CRM – Valuing Simplicity

Simplicity Can be an Undervalued Criteria

When potential IT products are evaluated the main criteria are always functionality and cost. The choice normally comes down to a compromise between the two: Product A does everything we need and more, Product B only meets 90% of our needs but is half the price. High functionality products cost more than low functionality products, you pays your money and you makes your choice.

So why is simplicity not a key criteria, especially when most products are good enough? Simple products are easier to use and go wrong less often. Easier to use means that people use them more often and with more success, going wrong less often means happier users and an IT department not distracted by fixing problems.

As software design and capabilities mature we are moving to a world when products become functionally identical. Microsoft Word does everything we need (and a whole lot more), Customer Resource Management (CRM) is fast becoming just CRM, all cars go 100mph and look the same. Software vendors, desperate to differentiate their products, have to find more and more arcane features to distinguish themselves from their competitors, each feature with less marginal benefit. During this process the products get larger, more complicated to use and more complicated to install and maintain. In fact there are many pressures on vendors to add functionality to their products: a large potential customer demands a feature specific to them; publications only review new versions with new features; the marketing people need new features to shout about; the design team suffers feature envy against a larger competitor; additional components are purchased from other companies. During a product’s lifetime a simple product can "evolve" into a highly featured, and highly complex, suite.

Measuring ease of use is different from measuring functionality or cost. You can measure functionality with checklists and costs by adding them up. So how can you measure simplicity? We would suggest the following metrics:

  • Screen clutter: how many objects on the screen? The more menu items, fields and graphics the more difficult it is for the eye to focus on what is important.

  • Clicks: how many mouse clicks to add a record, or define a report? The more mouse clicks, the more pages to load, the longer it takes, the more frustrating the user experience.

  • Menu depth: how many levels of menu do you have to go to select the option you want, or to go through before realising that this menu tree does not hold that option.

  • Training Course: How long is the course to train a basic user? An hour, a day, a week? Is a course needed in the first place?

  • Technical complexity: data replication, multiple connecting systems, separate software running on each client and server are all weak links in a chain.

  • Intuitiveness: How many minutes or hours before the design and workflow is intuitive to a new user?

In his book SimplicitySimplicity by Edward de Bono, one of Edward de Bono’s ten rules is that

"If simplicity is a real value, then you must be prepared to trade off other real values in order to gain simplicity."

But complexity has real costs too: mistakes made, time taken, systems not working, employee rejection.

As functionality is increasingly taken for granted, the new trade off should be between price and ease of use: Product A is half the price, but Product B is easier to use and maintain. With the major reason for failure in CRM implementations being rejection or disinterest by the sales people, simplicity becomes the key differentiator.

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