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Product design

CRM Design That Improves Customer Relationships: What Does It Look Like?

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A good CRM gives the company a clear overview of its customers. Sales, marketing and customer service representatives can see everything in one place — a simple, customizable dashboard that tells customers’ previous history with the company, the status of their orders, any outstanding customer relation details, and more. It eases engaging potential customers and increasing the loyalty of the existing ones.

From this definition of a good CRM, you can already see how complex this type of software is. CRM brings tons of information under one roof, and thus often balances between being useful and overwhelming for customers. Product design can help a CRM platform to get to the useful side.

Why does a good CRM user experience matter?

CRM is meant to be a substitute for spreadsheets. And as such, its primary function and value for the users is to make their lives easier.

Alas, that's not always the case in reality. And that's a problem as you can't very well expect users to be satisfied with your CRM (and keep paying for it) if they find it more difficult to use than the good old Excel.

A typical CRM is data-heavy, featuring complex workflows, multiple features, roles, and permissions. This complexity can sometimes make CRM systems challenging to use. Because of this, it detracts from the value the users are supposed to be getting out of it.

Case in point: one of the CRM design examples we worked on, Ricochet 360. When they came to Eleken for redesign, their user onboarding process was extremely lengthy. It took over a month.

Richochet 360 screen

When a CRM becomes too complex, users may abandon it for simpler alternatives, given the abundance of competitors in the market. Ricochet 360 was right to approach improving its functionality from the UX design perspective. Complexity is precisely the issue that UX designers can help tackle. As the name suggests, their job is to enhance the user experience of applications, making them more intuitive and user-friendly. At Eleken, we have a vast portfolio of designed and redesigned CRM systems, and in this article, we will share insights into our design process and the common mistakes to avoid.

CRM design process: main steps

Let us illustrate the CRM software design process using the example of Gridle, one of our recent clients. Gridle (now Clientjoy) is a CRM for freelancers and small agencies. It was launched back in 2013, so when Eleken joined a project in 2020, the design already needed significant improvements.

1. Baseline analysis

Since the task was to redesign the app, our first step was to analyze the original design.

Gridle was a complex app with a steep learning curve. It had a rich functionality for users to manage their leads, proposals, invoices, and email templates. Luckily for us, Gridle used the Inspectlet app to register everything their users did in the app. So we could review the recordings to understand which features get used more and which are completely ignored. 

To figure out how each feature worked and why it was even necessary for the app, we made a detailed site map of the original product. Then we moved on to the next step:

2. Competitive research

To determine the features needed to make our client’s app more competitive, we ran a comparative study of eleven top players in the CRM market. The research gave us insights into worthy features we could implement. Yet those were only assumptions. To verify them, we had to talk to active users.

Competitive research fragment
A fragment of a comparative study

3. User interviews

Next, we conducted six in-depth interviews with Gridle users to understand what features they were actually lacking. Since no one from the product team was present on those calls, respondents didn't hesitate to tell about all the app's shortcomings they faced. Thus, we found some insights and places that could be improved.

To structure the information, we used empathy mapping.

Empathy map for Gridle
Empathy map for Gridle

4. Information architecture

After the research phase, we were ready to move to the design itself. First, we defined the scope of the app’s future features. Next, we needed to understand the relationships between the old and the new functional units. To visualize the new app structure, we’ve created a high-level information architecture.

A fragment of the information architecture for Gridle
A fragment of the information architecture we made for Gridle

5. Wireframing and prototyping

From there on, we’ve been moving step by step, designing the new functionality and improving the usability of existing features.

Clientjoy’s initial goal was to boost the company’s growth with the redesign. Given that the renewed app recently raised $800,000 in pre-series funding, the goal was achieved.

Top mistakes to avoid in building a CRM system

There are some common mistakes you should try to avoid when trying to build a custom CRM. 

1. Confusing navigation

The simpler the user flow is, the quicker users can find necessary features or information. The data says that employees spend around 8% of their time searching for information they need to proceed with the tasks. The good CRM UX is called on to decrease this percentage (ideally, to zero!).

2. Chaotic forms & elements

To collect and systemize the customer data, the users usually need to fill out a lot of forms. When they are complex or unclear, it can become a huge problem. Text on buttons and input fields should make it obvious what the button does or what data one should enter. 

When our designers started working on Ricochet 360, they analyzed the reason for the users' long learning curve. Adding new leads was one of the most used functions, and the screen had lots of troubles. For example, there were no cues on the data format for adding a phone number. Because of this, the users were far more likely to skip a figure.

Ricochet 360 screen

On its own, when it comes to various CRM features, it might seem like a minor issue. But when you need to enter a lot of data manually, and there are no proper format cues and error alerts, making a mistake means the users must start it all over again.

When redesigning the "new lead" section for Ricochet, we started with adding clear cues (the light gray text examples in the fields) and alerts.

Ricochet 360 screen

This way, the users could easily see if they entered the wrong data.

3. Poor usability 

In CRM application design, this can include a range of issues, from broken links to a confusing sign-up process and uncoordinated brand colors.

In the case of Ricochet 360, one of the major usability issues, in addition to what we discussed above, stemmed from the fact the input forms asked for a lot of unnecessary information.

So, after fixing the labels of cues, in the end we simplified the screen to this:

Ricochet 360 add new lead screen

You should always opt for collecting the minimal necessary information, whether it comes to filling such a form or, for example, a sign-up form. The option to add more data on this screen is hidden under the drop-down menu. Marking it blue makes it easy to find, but hiding it makes the screen less cluttered.

Pro-tip: consider whether your CRM is mobile-friendly, or at least works with different browsers and platforms. For complex SaaS products, it's still quite common to be desktop-only. However, you still should consider making the product as versatile as possible. That may be the competitive advantage you need.

4. Limited accessibility

You should make sure your CRM is accessible to people with disabilities. The easiest way to make your product more accessible is to keep the proper contrast ratio of text and background colors. Quite often, CRM system design requires a white label approach so that users can change the colors and logos according to their company's brand colors. However, even when designing such customization options, you should always keep in mind whether the chosen color scheme will end up readable.

For TextMagic, we included the option of customizing chats to align them with brand colors. However, allowing users to change the font size also makes the app more accessible, and when possible, you should allow this.

TextMagic screen

5. Outdated visual design

CRM app UI design impacts user engagement as well. Many established CRMs have over a decade-long history, and their visuals still send nostalgic Windows XP vibes. Some owners are reluctant to introduce more modern looks so as not to alienate the established users. However, seeing a modern design immediately signals to users that the product is up-to-date and doesn't lose to competitors. Redesigning Data Streams products involved both UX and UI rehaul to bring the product up-to-date.

DataStreams redesign

While SaaS design does tend to focus on usability rather than aesthetics, you should still look for CRM interface design examples that look modern and fresh.

To sum up

Developing and designing a custom CRM is a complex, multi-faceted process that requires a thoughtful and knowledgeable approach. A well-designed CRM streamlines business processes and enhances customer relationships significantly. At Eleken, our team of experienced UI/UX designers is dedicated to creating CRM systems that are both functional and user-friendly, ensuring they meet the diverse needs of businesses and their customers. Whether you want to build your own CRM or looking to improve an existing one, our expertise in CRM UX design can provide the edge your business needs to stand out in a crowded market. Drop us a line to see how we can boost your product!

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