Posts Tagged ‘Usability’

A CRM Lesson Learned, from a Gardener

(Trying something different – this is a cross post from one done earlier this week on CRMOutsiders. The idea is to incorporate some feedback from comments on the post and discussions I have had to enhance the topic)

So, what exactly did I learn from my Gardener? (Gardener not Gartner) And, how in the world can I apply it to CRM, or further, a CRM implementation? In a nutshell, I learned that proper planning for application development, deployment and just many initiatives seems to be a lost art. This seems to ring especially true for Social Media initiatives.

Plant a $5 shrub in a $10 hole

When I am not in front of a computer screen, (which seems to be a little too often) I long to use some of the handy skills, which my dad taught me when I was young. Build it, fix it, rinse and repeat. About as close as I come is reading my monthly issue of Popular Mechanics, looking at all the cool things I should be doing, or getting some advice on topics such as gardening. The inspiration for this post is the May 2010 issue, page 126 (yes, I bet it is online somewhere). The simple statement, in bold above, “Plant a $5 shrub in a $10 hole” really just sunk in (bad pun, sorry). The small blurb goes on to say: “In other words, your extra labor will be repaid with vigorous trees and shrubs.”

I hope that you, the reader are able to make the leap. If the focus is too heavily skewed towards technology and not the planning, requirements gathering, analysis, design and then implementation – not too mention people, culture, process changes and role changes – then how can you expect success in deploying a new system of any kind? Spend the time, up front figuring out what you need to do in order to make the project a success.

Mark Tamis had this to say about the topic:

Not only is the problem not understanding the problem you are trying to solve, the problem is also in thinking that the technology will solve the problem. This is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The shiny object may look nice, but if it doesn’t get your job done and lad to your desired outcome, why waste the time and the effort?

This is not only about something new

The article referenced above is not only about a new ‘hole’ for a new ‘plant’, it actually starts with a question about what to do if a plant does not seem to be doing well after a long hard winter. Hmmm, I wonder if I can get away with calling the economy we experienced during the past 2 years a ‘long hard winter’ – yeah, I think I can. So, in this scenario, do I just say ‘out with the old in with the new’? I am not only talking about CRM, I am talking about technology of nearly any type. Extending the metaphor just a little further, if I simply swap the plant, without checking the soil, making sure there is enough water, or proper drainage, putting in another plant will likely lead to the same end result.

When I shared these thoughts with Reem Bazrari from SugarCRM, she  offered the following as important to the conversation:

More importantly, the provider should sell its technology with that understanding as well:
1- Educate the customer on standard or industry process that would help them improve their business
2- Provide the technology with a ramp-on plan and explain how it will tie with those processes
3- Continuously monitor the customer’s feedback

Simply replacing technology with newer technology often seems like the easiest solution. But ask yourself, and your team, what is the real reason we need to do this? I have read from many highly respected sources, that technology is rarely the problem, it is properly preparing for the technology that is the problem. Again, I am not talking about net new here, I am talking about ‘rip and replace’ because of that new shiny object in the corner over there.

Consumerization of the Enterprise

March 10, 2010 2 comments

I wrote this as a guest post for CRM Outsiders where as an Employee of SugarCRM I stated agreement with Mark Benioff of Salesforce.  After this post, one may wonder whether I will be invited back for more, or not. So, I will quickly get to the point. Two things happened during this past week which drove me to write this post.

  1. Mark Benioff wrote a great article, and the consumerization of the Enterprise is certainly upon us – a position that I agree with
  2. Paul Greenberg  wrote a great post, which hit home on a few fronts – this article is a way to show respect for the thoughts

Starting with Paul’s post first, he raised several issues, but the one that hit home is that there is too much “Jockeying for position”. The reference was not specific to any particular vendor, but the point was made.  Paul stated the following: “When this manipulating jockey decides to differentiate to get “position” they denigrate what others do.” Paul is correct, and it is rather interesting as well that we are in the CRM business. While we certainly would like to do well, there are certain topics where that agreement leads to simply a better product.

Paul went on to say “Compete by the strength of your offerings”. The core of the offerings of any company goes beyond the products that are built, but are also the people behind the products. I would like to further point out that in the future of…well, the future of just about everything, the differentiators will increasingly be the people. As friend and IDC analyst, Mike Fauscette, likes to state, “People are the platform”. My simple conclusion on this topic is that the boundary between work and non-work is getting fuzzier by the day. Making the next part of this post that much more interesting.

Why I believe Mark Benioff agrees with me

Now, not to upset the apple cart by trying to play nice, and then jockey for position. A wording trick suggested to me by a friend, changes the positioning, doesn’t it? In many recent conversations and even comments on other’s blogs I have made the case that there has been a large shift in expectations by people regarding Computing and Access. Until around 2002 – 2004 or so, the faster computer you had access to was at work, and the fastest data pipe you had access to was also at work. Is this true anymore?

If you combine that phenomenon with the availability of cloud based applications, both consumer and enterprise, consumer is growing faster. (Sidebar – anyone who thinks that Gmail, LinkedIn or Facebook are not cloud apps, friend me and we can chat about it).  Ok, enough setting up the scenario, what exactly are we in agreement on? Here is a quote from the article (actually the prequel) “We need to transform the business conversation the same way Facebook has changed the consumer conversation. Market shifts happen in real time, deals are won and lost in real time, and data changes in real time.”

But, it is about usability, not technology

I am not going to try and say “I agree, but” (that is like saying “I’m sorry, but”). I will however extend the thought, in the following way – So, for all 90% or more of you who have one or more of the applications I just mentioned in the sidebar above, how long did you spend reading the manual for any of these applications? Facebook even changed the application 2 or 3 times (depending upon when you joined) and even after the yelling and screaming and the joining of the ‘no do not change FaceBook’ fan page – 350 million of us are members and 175 million log in each day. Facebook did more than change the consumer conversation, it changed the enterprise conversation as well.

Ok, I lied, it is not only about usability, it is about the fact that we enjoy the social dynamic these applications provide. It is also no longer a technology play; that is simply accepted. I am probably the only one who takes a break from Facebook and Skype at home by checking my work email. The boss (my wife) tried to block access to work from home, but the IT department (me) pushed back. If she was successful (unplugging the router) then I just access work via my iPhone and 3G. While this sounds a bit backwards, how far off am I? It is about usability and culture. People, Process and Technology – help people to succeed and we will all succeed. If people enjoy where they spend their time (online and offline) they will spend more time there.

This is the first part in a series where I will explore other topics on the consumerization of the enterprise, data and cultural silos.

User Experience: first impression versus lasting impressions

A crucial step in the deployment, or redeployment of any application requires a heavy dose of end-user involvement. We do not need to go too far back in time to find good examples of this; i.e. the recent Facebook changes that were not very popular. Even more recently, the a popular social site, FriendFeed, introduced changes that are causing a little bit of a stir, not as bad a Facebook though, is it was soft-launched as a beta. The simple fact is that we can learn from others, within our domain and outside of it, in order to avoid these pitfalls. Finally, while the examples used here are on a grand scale, when deploying your own solutions, the same rules do apply.

Two key messages I am hopeful are supported within this short post:

  1. Ease of use, on the first use, is not always the end goal – said with caution and caveats
  2. Change management is a practice unto itself with good reason

Bringing three accepted tenets of application development/deployment together in support of my key messages:

  • The processes (thought and action) required to introduce changes are important and necessary.
  • Involve your users/customers, ask them what they want, listen to the answers.
  • Look outside of your core businesses or domain; you can learn from other lines of business.

(ok, that last one is not yet a ‘tenet’ but we are working on it)

A fun example brings us back to the old Pepsi Challenge.  A few years back, Pepsi supported a blind taste test, to prove that people liked Pepsi better than Coke. I am not a marketer by trade, but smart enough to understand what happened, or at least the analysis. The summary version (with a reference here – warning it is a pdf) is that Pepsi won the challenge based on the ‘sip’ test, Coke reacted (New Coke), and then realized that people do not drink one sip, they drink a whole can.  Further analysis showed that people actually liked a can of Coke, better than Pepsi.

This study hits 2 of the 3 tenets –

  1. Coke reacted and did not do effective change management,
  2. Coke reacted and did not talk to their customers,
  3. What they could have learned from another business?

I am sure you can think of a few examples outside of the soft drink industry that if Coke had looked at, would have taught them a thing or two. Lucky for us, we can take this example and learn from it; First impressions do not always represent the end-game, and involve your customers before acting.

In designing systems there exists a critical balance between feature rich, sophistication and ease of use. Of course it is easier said, than done; It takes time, thought and a lot of skill. Iterations and incremental changes, based on customer/user feedback will provide guidance. I do understand that it is a balance, because if users or customers cannot get past the first screen, they will simply stop and not use whatever it is you are building.

Systems (applications and hardware)  that demonstrate ‘too well’; with eye-candy and overly simplified user interfaces often fail once the user community reach a level of competency. This rings true more for applications designed for internal enterprise use, but may be carefully applied to consumer facing applications in a given context.

The timing of this muse may seem odd, given my recent research on Cloud Computing, SaaS and SocialCRM (CRM 2.0).  But, I needed to remind myself that we need spend time looking back every once in a while in order to move forward. Given the power to reach nearly any customer base or user community, through a variety of channels, with unprecedented speed, we all need to have an action plan in place to consumer the information. Planning and strategy have taken on a whole new meaning.

I would like to note that this thought was is actually inspired by 3 independent conversations occurring through blogs and twitter – thanks to @GrahamHill, @scorpfromhell and @pgreenbe