The default mode of user help provided by Microsoft in Dynamics 365 is useless for end users who are actually using Dynamics day in, day out. If a user clicks on the question mark (?) at the top right of the screen to get help, they are taken to a huge table of contents for the entire Dynamics 365 documentation library - not helpful at all.
It's much better instead to turn Off the default help mechanism in Dynamics to spare user frustration and turn On the custom help pane and guided tasks functionality in Dynamics which provides context sensitive help and training to users.
Table of Contents
- The Challenge
- The Proposed Solution
- Configuring Custom Help Panes
- Provide Context Sensitive Guidance
- Limitations of using Custom Help Panes
- VisualSP for Dynamics 365
Let's start by visualizing what we have by default. The animation image below shows the built in help functionality for Dynamics 365 users they access by clicking on the question mark (?) on the screen.
As I see it, this is not at all useful for actual end users of Dynamics 365 CE - the sales, customer service and marketing personnel. I don't see anyone currently clicking on the ? in Dynamics 365 because that just ends up in disappointment and frustration.
The Proposed Solution
What I'm proposing is that we turn Off the default Dynamics 365 help functionality, which is not helpful anyway, and replace it with the context sensitive custom help panes and guided tasks functionality provided by Microsoft as it looks like in the animated image below.
The custom help panes and guided tasks functionality brings the information closer to the user and is a much better alternative to the default built in Dynamics 365 help.
Before I talk about how to switch the functionality from the built-in Dynamics 365 documentation to custom help panes which are contextual in nature, let me just be clear that I'm not saying that Microsoft documentation by itself is useless. What I'm saying is that this documentation is best for administrators of Dynamics 365 who are designing and maintaining their Dynamics environment. Leaving this generic documentation exposed to Dynamics 365 users would just frustrate them having to hunt and peck for answers they are looking for on a daily basis to do their job.
Configuring Custom Help Panes and Guided Tasks Functionality
Let's look at the steps you have to take to turn On the custom help panes and guided tasks functionality in your Dynamics 365 environment. Obviously, you have to be an administrator of your Dynamics tenant to be able to take these steps.
Click on the gear symbol at top right -> Advanced Settings -> Settings dropdown -> Administration -> System Settings -> set Enable Custom Help Panes and Guided Tasks radio button to Yes.
These steps are shown in the animated image below.
Note: After enabling this setting, it can take up to five minutes or sometimes a bit more for the customs help panes functionality to actually show up within Dynamics 365. Until then, clicking on the ? will still take you to the default D365 Docs page.
The custom help panes are context sensitive in nature and have the following scopes:
- Table (or entity)
What that means is that depending on the application you are in (ex: sales hub, customer service, marketing, a custom model-driven app, etc) and then within that application, depending on which table (entity) or form you are currently looking at, you would get a different context sensitive help pane. Not only that, but if your language is set to English and your colleague's language is set to French, you both would see different custom help panes.
Provide Context Sensitive Guidance to Dynamics 365 Users
The idea is that you edit the content of each custom help pane for each context. Then when your users are within that context, they will find the relevant information they need.
There are a lot of things you can do when editing the custom help panes. Very difficult to write it all up and much easier to show in a video. So the embedded video below shows All the functionality in action to help you visualize it step by step.
Hopefully you find the above video useful. There's a lot to take in with being able to add text, images, videos, coachmarks and balloons contextually for your users. It is super helpful functionality to get the information to your users at their moment of need contextually within their own Dynamics 365 environment.
I'm sure you'll agree that two of the coolest things in the custom help panes functionality are coachmarks and balloons.
A coachmark (or inline help) can be used to point something out directly on the screen.
A balloon (or walkthrough step) can be used to supply information within a bubble pointing to an element on the page.
Both coachmarks and balloons offer the opportunity for you to point to specific elements on the page to help direct your users' attention. A pretty powerful functionality that is increasingly used all over the internet these days to provide information in the flow of work.
Limitations and "Gotchas" when using Custom Help Panes Functionality
Hopefully, after understanding the potential of what you can accomplish with custom help panes, you are excited about the possibilities. Having said that, you need to understand that limitations of this functionality also before jumping into it. Let's talk through that.
You can't push out help content to multiple help panes at once. It can only be done one help pane at a time which definitely will take commitment from your part.
There's no official support available when you use Microsoft's provided custom help panes. If things go wrong, you're on your own.
Images and Videos Integration
When you place images and videos in the help pane, there's very limited functionality as to what you can do with it. The multimedia has to be hosted somewhere for it to be pulled in. There is no way to import anything directly within Dynamics.
There are some glitches with the video integration as well which Microsoft has not acknowledged in their documentation. That tells me that they might not be aware of it or have no interest in fixing them. For example, if you set don't allow full screen in the video options, it allows the user to full screen the video anyway. That functionality is broken among a few other small things which you might find annoying.
Draft and Unpublish Items
There's no way to keep items in draft mode - hidden from users. When you save an item, it is published and visible immediately to all your users. No way to test things out and preview them before publishing.
Customization and Branding
There are no customization options for the help pane, coachmarks and balloons. No way to change the styles or colors to match your company brand.
The balloons that are provided by this Microsoft solution are capable of showing just one step. You have to initiate them from the link in the help pane and they point out one element on the screen. That's it. There's no way to auto-load them and there is no way to configure multistep walkthroughs or sequential help balloons (steps) with this functionality.
Same as the balloons functionality, there is no way to auto-load coachmarks on the screen either. The user must click on the appropriate link in the help pane to show the associated coachmark on the screen.
There's also a glitch with coachmarks where if you have already clicked on the link to have the coachmark come up once, you cannot click on that link again until you refresh that page.
There's no security trimming or targeting possible for the custom help panes. All users see everything you have put out there.
No Custom Interfaces Support
Balloons and coachmarks pointing to elements don't work with custom UI components. They only work with default interfaces provided by Microsoft.
Microsoft's custom help panes are not supported on mobile.
A More Robust Solution for Providing Contextual Help to Your Users
I truly believe in the contextual delivery of information whether it be support, training, policies, guidelines or any other type of information. We want to bring information closer and closer to our users for best effect.
While I'm glad that Microsoft is providing this functionality with the custom help panes and guided tasks as I have described above, the way I look at it, it is more like version 0.5 with no real roadmap for the future. It's something that's been thrown together by the Dynamics 365 team as a half baked solution.
Context sensitive delivery of information to Dynamics 365 users is something we at VisualSP have been doing for a long time now with our VisualSP for Dynamics 365 product without any of the limitations that the custom help panes functionality has. Of course, the functionality that Microsoft provides is free and the VIsualSP product is not. You get what you pay for.
If you are just starting out in this area, feel free to play around with what Microsoft has provided with the custom help panes functionality. That might be enough for what your users need. If you are serious about committing to providing contextual support and training to your users, let us know if we can help you with our VisualSP for Dynamics solution.
Get in contact with us and let us know if you need further explanation on how the VisualSP for Dynamics 365 solution can serve your needs and how it is different from the freely provided Microsoft provided solution.