CRM Software User Centered Design Best Practices


  • Poor CRM software adoption decreases staff productivity, weakens information reporting and squanders a significant technology investment. CRM user centered design can remedy these problems.
  • User centered design and Customer Relationship Management software are symbiotic. Together they make the application easier to use, increase user adoption and contribute to tangible benefits such as time savings and improved staff productivity.
  • CRM user-centered design is less about software aesthetics and more about satisfying the four user objectives of focus, simplicity, productivity and user experience. It makes the user, not the application, the focus of all design.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

TMC reported that 83% of senior executives said that their biggest challenge was getting their staff to use the CRM software. A Forrester survey found that 38% of all reported problems with CRM implementations were people-related and linked to user adoption.

When a single obstacle creates such a disproportionate challenge, it's a challenge worth proactively solving. Applying user centered design to Customer Relationship Management software can avoid this obstacle.

User centered design makes the application more intuitive and easier to use. It creates a more rewarding user experience. It increases the breadth and depth of the software that gets used. And it improves user adoption and staff productivity while at the same time reducing training time.

If you are planning an implementation, or looking to improve CRM software adoption, consider these four CRM design practices.


Focus on What's Most Important

The most helpful system capabilities will vary by company. So, to figure out what's most important to your users conduct a one-day Design Thinking workshop. This exercise will surface the most important and highest impact user goals and prevent over-engineering everything else.

Avoid the temptation and common mistake of unwarranted software expansion. These systems are designed to satisfy virtually every requirement for every industry. That's not what users need.

Introducing an application that does more than most users can imagine will overwhelm most users. Implement the fewest features that contribute the most impact. Don't succumb to the practice of implementing more and more software features and functions as this makes the system more complex and difficult to use. To achieve focus, remember that less is more.

Focus separates what's interesting from what's important. Here are some examples.

  • A sales manager dashboard shows a seller's win rate is 45 percent. That may be interesting, but it is not insightful or actionable. Instead, present that information along with an industry benchmark that shows the average sales win rate is 49 percent, so that the seller and the sales manager know the salesperson is below par. Include a predictive analytic that shows the sales revenue impact if the conversion rate is elevated to the industry average. Or show correlations, such as that this seller performs an average of 7 activities per sale opportunity, while sale opportunities that are won incur an average of 14 activities. Now you have actionable insights. Take it a step further and create a link from the win rate metric to a Playbook Play that shows the best practices to increase sales win rates.
  • Or perhaps a customer has a net promoter score (NPS) of 40. By itself that may be interesting but not very actionable. Showing an NPS trend helps a little. But why does the score even matter? What does any particular score even mean? NPS becomes actionable when it's correlated with other factors that are proven to drive revenue, such as customer lifetime value (CLV) and customer retention.
  • Or compare NPS scores with customer churn history. If your history shows that an NPS score of 40 means that customers are 2X more likely to churn you have new learning. If the history shows that an NPS score of 60 correlates with customers that are 2X more likely to make repeat purchases, you have a measurable upside for action. Or if your history shows that an NPS score of 80 results in customers having 2X higher CLV than customers with a score of 40, you have an actionable journey to pursue. Most companies have this data. Few companies know how to use it.

Make CRM Simple

Research by InsideCRM revealed that 55 percent of users say the most important CRM feature is ease of use.

A user interface is like a joke, in that if you have to explain it, it doesn't work. So, to achieve ease of use you need to design CRM software to be so simple that little or no training is required. This is best done by simplifying the user interface (UI) to deliver an appealing user experience (UX). That means stating goals in people terms, not software terms. Applying CRM software design to user experiences, not just software screens. And emphasizing usability over software ascetics.

Designing the system user interface and navigation should be done by focusing on prioritized user behaviors. For example, creating a default dashboard page that clearly shows what each user should do first and next will aid ease of use and time management.

CRM User Experience

Once you have organized what users need most in an easy to consume interface, it's then important to remove menus and pages that are irrelevant. You will gain more use adoption when you remove software complexity. Organizing menus and navigation paths by role makes it much easier to turn on, turn off and manage these displays going forward.


Make Staff Productive

For many companies, the system is a compliance tool where users enter completed activities or historical information. Because users don't value manual entry or backward-looking information, their participation is the bare minimum. They put little in because they get little out.

The simple but often ignored truth is that most staff will not embrace any software unless and until it helps them do their jobs better. For many companies that means a shift from data input to information output. From feeding the system to getting value out of it.

Software design opportunities to make users more productive include things like contextually triggered push-based information or guided behaviors that display next-best-actions and prescriptive insights based on customer, contact or sale opportunity status, progress or other information.

Sometimes design may apply a wholesale shift to the interface. For some clients, we configure the CRM so all account activities and opportunity updates can be made from within Outlook and without ever going into the application. That's helpful because Outlook is where virtually every salesperson starts their day and where they reside throughout the day. Using a packaged integration between Outlook and a CRM system reduces staff effort and improves productivity.

Allowing staff to use their top productivity apps and mobile devices increases productivity.


Make CRM Social

The consumer technologies staff use in their personal lives sets the bar for what they expect everywhere. And they get frustrated when business technologies can't keep up with their personal technologies.

Social and consumer technologies are converging into the B2B enterprise software market in what some call the consumerization of IT. These consumer technologies include mobile and social features and tools we've come to enjoy, such as messaging, tagging, folksonomies, search, personalization, omni-channel integration and above all simplicity.

Consumer technologies are so intuitive they can be used without training and manuals. Business applications that leverage these capabilities are more intuitive, easy to use, personally rewarding and deliver a much more impressive user experience.

CRM applications can adopt consumer technology principals such as using less clutter, more white space, color coded intelligence, dynamic data display, contextual menus, hover-over navbars, forms divided into containers, hyperlinked breadcrumb trails and responsive web design (i.e., dynamically adaptive to various devices and form factors.)

They can go further to permit flexible navigation using touch screens, voice, swipe and gesture recognition and even mimic consumer sites such as Amazon or eBay.

Software designers often mix and morph the users personal and professional technology use, noting that the lines blur and are no longer separated by working or weekend hours. CRM applications that tap into and mimic consumer and social technologies achieve lower learning curves, increased user adoption, faster time to value and greater software utilization.

See the 4 most important CRM user centered design best practices to improve ease of use, user adoption, staff productivity and technology ROI.

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