An open letter to anyone considering the purchase of Concur Technologies software.

I am publishing this letter I wrote in the hope that it will motivate Concur Technologies to improve their software. In its current incarnation (circa, 2007), I feel that Concur’s Expense Reporting software is needlessly costing its clients vast amounts of money in training, lost productivity and employee aggravation. Fortunately, the problems are fixable in my opinion.

What follows is a litany of egregious user-interface errors that, once fixed, would go a long way towards reducing employee training, time and aggravation.

The primary reason Concur requires so much training (even for savvy Internet users) is that the software ignores nearly ALL common Internet interface conventions. Most people these days surf and shop online without problems. This is possible because online companies do Usability Testing to make sure people can easily use their site. Had Concur done ANY customer testing at all, they might have noticed the following flaws.

For example:

Right off the bat, they’ve combined Travel Planning and Expense Reports under the heading: “Concur Expense.” This is indicative of their confusing nomenclature throughout. Why not call the heading what it is: “Travel & Expense?”

In the “Expense Reports” box of Concur Central, there are SEVEN different lines of text when they only need 3: “View & Edit Expense Reports” and “Create New Expense Report” and “Help.” This sort of needless confusion is what makes the software so aggravating to use.

Then, they’ve got the heading: “Company Links” (do they mean MY company, or THEIR company?) under which we find all sorts of Help links, ostensibly to show people how to use their horrible software. But even MORE amazingly, they’ve got an entire, “How do I?” section devoted to “How to use the software.” Out of over TWENTY links on the front page, there are only FOUR links that AREN’T related to helping people figure out the software. And I’m not even going to go into how useless those links are—NO ONE (who isn’t an accountant) is going to take the time to read them. When you spend two-thirds of your home-page on just using the software, it’s obviously too difficult for people to use.

Their “Breadcrumb” links at the top of the page echo the confusing taxonomy of the front page. “Concur Expense” is the second breadcrumb link, yet it’s not an option on the front page (there, it’s called both “Edit & View Travel Requests” as well as “Edit & View Expense Reports”).

To view a new credit card charge (a frequent need), people have to click through “Edit & View Expense Reports” (even though they haven’t created a new Expense report yet), and then on “Company Card.” Why not have a “New Credit Charges” link on the front page?

The “Add to List” and “Add to report” submission links (again, text links instead of the more common Submit-style buttons) are located counter-intuitively at the TOP of the lists, instead of BELOW them where users expect them to be. In addition, they use “OK”-text links ABOVE the referring list instead of the more obvious Submit-style button at lower right.

Then there’s the unintuitive search functionality. Concur’s search function isn’t intelligent enough to suggest “possible” answers to a query, so the user must toggle between “Code” and “Name” in order to return ANY visible results from which to choose.

Not only that, but the resulting sidebar that lists selectable options offers no scroll bars or any other indication that there are additional results/listings beyond what is initially visible. Not having scroll bars makes the user believe the selection isn’t there even though it may just hidden below.

Error flags on the Report List are BELOW the related item, rather than ‘in-line’ with them as users would expect (at least the item itself should be red or asterisked, too).

On the itemization page, Concur asks for a Vendor name despite the fact that the actual vendor name is CLEARLY identified above the very question itself (from AmEx—I’m guessing). Why doesn’t the system know what AmEx obviously knows?

There’s no “progress bar” or other visible indicator—in the browser or anywhere on the page—that tells users whether or not the web page is fully drawn. Users think the answer or information just isn’t there, when it is actually still being sent from the server.

Printing the fax receipt is a THREE(!) step process that is confusing, complex and again lacks any obvious “NEXT” buttons to make moving from step to step more apparent. Printing is also inconsistent on different platforms. For instance, on a Mac, the receipts prints too large and has to be manually resized 85% by the user.

After faxing in receipts, why does the USER have to go “check receipts” in order to know that a submission went through? The system should auto-generate a confirmation email upon getting of the user’s receipts. (No wait! I just got an email confirmation! Yay!)

To alter a previously filled-in field on the New Expense Report page, people must click on the list in the SIDEBAR, not in the actual field itself. Again, counter-intuitive to any average Internet user—no other website works like that.

When adding expense items, trying to go back using the browser’s “Back” button requires a Repost that causes errors requiring the user to re-login. (The first rule of Web 2.0 is “Don’t break the back button!”)

When expensing airline tickets, airline classes are listed alphabetically, as Business, Coach and First Class? Why not order them by context: in ascending or descending order of expense like a logical person would list them? Either Coach, Business, First Class. Or else First Class, Business, Coach.

Another huge problem with Concur is the lack of user-notification. There is no confirmation after an expense report has been submitted. Most websites return a page that says, “Your report has been submitted successfully.” so that users know it went through. Concur simply sends you back to the previous page where, if you’re REALLY paying attention, you can see a small notation. At least, you should put “Submitted & Pending Approval” in red text or something so the user doesn’t resubmit the report.

There are more—so many more—confusing usability aspects to Concur, but these are the biggest ones, in my opinion. If you could ask them to find the time to make their software follow widespread Internet conventions of any popular e-commerce website, your many confused and frustrated employees would certainly appreciate it.

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