Aug 24, 2021
I have had my head down for a while working on the next version of RapidStart CRM. We also recently deployed RapidStart CRM for our own support operations. In the process, I came across a few items that I thought would be of interest to the users of our free app, and since they would also work for any Power App, including Dynamics 365, I thought I might discuss them.
Before I get into this, I want to clarify what I mean by "Next Version" of RapidStart CRM. We have been developing this product since 2015 when we launched it a the Worldwide Partner Conference (Now called Inspire). Over the years we had made hundreds of updates and tweaks in direct response to users. We also refactored the solution a couple of years ago to run on the low cost Power Apps licenses in addition to Dynamics 365. Each update, with the exception of the refactoring, had progressively fewer changes as we honed in on our target customers' requirements. I am pleased to inform you that the next version will have the fewest tweaks yet... I mean it is damn near perfect already. So let's get back to our internal project.
We had been running our support operation on Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement for over 10 years. Several times I had contemplated moving it to RapidStart CRM, but as a certified partner my licenses were free, so I kept putting it on the back burner.
Our support operation is not very complicated. Customers buy blocks of hours which we add to their bank, and we track our activities against those blocks. We also maintain a portal where customers can login and see their bank balance as well as review all activities.
We had been using a third-party portal since before Microsoft even contemplated a portal product. The portal company had been purchased by another company for other assets of value to them and the portal product came with the package. But portals was not a priority for them. I figured it was a matter of time before they shut it down. So the time had come to move.
So, as I said I get Dynamics 365 licenses at no cost. So it might seem an obvious choice just to fire up a Power Apps Portal and connect it to our existing instance. and be done. However, as years have gone by now with us supporting customers on RapidStart CRM, many of whom had moved to it from Dynamics 365, I have come to not really like Microsoft's first-party apps very much. I truly feel they are unnecessarily complicated and bloated. And while my licenses may be free, any additional database capacity is not. Our instance, even though it was not doing all that much, was consuming the lion's share of our capacity. So I made the decision to "upgrade" our support operation off of Dynamics 365 and on to our own RapidStart CRM. Also, Power Apps Portals works the same on RapidStart CRM, so there was no reason to continue with the bloated beast. And, if for some reason I was no longer getting free licenses, my cost would be about $10 vs. $95 per user... a factor in many other customers' "upgrading".
We could have done this upgrade/migration in a day, but I took this opportunity to make some improvements to our process. Mainly around automation, nothing we could not have done before, but this was a good time, since we were opening things up. We started with the same RapidStart CRM solution as our customers get, and installed it from AppSource on a new environment the same way any customer would.
We made use of the RapidStart CRM Accounts, Contacts and Cases. We created two custom Tables, one for Case Notes, to track time and activities, and one for Support Hours, to track the customers' purchases and banks. We also created several Cloud Flows with Power Automate... things like calculating hours and various customer notifications. In addition, we added some specific charts to the RapidStart CRM dashboards for quickly getting a view of things. We also tweaked the RapidStart CRM App to hide Opportunities and a couple of other items we were not using for this need. Lastly, we mapped and migrated all of our historical data to the new environment.
I didn't even pause before I hit the "delete" button on our old bloated environment we had depended on for 10 years.
So I mentioned that Microsoft offers a Power Apps Portal. Again, for me it would cost nothing. Depending our your requirements, it might be a good solution for you. Unfortunately, like everything the Microsoft Business Applications group produces... it is more complicated than necessary. This is even more noticeable when your requirements are simple.
Our requirement was to have a place customers could log into and see their account information, purchase history, case information and case notes. I wanted it to be clean, simple and easy to maintain. Not too complicated. Our Forceworks main website runs on WordPress, like so many other small to mid-sized businesses. So my preference was a WordPress based portal. My friend, and fellow MVP, George Doubinski had the answer. The AlexaCRM WordPress integration solution.
Using Alexa, we are able to display any information we want from our RapidStart CRM environment on any WordPress posts or pages. For us, it was a better solution. AlexaCRM can do much more, I am aware of customers running full eCommerce portals with it! If you let George know that you heard about his solution from this post, he promised me he would sing you a short song of your choice.
Our previous environment had used classic workflows for everything, so this was a good time to move those to Power Automate Cloud Flows. However, I am not 100% sold on Power Automate... yet. Classic workflows still exist because Microsoft has not yet reached parity with Power Automate to be able to turn them off. The "Fullness of Time" does seem to be quite full indeed. But I decided to use Cloud Flows wherever possible.
It seems that every time I look for a connector in their expansive list of hundreds, it either does not exist, or does not do what I need it to. This was the case for WordPress also. The connector exists... but is essentially useless. Once again, a fellow MVP to the rescue. Heidi Nuehauser is working with Nick Hance at Reenhanced, and they have a rock-solid Power Automate connector for WordPress that can be used with either Gravity Forms or Contact 7 forms on your WordPress site. If you use the code FORCEWORKS, you can try it out for a month for free.
BTW, I did not actually need the Reenhanced connector for our Support site, but while I was under the hood, I decided to update all of the forms on our main Forceworks and RapidStart CRM websites. So now all forms submitted create a record in Dataverse automagically.
Since our Support Portal is not public (unless you want to buy some hours), I added some screenshots below for your reference. If you would be interested in a similar solution, please contact Forceworks.
Account Summary Page
Case Details Page