The Link Between the User Experience and Customer Experience
CRM user interfaces impact learning curves, user adoption and productivity
CRM vendors are increasingly releasing software solutions built around the idea that their user interfaces have to be as customer-centric as their products' users are supposed to be. In other words, the user interface (UI) has to empower customer facing staff with real-time, vital customer information in an easy to consume way. As CRM has become a crucial tool for more departments within the business, that's become more difficult, since different people need access to different pieces of data from the same data set – meaning there's a big opportunity to provide role-based or user-customizable interface tools designed for flexibility and for providing customer analytics that are vital to each user, and to do so without overtaxing the IT department.
We talk a lot about customer experience, and rightly so. But where does that experience begin? If we assume it begins with the initial contact between the business and the customer, then we're implying that everything that comes before that is not pertinent, and we know that's not the case. The groundwork the business lays, and to a lesser extent, the experiences that lead the customer to the business – inform the customer experience even before the two parties have made the first contact.
And part of that groundwork, I would assert, is the quality of the CRM software UI and its impact on the staff who use it. This is never more readily apparent than in customer service. A stodgy, rigid, inefficient, old-fashioned user interface can keep customer service agents from getting the information they need quickly, thus frustrating both the agent and the customer. An antiquated interface can pollute the customer experience in other areas and in subtle ways that aren't as apparent as in the service example.
For instance, user adoption remains a CRM challenge among sales people – less now than before the recession, to be sure. But getting sales representatives to enthusiastically embrace CRM software, and not just the things that are obvious benefits to them (or mandatory, thanks to the edicts of their sales managers) can still be a struggle. Part of that is that sales reps are being asked to use interfaces that were, in many cases, not really designed with sales people in mind, or which highlight information that isn't relevant or support the way they work. In the course of their discussions, they may learn something important about the customer but find no appropriate place to enter it into the system because the interface is too rigid or was designed with technology, and not the user, in mind.
When that happens, key data can evade input into the system, and your picture of the customer relationship starts to erode. At some point, the customer may have a special need or a new requirement that your sales reps haven't added to the system. When that happens, and when you fail to follow up on those special conditions, your customer's experience suffers and your relationship begins to fall into disrepair.
A rigid user interface can similarly drive away other customer facing staff within the business who can benefit from CRM data and who could otherwise use it to improve the customer experience. For example, a sales-specific interface can alienate marketing (and it works the other way, too, as evidenced by some lead management and marketing automation tools with very sales-centric interfaces intended to help bridge the two sides). This is why you see very few service-oriented user interfaces in CRM – why would sales or marketing want to use a service tool? Every time we see a divide like this, we see data wasted within the business, and this can't help but damage attempts to build an effective and complete user experience. It's an argument against a standalone SFA solution, and it's also an argument against a one-size-fits-all-roles style of user interface.
Those are a few data management examples. A more subtle and yet more pervasive problem is in the impact of a rigid or ineffective user interface on the attitudes of your staff. I have no great equation for this, but I know from my own past experience how difficult it can be to go directly from the frustration of a long session of adding data into an inefficient data management system to dealing with customers face-to-face. It's only too easy to carry that frustration from one activity to the next – avoiding it requires conscious effort at times. I've always asserted that CRM should make doing your job easier, not harder. If CRM software use is causing additional stress instead of relieving it, there's a problem to be addressed – and many times the problem starts with something as elemental as the user interface.
The next generation of CRM user interfaces will be based on the idea that the user understands his role and the data that's important to it, and that more data is better than less data if it's easily accessible and can be organized in a way that helps each role do his or her job. Otherwise, more data – especially the data that doesn't immediately affect the user's job performance – is just an impediment.
I have little doubt that the time for a CRM user interface revolution is here, but I believe its impact will go deeper than just in improving ascetics, internal processes or boosting adoption rates. The customer experience can't be a good one if the employee experience is bad, and the least a modern CRM software solution can do is allow users to work the way they need to in order to perform their jobs most effectively.