The first selling point advertised for Dynamics CRM in almost any context is the user interface familiarity of Office users and the seamless integration to Outlook. Compared to other CRM applications, the feature set available in the Dynamics CRM 2011 client for Outlook is unsurpassed, no doubt about that. However, sometimes you do run into issues that break the illusion that CRM and Outlook would be the one and the same application. Here are a few features that you should be aware of when planning on how you’ll train your users to use the two different client versions available: web and Outlook.
Issue 1: Dashboard ribbons are not context sensitive in Outlook
If you build a dashboard out of grids that present the user with relevant data from various entities, this can significantly cut down their need for jumping between different menus and screens. Say, a customer service representative can easily view all the new items in the email support queue, active cases assigned to him/her and also other open activities. With the help of the context sensitive ribbon the user can then process these records in the same screen, by changing record status from open to closed, accepting items from the queue, creating new tasks etc.
Except, in Outlook that won’t work. The user will only be able to create a new dashboard, but not any of the common tasks, like creating new records for the selected grid. This is because in Outlook the ribbon is not context sensitive within the dashboard. Why is this? It works elsewhere in Outlook, so why not here? I imagine the explanation is that while the normal grids are composed of native MAPI objects inside Outlook, the dashboards are merely web pages as far as the Outlook client can recognize them, so it can’t understand which ribbon should be shown in which part of the page. Bummer.
As a result, if you want to create actionable dashboards that allow users to work on the items presented there, it’s better to instruct them to open CRM through the web client instead of the Outlook client.
Issue 2: Different logic in Quick Find
People who have worked with Dynamics CRM throughout several versions will surely have learned how the Quick Find operates and when you need to use wild cars. With the CRM 2011 Outlook client, this logic no longer holds true. Outlook has its own way of handling search terms, so now we can punch in a search word right from the middle of a field, such as the account name, without entering the asterisk wild card in front of the term.
Great, easier for the user to perform searches, right? Well, it is if you only ever work inside the Outlook client. If you step into the web client views, you’ll discover that things work differently there. Not only do you need to remember to use the wildcard in Quick Find criteria, but there also is a specific Quick Find View. Whereas in the web client the search will cover every active record in the database, no matter from which view you start, in Outlook the search is conducted on the records in the selected view. So, if you’re in the My Contacts view in Outlook client and search for a contact that belongs to another user, the Quick Find results will not deliver any data. In the web client it will.
Also the columns presented in the web client will always be the ones specified in the Quick Find View customizations, but in Outlook the columns will not change as you’re searching from within the current view. However, it appears that the search columns that the Outlook client performs the query on are still affected by the ones defined in the entity Quick Find View, even though this view is never actually presented to the Outlook user. Still following me? If the different search logic is hard for a consultant to remember, just imagine how confusing it can be to the CRM user.
Issue 3: Writing emails from Outlook without Outlook
One of the three core modules in Dynamics CRM is Service. The most typical scenario for utilizing CRM for customer service processes is directing the incoming emails for an address like firstname.lastname@example.org to a queue in CRM. This way the emails are automatically tracked under a contact record if the sender email exists in CRM. Also the queue allows you to see which items are already being worked on by customer service reps.
If you’re working with the Outlook client for Dynamics CRM, then you can write all your emails with the normal Outlook email editor and make use of the rich tools for message formatting, signatures, attaching multiple files with at once etc. Right? Not in this case. If the email you are replying to does not exist inside your Outlook mailbox but rather as an email record inside a CRM view, you can’t send “Outlook” emails as a reply. When you click the reply button, the Outlook client will open the web client email editor form for you.
There’s surely a reason why the email editor in the web client hasn’t been improved since CRM 3.0. Outlook is Microsoft’s premium experience editor that should be used wherever possible, whereas the web editor is a secondary feature. But if you’re using Outlook already, then it would be nice to be able to always remain within that rich client, even when replying to queue emails, wouldn’t it?
Issue 4: Recently used and pinned records behind the File button
Many users will normally be working with a selected few accounts, contacts and opportunities at a time, rather than the whole CRM customer database. This is why the Recently used records menu in CRM 2011 is a great usability enhancement, which is also familiar from many other CRM applications. Right from the CRM main window, from the top left corner where you first look, you’ll be able to open a rich pane that presents all the latest records as well as the views you’ve recently visited.
So, when I’m in the Outlook client then, surely I’m able to access the same list? Well, you are, but you’ll have to open the Office Backstage menu by clicking on the Outlook File menu, then glazing past all the file manipulation options and settings menus, to finally reach the recently viewed CRM records. And even if you reach it, you won’t be able to launch any views from this menu, since again the way how Outlook treats grids is different from the web client. Anyway, you probably won’t be accessing this menu any more often than you tweak your CRM settings, simply because it’s so well hidden away.
Desktop Outlook: how crucial is it still?
Ok, so there are a few quirks to be aware of when jumping between the web client and Outlook client. But how essential is it really to use the Outlook client in the first place? [Read more…]