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CRM Hell

So after posting about my experience with Highrise, a client I'm doing some consulting for asked me to assist in cleaning up their Netsuite implementation. Netsuite is obviously a far more complex app than Highrise, in that it deals with every aspect of the customer lifecycle -- from sales force automation, pipeline management, quotes and orders through to customer service, trouble-ticketing, financial accounting... I expect, for a large fee, their professional services team can get it to do your laundry.

But even though it's complex, why does the interface have to reflect this? As a neophyte user it would in most cases be literally impossible to figure out the functionality, which means expensive training and frustrated users, many of whom are sales people who should be outside getting orders not inside learning software.

There's a great article here addressing the challenges of interface design. I was particularly interested in the points the author, Mike Padilla, makes about the balance between too much information on the screen so that the user can't process everything he sees and too little information so that the user needs to work too hard to find the functionality she needs.

Netsuite is firmly in the too much information category, and benefits from the extent to which users have been conditioned to expect complexity, and those making buying decisions budget for near-endless professional services and training. There's all kinds of song and dance on their corporate site about the use of AJAX in their interface, but that's missing the point on an epic scale: I don't care if I can drag and drop in the browser window if I can't figure out how to use the app!

Not that Netsuite are the only ones. I've used salesforce.com and a few other competing applications and found the same story there. I'm fairly tech-savvy but it's just too frustrating to figure out the inconsistent navigation and arcane labelling of functions. There's a list here of some more intuitive alternatives, but I don't think any of these has fundamentally solved the user experience challenge.

My primary hope about the promise of Web 2.0 (yes, yes, I know it's a terribly cliched term these days) is that there will be a from-the-ground-up demand for better user experiences as they are delivered at the consumer and lightweight business application level. We've all been sadly mistaken in expecting the supply side to deliver what we want, so let's keep our fingers crossed that this demand trickles upmarket.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 21, 2007 10:32 AM.

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