12 September 2017

... it should complete it.

A CRM application can do many things for your business, but if it tethers the users to their desktops, it will never realize its full potential. This is why all CRMs must have a mobile application to enable the users in and out of the office, and for Act!, that application is Handheld Contact.

For those that think this is a predictable declaration from the company that makes Handheld Contact, you might be right, but consider this statistic. Not only has Handheld Contact been around 15 years, but it also has a churn rate that is less than half that of the Act! CRM program itself, meaning user loyalty to the mobile application actually exceeds the data source it relies upon. By any standard, this is a remarkable statistic and one that certainly underscores the importance of the mobile side of the CRM industry, but it does not tell the whole story. 

If it were simply about mobile access, the history of Act! would not be littered with so many failed mobile apps. No, for a mobile app to be useful, it must do more than simply extend access to the data, it must extend the functionality, as well, and Handheld Contact does precisely that. We describe this principle as “function-follows-find”, and we believe it’s at the core of our longevity, and why Handheld Contact is the exclusive mobile Act! product sold on www.act.com.

Function-follows-find is more than lyrical alliteration; it is an overriding objective that drives us to make your data not only easily accessible, but useful, as well. For example, it’s not enough to provide offline access to your contacts, we must also make it easy to organize them into groups that you can do something with, like email blasting from your mobile device. Find the contacts and then provide functionality.

In today’s marketing parlance, this is often described as “purpose driven.” We call it being useful, and it’s what has driven us since Handheld Contact merged with Keystroke last October. 
From the first day as a merged company, we went back and compiled a review of the backlog of user feature requests from the last two years, with an eye towards expanding the Act! functionality within Handheld Contact. We then surveyed all our customers in early February to ensure we properly understood what they wanted from HHC, so we could better tailor-fit the application for them.

The results were both compelling, and yet unsurprising.

  • Users loved the “favorites” feature of their mobile device, but disliked how using it bypassed the History recording HHC provided Act!. 
    SOLUTION: With “Find and Function” in mind, we created a simple welcome screen for HHC and included a “Favorites” feature within it that works similar to the device favorites, and is unique to each user. Whether you use HHC Favorites to call, email, or SMS a contact, all your communications that start there will be recorded as a History in HHC.
  • We also heard that users attending tradeshows or conventions loved the ability to find their contacts, but found the process of adding them to their mobile database both time-consuming and inefficient. 
    SOLUTION: Build-in the ability to scan business cards directly into Handheld Contact.
  • Users loved how easy it was to schedule meetings with contacts in HHC, but they wanted the ability to communicate those meeting details to all attendees.
    SOLUTION: Incorporate email invitations as part of the activity creation process on their mobile device.
  • Users wanted access to more contacts with a more secure platform for sensitive data.
    SOLUTION #1: HHC+ allows users to subscribe up to three times the current contact limit, with support for up to 45,000 contacts on their device
    SOLUTION #2: HHC Secure+ provides HIPAA compliant security for users in industries that require more secure management of the sensitive information within their database.
  • Storing information like birthday’s anniversaries, and other annual events details is great, but Act! does not provide an automated mechanism for alerting you to these details, often allowing them to pass by unnoticed.
    SOLUTION: Our new “Alerts” feature (currently available for Android, and soon to be available in IOS) notifies users of upcoming annual events in the new alerts section, as well as on the calendar. You can set advanced notice settings, as well, to make sure you are aware of important dates, but also have time to prepare for them when needed.

Incremental Improvements
There are more examples, of course, but often feature requests are smaller in scope, and aimed at simply easing use or increasing efficiency. Each suggestion gets filtered through the prism of “does it enhance the user experience” and “does it bring HHC into closer alignment with the Act! experience”. 

To that end, we’ve recently added the following features:

  • Users wanted call display features without having to export their entire database to their device. This is now supported in both the current Android and IOS builds.
  • For those happy to export contacts to their native device, we provided the ability to export HHC activities to their native calendar, as well.
  • Users wanted more frequent updates to their data, so we recently incorporated background synching for IOS

Seizing the Opportunities in 2017
Our biggest undertaking for 2017 is unquestionably the building of support for mobile display, management, and syncing of Opportunities and Secondary Contacts in HHC. We believe these additions are critical to completing the mobile experience with Act!, and represent the most consequential feature gaps between the desktop and mobile experience. As these changes will involve an overhaul of the Windows Console, both device client applications, and the middleware they all sync through, we’re projecting a late summer completion date for these features.

Other 2017 Roadmap Features
Additional scheduling and filtering preferences will always be part of our ongoing efforts to further enhance the mobile experience, but we realize we have plenty more to do. Act! users, for instance, are accustomed to “search on keywords” functionality in both the Windows and Web interface, where you can enter one search variable, and it will scavenge the entire database - notes, histories, activities, and all. We aim to duplicate this keyword search functionality as closely as possible in HHC within the next two months. 
Admittedly, “function follows find” is our general modus operandi, but sometimes “finding” begets additional functionality, as well.

Other features on our 2017 roadmap include the following:

  • Users in the field often have the need to forward or refer contact details to their colleagues, but sending such details from HHC can be awkward and clumsy. 
    PROPOSED SOLUTION: We’ve recently started investigating the process of including an “export to vcard” feature that would allow users to easily forward contact details to people outside of their user list.
  • As mentioned before, a common request was the ability to create groups within Handheld Contact, and then email blast the group members from your device. Our new “Searches” feature delivers precisely that, but we intend to build upon this foundation to provide greater query flexibility.
  • Improve team collaboration through easier calendar & tasklist filtering by user
  • Improve data integrity with expanded use of drop-down options within fields that allow you to multi-select on your device.

CRM technology remains at the heart of most businesses today, and with over 110,000 current Act! subscribers and many more using legacy versions of Act!, we know the challenge ahead of us is daunting - especially when you consider changes often lead to unforced errors. 

And while some repairs have been needed, we’ve learned from them. Improved regression and beta testing protocols have been implemented internally, and we’ve substantially increased the size of our development team to reduce resource bottlenecks. 
Whatever challenges lie ahead, nothing scares us more than the status quo. Our vision of closing the feature gap between desktop and mobile so that we may complete the overall Act! CRM experience is not simply a goal; it is our raison d'être.

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