This morning I posted about some frustrations in getting our CRM system to import donations from our fundraising events so that we can then match donations with addresses to send out end-of-year tax letters. The frustrations have grown to the point where naming names seems appropriate, if only because Neon One, the CRM company, has a web-based ticketing system that doesn't really handle the level of detail their developers will need to (a) understand the problem, (b) understand the frustration, and (c) understand the features needed to solve (a) and (b).
As you read this, keep in the back of your head that I'm a software developer with 25 years of professional experience and another 15 of hobby experience before that. In other words, I've been writing software longer than almost everyone at the CRM developer has been alive.
Neon will probably consider this a feature request, though on any of the product teams I've run in the past 15 years, this would be a usability bug report.
tl;dr: Neon's import feature is software-centric, not user-centric. Instead of the feature helping the user, it expects the user to help the software. This causes grief for any user who is not a piece of software.
The simple problem
Because Neon doesn't have adequate (or, it seems, any) support for silent auctions and other day-of-event realities, we use a different system for our fundraising events. The other system spits out perfectly reasonable Excel documents with all the information we need to track donations along with the fair-market valuations of silent auction winnings. We want to import that information into Neon so that we (a) can print out end-of-year tax letters and (b) accurately track giving in the long term.
The obvious path, which doesn't work
People have studied usability for almost as long as I've worked in software professionally. Jakob Nielsen has written about since 1998. The first principle of usability has never changed: make the obvious path work in an obvious way.
Neon has an import function that appears, at first glance, to import exactly the kind of data our event system produces. It seems like one should be able to import a flat file containing the donor name, address, email, and phone number; the date and amount of the donation; maybe a note or other optional information. You would think you could map the columns on the file to fields in Neon, and the software would read the data file and import the data. Maybe you'll get one or two spurious donor records when the information in the file doesn't exactly match an existing record's data, so maybe you'll have a few minutes of clean-up that you can do right from the import report after it's done.
Anyway, that's how I'd design it. That's how Jakob Nielsen would design it. That's how the 22-year-old newbie with a still-wet bachelor's degree in design would do it.
That's not how Neon designed it.
OK, so there may be an extra step
The first thing the Neon import feature asks is: does your data have Neon account ID numbers? If not, it warns you it won't be able to match your data with existing donor records.
Wait, what? The CRM already has a decent "find duplicate records" feature, so why can't this run automatically on new or imported entries? (Seriously, Neon: why do we spend time after every concert de-duping our data because your software doesn't think to match existing records with new ticket orders even when all of the data are the same in both records? More on this in a moment.)
All right. I'll spend 15 minutes adding Neon IDs to all the donation records in the exported file that correspond to existing donor records. It's an extra step that the software should be able to accomplish on its own, but whatever, no one likes writing record-matching code.
Now what I expect is that Neon will add the new donations to the existing records, and add new account records if I don't supply an ID.
Nope. My first pass through this process looks only at the exported records whose IDs I've provided and updates those donor records, while completely ignoring the new records. And it then takes me to a screen that looks suspiciously like it will make a total hash of the donation records in the same export file if I click "next." So I abort.
Maybe a few extra steps?
I think, perhaps I should give Neon a little extra help now. Let me scrub the data going into the import so that we have the best chance of good data getting into the CRM. So I separate the export into two files, one containing Neon IDs and one with all the new donors who came to the event. Then I go through both to make sure mailing addresses conform to USPS standards, phone numbers are uniformly 10 digits without separators, and email addresses are validly formed.
Next, I import the file that does not have Neon IDs, hoping it will create new records for me. It does! And it even exports a report containing the new IDs it created, albeit with only the donor's full name and not the donor's first and last names, which creates a bit of extra work as now I have to manually map them to my donor export.
So after I add the new IDs where needed in my donation export file, I'm ready to import the donations. I start the donation wizard, it accepts that my records have valid Neon IDs, and I map the donation date and amount columns to Neon fields. And then it tells me that I don't have a "donation type" mapped.
I'm not going to go through the steps required to figure out what a valid "donation type" is. Suffice to say, I add a column to the export called "Donation Type" and fill every row with the value "Donation". (Why can't we just specify constant values for required fields at import?)
I go through the import wizard again, map everything required, and hit import. Oof! Error! Apparently, dates are hard. The export file has donation dates in the format "Jul 17, 2020 7:27:19 PM", but Neon says "Time field must be a date;now it supports 'MM/DD/YYYY','MM-DD-YYYY' and 'MMDDYYYY' format."
Now, without going into the rabbit hole too deeply, a few things immediately occur to me as someone who has successfully parsed dates for a quarter century in a half-dozen programming languages. First, why the fuck does Neon only accept those three formats when the format presented is unambiguous and can be parsed by nearly every programming language out there? Second, none of the formats presented or accepted in this case conform to ISO-8601, the international standard for date and time representation, so everyone is on shaky ground here. Third, I got all the way to this point and now it tells me I have to go all the way back and change the date format by hand? Because it turns out, Excel can't parse the dates either. Good work, 3rd-party event package. Nicely done.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or jam the import with our ISO dates.
After entering all the dates by hand (made easier by 90% of them being the date of the event), I re-exported the file to .csv and tried the import again. (Oh, yes, Neon can't read XLSX files, so I have to export to CSV every. Single. Time.)
And now I get to do it again with the silent-auction winners list. All of it. Again. This time I just entered the 9 new accounts by hand, and discovered 7 duplicate accounts that had to be merged, and thanked the universe we only had 60 silent-auction items.
So I go to import and...Goddammit I forgot the "donation type" field.
So I go to import again. And it mostly worked. Except even though I specified which field contained the fair-market value to map against the donation, Neon ignored that. It appears nowhere in the individual donation records. Why even present the field as an option if...I mean...what the hell, Neon? Yet more shit I have to map by hand later on.
But wait, it still doesn't work
After all that effort, I did some spot-checks on various accounts and found that even though none of the donation records shows fair-market value for auction items, at least all of the donations that I expect to see in each record appear in each record. So now it's time for the 2020 donor report, and...
Um...you're fucking kidding me.
None of the imported donations shows up in the donor report's "2020 Donation Amount" field. After checking a few donor records, I promote my hypothesis (that Neon groups by the record-creation date for the annual sum instead of the actual donation date) to a theory. Neon support case #00316491 is born.
How Neon should have coded this
Many, many developers have solved this problem before. Importing donations should require only one pass through the Import feature, and follow this heuristic:
- As soon as the user selects "import donations" from whatever UI control offers the choice, Neon presents a page of simple documentation explaining the process, listing the required fields, and offering some insight into how it will work.
- The user selects the import file, which can be CSV, Excel, or any other common delimited format.
- The user maps all of the relevant columns from the import file to Neon fields. Neon does not present the user with fields that it will ignore for no stated reason later on.
- The user provides constant values (from drop-downs if necessary) for required fields that do not appear in the import file.
- The user clicks "upload."
- For each record:
- If the imported donor account has an ID that matches an existing account by ID, use that donor account.
- If the imported donor account matches the name and email of an existing account (or some other criteria), use that donor account but flag the row for review.
- If the imported donor account does not match an existing account on either criteria, create a new donor account.
- Stage the donation record with the specified, found, or new account ID, including all of the fields that the user mapped in step 3.
- Present the list of "for review" items to the user before committing the import, allowing the user to make edits to the imported data, or move back a step in the process.
- Once the user is satisfied, the user clicks "commit" to write the data to Neon.
I get it: Neon's dev group have process problems
I mean, guys, this really isn't that hard. You want hard? Write an IBM360 to MS-DOS import, complete with different endian values, and where mapping has to be hard-coded because configuration files haven't been invented yet.
I know how software development works. I expect any Neon folks reading this may think this is unfair, that the devs told management the features weren't finished, that management told leadership the devs weren't 100% finished but the stuff works well enough, and that leadership looked at the growing list of must-have features for the brochure and forgot to finish the must-have features for the users, that "it's not my fault." I'd also bet you a dollar that any dev reading this will think "I told you so" (unless they think "it works on my machine, you DFU," in which case you have other problems.)
In other words, you guys have a process problem. Somewhere the definition of "done" that passed QA for the import features didn't match the definition of "done" that users need.
For this we're paying $3600 a year. NB: we're willing to pay a lot more for software that works the way we need it to.
Meanwhile, though, I'll have to hand-correct what all this automation should have given me already, and get the damn tax letters out.
And Neon CRM support incident #00316497 is born.