers tend to be immersed in other platforms – such as virtual machines, platform specific architect and administrative tools, or even Visual Studio – it’s cumbersome to be keep track of the things we do while we’re in these other systems. Too many UI and application switches and clicks.

The traditional CRM interfaces are pretty clunky and cumbersome as well since, again, there are many entry points and typically more clicks than one wants, or needs, to get their job done. While we try as designers to deal with this, users find their own path of least resistance, even when the only options present friction.

For me, getting the job done is generally getting data into the system (as far as ticking and toting job requirements go). Actually, it’s more like getting the task done that becomes the root problem.  I’m not on the phone all day with customers, so I actually have to make a large effort for those impromptu inbound – or outbound- phone calls. It’s part of my job, but it’s not a sequential process like a sales person might enjoy, where they go down a list of people to call today. For me, it’s been a real problem. If I don’t get this information in, my company can’t take advantage of the knowledge in the future.

New Platforms Bring New Opportunities

How many of you now have gadgetized Windows desktops? I do. While I haven’t found anything of much use, it’s mostly because none of them help me do my job, or the tasks at hand. When I have my computer open, I’m generally doing my job – which is generally a series of tasks. Most importantly for me, it’s a series of somewhat unrelated, non-repetitive tasks. In other words, I don’t typically make one phone call after another.

Traditional CRM Platforms are still designed from some strange mentality that you can embed a set of best practices, generically, into an application used by empowered decision-makers. As a result, the interfaces are comprehensive in the sense that functional areas are incorporated into a generically designed UI. It actually promotes and supports the functional silos and barely connects them through a shared database.  Much of my job will span traditional silos because, as a consultant, I’m involved in pre-sales, project management, worker-bee work, customer service, and even business development.

Can someone point me to a well developed CRM UI that supports that job?

The funny thing about the front office is that every single company is different. Yet, we attempt to force them into the same cubbyhole and call it progress. Even adding more fields and data points to a CRM system still forces them to shift their mentality in some form or fashion. As someone who promotes more up front work on aligning workflow and process to a customer-centric strategy, I expect the platform vendors to be able to show a customer how their platform will adapt to support the way the customer has determined they need to do business – cross-functionally and effectively!

Sure, we will all do the same tasks, for the most part. However, the jobs will be different everywhere you go. Some companies still work in silos, some will have well developed cross-functional relationships and workflows. Either way, it has to be easy to build these. Imagine asking an SMB to make a complete reinvestment in technology just because they acquired a business unit. It has to be easier than that.

Task-based Widgets to the Rescue

Mike-palette There is a lot that automation engines can do to put a layer of cross-functional workflow over a set of immovable silos. But, that’s workflow. What about the work processes that support them? It’s easy to think of a job title and how simple that must be. The reality is that many of us span functional areas with our tasks on a daily basis. Workflow is great, but at the end of the day, you still need to get data into the system.

Workflow works on triggers and schedules. As a front office worker, your schedule is looser that that, and most of the time performed at a more basic level. This basic level is where I’m constantly frustrated and face daily obstacles to getting my job done. I like being reminded of bigger things that need to happen. But, I don’t like the obstacles that get in the way of doing the series of tasks need to achieve that bigger thing. Am I the only one that gets frustrated with this?

Mikes-Portable-Task-Gadget Here’s my idea. What if the things we needed to do in our CRM platform were managed through disconnected widgets that could exist wherever we are working and you could pop open quickly? We could be working in a virtual machine, or we could be working on an RDP connection at a client site. We may only have our phone with us – and don’t need an entire platform squished into it!  A widget that could not only help me enter specific data into the system for a specific purpose, but also widgets that can display specific information related to a specific purpose – all outside the context of the platform, which really isn’t a helpful (or portable) context.

Extend that thought to your customers. We’ve struggled for years taking two-tier customer service portals and adding tiers to them. This is an issue if your CRM customers have reseller or distribution channels. Having the vendor design an architecture that is highly adaptable must be a problem, because I’m not seeing it happen. Additionally, when the problem looks like their product, you have to drive your customers there.

How about widgetizing (easily customizable) tasks that we can plug into our websites? Maybe it’s something that plugs right into customer or vendor Intranets, so they can update or see partner data easily and efficiently – in context?

Hello?  Anybody there?

Instead of having to drive a customer somewhere they are not, make the solution exist where they are. If you want your customers to engage with you, you can’t put barriers up and expect them to conform to your business. They are where they are, doing what they’re doing – and you’re not helping them help themselves, or you. Listening and talking to them where they are is one thing – the social thing, but you need to give them the tools there as well so they become willing co-creators through participation.

As an internal CRM platform user, or as an external collaborator, we should all have the ability to select an a la carte palette of task based widgets to do our jobs, or the tasks supporting them. We don’t need the overhead of an entire platform in most scenarios, do we?  We also need these widgets to reside where we are working – the desktop, a website, a phone, an email(?) or maybe an iPad.  Given where we are today, does it make sense to keep us locked into a tired old user experience that requires brute force and patience to navigate – and one that doesn’t live where we are doing our jobs? Does the same old interface become innovative when all you’re doing is presenting it in a web browser?

I’m just asking…I want to hear your thoughts.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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