To Email or to Task? That is the Question

Written By: Ken Jacobson

from December 19, 2012

There is a debate brewing about whether to use activities such as tasks and phone calls or use emails to enable business processes within the organization. It really is a question of workflow and dialog design and what is most effective. Microsoft Dynamics CRM workflow makes it easy to create and send emails to users and non-users of Microsoft Dynamics CRM based on updates of data such as an opportunity closing. Also, the Microsoft Dynamics CRM for Outlook Add-on makes it really easy to track emails by simply clicking the Track in CRM button in the Office Ribbon.

Using the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Add-on for Outlook, emails can be promoted automatically if the email is a reply to a previous email already tracked in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Or, to really track all emails in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, it can be configured to automatically track all emails from email addresses of users, leads, contacts or accounts that already exist in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

What Microsoft Dynamics CRM users often forget is that besides tracking emails and synchronizing contacts and appointments, the Microsoft Dynamics CRM for Outlook Add-on also synchronizes Microsoft Dynamics CRM tasks, phone calls, letters, and faxes with Outlook’s Tasks. Consequently, when completing a Microsoft Dynamics CRM Task in Outlook or on a phone, it will also automatically mark it as complete in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

With the relative ease of creation of emails and tasks with Microsoft Dynamics CRM’s workflow engine, the perplexing question still remains of which should be used by companies to drive their business processes. We spoke with Microsoft Dynamics CRM consultants to gather feedback on how to decide when it is appropriate to use emails versus activities within Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

“People’s tendency to want to use emails to drive business processes is really the result of people’s comfort and dependence on Microsoft Outlook,” explain Kevin Alexander, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Solution Architect. “Other people in an organization can’t really see the status of an email, so you can’t really drive business process activities around emails. Emails are good for communicating with customers, prospects, vendors, and other employees that aren’t Microsoft Dynamics CRM users. However, emails should not be used to drive activities related to a specific business procedure.”

Here is an example of the challenge: An organization uses a custom entity and associated workflows to process and track lab tests. The organization requested the creation of an activity and to send an email to the head of the lab. This process was previously managed using email and the organization was very comfortable with email. Once the workflow was live, there were numerous emails created as well as the associated activities for the lab tests. Because all the detail needed for the task at hand was included in the email, the users never went to look at the tasks and only sporadically completed them.

The result of this was users were not completing the activities and the business process workflows creating tasks for the next steps got hung up. This caused confusion within the organization and people would have to call the lab or send emails to ask the status of the tests. Consequently, this process was re-crafted and the organization is now using activities to manage their lab tests – and no more emails.

“When you really want to get into driving your organization,” said Kevin. “You really want to use activities like a task because based on completion of the activity, Microsoft Dynamics CRM can trigger additional workflow events. You can drive additional workflows and other activities from the beginning of the process to the end. You can also monitor if a task has been completed by a due date using an activity like a task or phone call. You can’t do that with an email.”